BREWER, Maine — Police departments across Maine are struggling to hire new recruits.
"Just finding qualified people to help out is a struggle right now for everybody," Thomas Tardiff, an officer with the Brewer Police Department, said.
Several departments are offering hefty bonuses in an effort to attract fully-trained officers.
The Brewer Police Department, for example, is offering a $20,000 sign-on bonus for a fully-certified Maine police officer who has at least five years of experience. The bonus is considered to be one of the highest in the state.
Brewer Public Safety Director Jason Moffit said he's hired three other officers who have yet to be trained by the Maine Criminal Justice Academy and is actively looking to hire a patrol officer that he can put out on the streets right away.
"It's urgent because we want to avoid burnout in our own staff. When you constantly stress a patrol staff with overtime they don't necessarily want, it's hard on them after a while," Moffitt said.
Rick Desjardins is the director of the Maine Criminal Justice Academy. He said there are about 140 people on the list to attend training next semester. Of those 140, he can only fit 70 per term. Desjardins said the intense training lasts 18 weeks from Monday through Friday.
The next term will start in January, and the officers who are fully trained have already passed all their background checks.
With 163 police departments in Maine, most of them hiring, there's a lot of competition, especially for fully-trained officers. They are the only ones who can be out on the streets right away by themselves.
"It wasn't unusual to be competing with a couple of hundred people," Moffit said. "Now those days are far gone. I remember running the hiring process here in the City of Brewer, and we might have 30 to 50 applicants. That doesn't happen anymore."
It's a hiring struggle most police departments in Maine are facing.
"It's stressful on all of us, working long shifts, working on our days off," Tardiff said.
Moffit said the city needs to be competitive to hire a fully-trained officer soon.
"If the city is willing to invest that sign-on bonus to get us a qualified person who is going to be my backup or my patrolmen's backup, then more power to him, and I support it 100%," Tardiff said.
Augusta Police Chief Jared Mills said the pandemic, along with high-profile officer-involved shootings, had an impact on what's already seen as a tough job.
"We've done a bunch of things here at the City of Augusta at the police department to alleviate the stressors of our officers. We've broken down our calls, the way we respond to our calls, so people are getting downtime," Mills said.
Mills is also looking to hire an officer who can start working the streets right away.
"You are seeing a lot of places offering these incentives, sign-on bonuses. We've been fortunate so far at the City of Augusta to not have to have those. I say yet. That day may come," Mills said.
Moffitt said he's lucky he lives and works for a community that fully supports its police department.
"I guess the big thing that sets us apart in this day and age is that we are supported by our community, 100% by the citizens [and] elected officials. They want their police department," Moffitt said.
Moffitt added that the sign-on bonus will be given out in payments over two years.