In a fierce market, CT police departments compete for limited candidates

For many Connecticut police departments, recruiting and retaining officers has become extremely competitive as candidate pools shrink and young cops move on to other agencies after only a short time in the municipality. where they were hired.

Last year, four Hartford police officers quit the force and crossed the river to East Hartford, lured in part by better benefits.

Over a four-year period, Cheshire Police Chief Neil Dryfe said his agency had lost six young officers who had taken jobs in other departments offering pensions, which tops the scheme with defined contributions from his city.

Dryfe, who is also president of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, said the state’s largest departments are struggling to fill vacancies. Job postings for officers attract far fewer applicants, he and other police chiefs said.

“Gone are the days when you saw hundreds, sometimes over a thousand people applying to become police officers, even when there were only a handful of vacancies,” said Patrick Ridenhour, chief of the Danbury Police and former head of CPCA.

Police recruitment and retention have been difficult across the country, and some law enforcement experts have called the situation a crisis, as retirements and resignations exceed hirings. A survey of police chiefs across the United States last year found that resignations rose 18% in 2020-21 compared to 2019-20. The Police Executive Research Forum survey, which garnered 194 responses, also found a 45% increase in retirements.

Police chiefs responding to the survey cited struggles that included poaching of experienced officers by neighboring departments, a drop in ‘above average’ applicants due in part to negativity surrounding the app of the law and social media posts that disqualified applicants because, as one respondent wrote, “their thoughts and ideals do not align with the guiding principles of our department.”

Law enforcement officials also cite low unemployment and the variety of career choices available to young people as barriers to attracting quality applicants. Millennials and Gen Z – those born between 1981 and 2012 – are also more likely to value work-life balance than their baby boomer counterparts, according to a study of police recruitment by the International Association. police chiefs.

“For young people, quitting a job after a few years is commonplace, and moving from one job to another is often how younger-generation American workers move up the career ladder,” one author wrote. ‘study.

Connecticut police chiefs agreed.

“Today’s generation isn’t just driven by money and benefits,” Ridenhour said. “Favorable working hours and conditions are just as important. These things are often governed by collective agreements and, in many cases, have not been changed for decades.

Law enforcement officials in Connecticut and across the country have said the negative perception of police, driven in part by the 2020 killing of George Floyd and other deadly clashes between officers and suspects, is generational and that young people see the police differently from their parents.

“Overall, the majority of police officers believe their jobs have become more difficult since high-profile use-of-force incidents dominated the national conversation,” the IACP study said. “Deaths in the line of duty have also become more publicized, including killings of police officers due to communal tensions such as the mass shooting of Dallas police officers in 2016.”

Many Connecticut police officers fought hard against a liability law the state legislature passed in 2020. The law banned many vehicle searches, expanded city-wide civil review boards of the state and created an independent inspector general to investigate officers’ use of lethal force, among other provisions.

The law also included changes to what is known as qualified immunity, which makes it easier for people to sue police officers, departments and municipalities. Proponents of the bill noted that officers would only be liable for “malicious, gratuitous or deliberate” acts, but police said they had no confidence in the process and feared unsubstantiated complaints would be successful.

Good news, however, came in a study this year by financial news site, WalletHub, which found Connecticut to be the best state in the nation to be a police officer. The study compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia “across 30 key indicators of police friendliness,” including compensation, training, police deaths per 1,000 officers, and crime rates.

In 2020, all of Connecticut The violent crime rate per 100,000 population was 181.6, down from 184.6 in 2019, the FBI reported. Only Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont had lower rates. Nationally, the property crime rate fell 8% to 1,958.2 offenses per 100,000 population. Connecticut Rates, however, it fell from 1,432 in 2019 to 1,565.1 – more than 14 other states, including Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, New Hampshire and New Jersey.

The study also considered training requirements for mental health, addictions, behavioral disorders and de-escalation, as well as income and benefits.

The median salary for a police officer in the United States is $66,020 per year, or $31.74 per hour, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment of police and detectives is expected to grow by 7% between 2020 and 2030, about as fast as the average for all occupations, according to the agency.

In Cheshire, where the police force is one officer short of its authorized strength, the base salary is $56,594. That increases to $82,698 over five years, and officers who take additional training can earn up to $90,255 a year, not including overtime, Dryfe said. Police across the state often rack up many overtime hours on roadwork and other extra work, sometimes doubling their annual pay.

Departments across the state hire experienced officers from other agencies. Fairfield Police recently welcomed three new officers, including a former cop from New York and an officer who had worked for the Dekalb County Police Department in Georgia.

In Norwalk, police administrators said they hoped a group of newly hired officers with previous law enforcement experience would help ease staffing shortages that the chief called ‘almost unsustainable’ “.

In Bridgeport, where the police department was criticized for spending $97 million on overtime last fiscal year to cover staffing shortages, a new recruiting drive has been launched with an Oct. 30 deadline.

In Greenwich, where police say as many as 200 applicants have applied to be a member of the department in years past, only 50 people have turned up this year to take the civil service test.

Officer Marc Caruso, spokesman for the East Hartford Police Department, said law enforcement was having trouble finding “good quality candidates” for a variety of reasons. However, Caruso believes his department is doing better because it resisted the move from a retirement program to a 401k and is one of the few agencies in Connecticut that offers a four-day, three-day-off schedule.

Caruso said another challenge is simply “supply and demand.”

“Right now, there’s a high demand for police officers across the state and few applicants, which means those who apply can sometimes choose where they want to work,” he said. “In the past, for example, 20 years ago, when I was hired, there were few officer positions available, so the officer basically went where he could be hired. Now there are too many jobs, not enough officers, so the candidates are in charge.

East Hartford is now accepting applications for officer positions through October 11, with an annual salary range of $71,914 to $78,751. Manchester announced a rookie officer with a starting salary of $65,329.54. Job conditions and requirements include no criminal record and no drunk driving charges within five years of the date of application.

Those excluded from the exam include convicted felons, those who have been discharged from the military for dishonor, and those who take or possess cannabis without a prescription within one year of the written exam, according to the hiring rules of Manchester.

Candidates in Manchester, as is the practice in other departments, will also be subject to background checks and will be required to pass a polygraph test. In addition, applicants must have an associate’s degree in law enforcement or a related field, 60 college credits, or two years of full-time active military service with an honorable discharge.

Tattoos are permitted, but must not represent ties “to any group or organization that could question the impartiality and/or judgment of the employee, thereby rendering them ineffective in law enforcement “, according to the recruiting information. Vulgar and obscene images visible to the public are prohibited, as well as any tattoo on the face, head, neck and hands.

Attitudes towards marijuana have subsided in recent years, and many police chiefs say they would not reject a candidate for experimenting with the drug.

“As drug laws ease,” Ridenhour said, “we may need to consider adjusting the standards on acceptable use of certain drugs. But we’re not there yet and we need to be very careful on this path.

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