NAUGATUCK, Conn. — Officer Jake Pinho has been walking the beat for the Naugatuck Police Department for three years and wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I wanted to be part of something that’s bigger than myself,” he said. “And the job of being a police officer is a very proud one.”
However, police departments across Connecticut and the country are finding it harder to hire more and more qualified recruits to become the next generation of officers who protect and serve. It’s an issue that comes into focus for the Connecticut State Police. Their current recruit class consists of 37 members. They made offers to 57, losing some to other agencies. But, in the near future, the CSP may have a problem on its hands.
“Connecticut state police is looking at a potential up to 400 troopers can retire by June of 2021 so obviously we want to work now to get those numbers up,” said Trooper Kelly Grant. “Those numbers in law enforcement applications keep getting lower and lower.”
Officials at numerous departments have been concerned about this.
“It’s always a concern,” said Colin McAllister, Deputy Chief of Naugatuck Police.
“It’s been difficult especially over the course of the last several years,” said Waterbury Police Chief, Fernando Spagnolo.
What’s driving this?
Police cite a number of factors. One is a growing distrust of police because of controversies involving officer-involved shootings and a growing feeling among many in minority communities that police just aren’t looking out for them.
“Respect for law enforcement isn’t there anymore and it’s not looked at as admirably as it once was,” said Trooper Grant.
Naugatuck officer, Marc Robinson has been on the force for just over ten years. He realizes the damage done when an officer acts badly on the job. But, he’s quick to point out not all officers are bad cops.
“I hate to see anything negative like that happen that’s not why a majority of us got into this profession,” Officer Robinson said. “You’re here to help people.”
“A lot of times people don’t understand what we’re doing and why we do it,” said Officer Pinho. “What we’re trying to do now is bridge that gap.”
Departments are doing that by stepping up community policing initiatives — a big priority for Chief Spagnolo in Waterbury. In the last year, Waterbury police have started events where they engage in positive interactions with the community — heading into neighborhoods for fun and games with the kids and discussions with adults. Waterbury also has a very large PAL program.
Many police departments have also turned to social media to engage in more positive interaction with the public.
The hope is all of this will lead to more people wanting to pursue a career in law enforcement because the problem facing departments now — with a declining number of qualified applicants, it leads to a feeding frenzy for the fewer men and women seeking jobs in uniform.
“It’s a matter of who’s processing these applicants first?” said Trooper Grant. “Who’s getting them in the door first?”
“We’re finding we’re also going up against other public sector jobs, as well,” said Colin McAllister, Deputy Chief of the Naugatuck Police Department.
Departments are also getting more aggressive getting word out to the public that they’re hiring. Hartford Police sent out a tweet yesterday.
The Waterbury PD just completed a new recruitment video. You can find information on their website.
Generally, law enforcement candidates must pass a background check and physical and mental medical checks.
A spokesman for the Waterbury Police Department says a patrolman’s starting salary could be in the neighborhood of $59,000.
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