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Police departments feeling the pressure of a labor shortage with public safety at stake

The City of Portland is trying something new to attract qualified people, not just to the PD, but to all city positions.

PORTLAND, Maine — "2020 has really changed the game when it comes to hiring," Portland Police Chief Frank Clark said Wednesday.

Just like everyone else, police departments all over Maine are feeling the effects of the labor shortage.

"We've lost 20 police officers in the last two years. That's about 13% of the force and it's huge," he said. "Part of that was due to COVID, part of it is what we saw in 2020, part of it is just natural attrition, but it's just not sustainable."

Unlike other operations though, too few people and too much overtime can endanger public safety.

"The whole situation can be demoralizing. There are still calls that need to be answered. 85,000 calls a year don't go away just because we're having staffing issues," Clark said.

Last month, the Maine Criminal Justice Academy graduated its largest class ever: 67 cadets. But that was due to COVID shutting down the academy last year, making many new hires wait for training. Of the nine people hired by the Portland PD and sent to the Academy for training, only five graduated. 

"Only about 4% of the people who apply to be a police officer make it through the entire screening process and I think that speaks to the scrutiny we use," Clark said. "We have not and will not lower our standards just because we need people."

Even with those five new graduates are now in-field training, and seven more are set to go to the academy, the department is still six patrol officers short. Filling those spots is a priority over other vacancies within the department.   

However, it is trying some new strategies to attract qualified people. They include:

  • $10,000 signing bonuses
  • Internal bonuses for officers who recruit new hires into the ranks

Chief Clark said the city is now hiring a full-time recruiter, not just for the police department, but to recruit for all kinds of city jobs.