NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — Recruiting and retaining first responders has become increasingly challenging in departments across the state.

Connecticut lawmakers are looking for solutions to help fill those vacancies.

“When I first applied, 16-17 years ago, we used to have thousands of applications,” said Assistant New Haven Police Chief David Zannelli. “That’s been reduced to hundreds.”

Outside New Haven police headquarters, a banner that reads “Now Hiring” hangs on the building.  Zannelli said pay and benefits play a role.

“I think it’s a generational mindset too, on what it means to be a police officer,” Zannelli said. “The stress of the job here because it’s a busy city. The workload is different.”

Officers have also faced immense scrutiny following incidents of police brutality nationwide.  In Connecticut, local and state police departments told News 8 they’re doing what they can to build trust within their community by working towards a better one together.

“Anytime there’s an event, when it’s dealing with kids, whether it’s Stuff a Cruiser, Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts, anything like that we try to get involved,” Connecticut State Police Sgt. Christine Jeltema said.

Recruitment and retention were the subjects of a public hearing in front of the General Assembly’s Public Safety and Security Committee on Thursday.  Members of police and fire departments spoke, offering up solutions and discussing obstacles they face.

A proposal by this committee seeks more police officers through:

  • Expanded police cadet programs
  • Higher salaries for police officers
  • Free tuition at state colleges and universities  
  • Improved retirement and pension benefits

For firefighters:

  • Expanded public safety curriculum at technical high schools
  • Scholarship programs
  • Noncitizens eligible for recruitment
  • Mortgage assistance
  • Free tuition at state colleges and universities

Police and fire departments we spoke with are hopeful this will help in conjunction with efforts already underway.