Local police see recruiting challenges

Though police departments nationwide have been feeling the crunch of decreased applications, the effects of this drop have been felt more strongly by the New Haven Police Department — now in the midst of an expansion effort — than by the Yale Police Department.

While the YPD will likely be able to meet its need for 83 total officers in the coming year, the NHPD still has 57 vacancies in its 481 member force, after taking into account its recent recruits. Both departments saw a dramatic drop in the number of applicants compared to their last recruitment drives, but the NHPD’s recent efforts to expand its force have created an additional challenge in filling its vacancies.

Scott Nabel, the NHPD’s human resources manager, said the NHPD sent 32 out of approximately 480 applicants to the New Haven Police Academy after last fall’s recruitment efforts. During the department’s previous recruitment drive in 2004, the NHPD seated one class of 27 out of 788 applicants, Nabel said. But since the 32 recruits entered the academy, five have already dropped out, which Nabel attributed to a more compressed application process that gave applicants less time to reconsider their decision.

“You usually do have a few folks who after the first couple of weeks decide it’s not for them,” he said. “The number seems a bit high to me, not crazily so, and again with that particular change [in timing].”

The decrease is especially notable because Mayor John DeStefano had announced plans to expand the NHPD by 90 officers over the next two years, Board of Police Commissioners chair Richard Epstein said. The city hoped to have 45 new officers graduate from the academy this year, Epstein said.

The YPD also welcomed fresh faces and experienced policing veterans to its ranks, as five new recruits entered the Connecticut Police Academy and three certified officers, including two New Haven Police Department officers, joined the force last week. Though YPD Sgt. Steven Woznyk said these recruits — on top of possible recruits expected to attend a later academy — should fulfill the organization’s need for more officers, the YPD joined the NHPD in experiencing a drop in applicants for this round of recruiting.

After instituting a new recruiting system that allowed for rolling applications over approximately two months beginning last fall, the YPD was able to accept 11 percent of its approximately 150 applicants, as compared to three percent of 449 applicants in 2005, Woznyk said.

“We’re not overly concerned with the number of applicants, but with the quality of applicants,” Woznyk said. “We’ve seen a decline in applicants of course, [so] we’re very happy that we got qualified candidates.”

Like Woznyk and Epstein, Nabel attributed the drop in applicants to a nationwide trend.

“You look at the national trend, and there are fewer and fewer people pursuing law enforcement activities,” he said. “It’s not going to be like it was in the ’80s and ’90s.”

Nabel said he thinks there may be less overall interest in joining police departments, even among those interested in criminal justice. Some people may be turned off by the danger and rough hours associated with police work, as well as with the highly-regulated application process.

Ward 13 Alderman Alex Rhodeen, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, said the committee is looking for ways to attract more applicants to the NHPD in the future, including moving recruitment to times of the year when college seniors are looking for jobs. Epstein said the Board of Police Commissioners is also considering adjustments to the current application process and looking at how other police departments push recruitment, including offering bonuses to attract officers from other departments.

“Other police departments offer bonuses for existing officers to transfer departments,” he said. “That’s something we’ve talked about and we’ll take into account [along with] all possibilities and options.”

According to current regulations, the NHPD — like the YPD — can only consider transfer applications during the regular recruitment drives. Prospective transfers must go through the same admissions process, though the NHPD does receive inquiries on a regular basis from officers wishing to transfer, Nabel said.

Since the written test now works on a ranked grading system instead of pass-fail, applicants can only be considered as their rank on the exam list is reached. Because the rules preclude placing already certified officers on reserve in case new recruits drop out of the academy, it is more difficult to ensure that all vacancies will be filled.

“There always seems to be a lot inquiry, [but] sometimes [transfers] would have to wait six months or a year, [and] they would also have to start as a Grade A officer,” Nabel said. “In terms of retirement, I don’t think you’re going to see someone who spent 20 years in a small suburban department wanting to transfer to the rigors of a metropolitan department.”

The reverse does happen, Nabel said, where NHPD officers retire after serving 20 years — thereby ensuring that they receive a pension — and then move to another department, as with the two former NHPD officers who just joined the YPD. He said that of the 12 officers who retired in 2006 and the six who have retired so far this year, he estimates that between one-third and one-half went on to other law enforcement careers.

Nabel said trends in this cycle depend on the pension plan offered under the union contract in force at the time, so the pattern may change when the pension plan is adjusted after the current union contract expires at the end of June 2008.

Epstein said that though it is unfortunate that officers sometimes choose to retire from the NHPD to work somewhere else, he can understand their decision to do so.

“We’re always disappointed to lose good police officers, but financially we understand that,” Epstein said. “You can’t begrudge them for that as with anyone who wants to change jobs.”

YPD retirees tend not to move on to different departments because they serve under a different contract, Woznyk said. Though the YPD welcomes experienced officers, he said, the YPD does not focus on recruiting already-certified officers and does not have a history of receiving many applicants from the NHPD.

Rhodeen said he did not know enough about officers moving from the NHPD to other departments to comment but said that transfers to the YPD are still contributing to the city because of the strong relationship between the two departments.

“It’s a fair point to say that even on the Yale PD you haven’t completely lost that experience,” he said. “There’s no doubt that having a strong Yale Police Department is also an asset to the city.”

The five new YPD recruits are Jennifer Garcia, Becky Fowler, Roberto Arango, Michael Hall and Thomas Nguyen-Phuoc. The three veteran recruits are Brian T. Donnelly and Andres Diaz, formerly of the NHPD, and William Csontos, formerly of the Connecticut State Police. The two officers now joining the force from the academy are Marni Robbins and Michael Dominique.

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