January has been a sad month for law enforcement officers on two-wheelers.
Roughly six months after the Yale Police Department acquired two Segways through an anonymous alumnus donation, officer Ivan Griffiths — one of the pioneers of rock-and-roll crime-fighting in New Haven — retired last week after 15 years of service with the YPD. This week, officer John McKenna — a 19-year YPD veteran who manned a daytime bicycle beat — announced to his colleagues that he too was retiring, effective Feb. 1.
But besides losing two seasoned and well-known officers, the YPD now finds itself in a position it has not been in for almost six months: short-staffed. By the time the summer rolls around, another six to 10 officers will be eligible for retirement, YPD spokesman Sgt. Steven Woznyk explained. Because the number of people applying for employment in law enforcement has been on the decline nationwide, the YPD’s recruitment drive — which Woznyk said has been effective and successful since a continuous recruiting policy was implemented in 2006 — will be pivotal in ensuring that the department is prepared for vacancies.
Down from a fully staffed quota of 83, the YPD currently has 82 sworn officers among its ranks. Following McKenna’s expected retirement, it will soon be 81.
But Woznyk said he is not worried.
“There are a variety of reasons people aren’t applying nationwide: economic reasons, different responsibilities, people being able to get jobs in the corporate field,” Woznyk explained. “We’ve been fortunate here at the police department that we’ve been able to recruit consistently and successfully.”
Since October 2006, when the recruitment drive officially started, the YPD has hired 12 new officers.
In 2006, the YPD implemented an “ongoing, open recruiting campaign,” in which the department constantly accepts applications for employment, administers basic tests to potential candidates and then selects individuals from their pool of accepted applicants to enter the police academy once a vacancy opens. Having pre-approved candidates readily available to enter the academy significantly reduces the lag time of filling vacancies from roughly a year to five to six months, Woznyk said.
In April 2007, both the YPD and the New Haven Police Department reported significant drops in the number of applications to become a police officer. But last September, the NHPD reported that its recruitment drive had garnered 919 applications — twice as many as the drive the year before.
YPD officer Lt. Ronnell Higgins helps coordinate recruiting efforts for the department. Higgins said the YPD is able to test candidates in smaller numbers and get a better feel for which individuals would fit best with the force because of the ongoing nature of the recruitment.
Candidates have to go through an extensive testing process before they are considered to attend the police academy and train to be officers. A far cry from the Common Application for high-school students applying to college, prospective officers have to complete a physical fitness assessment, a written test, an interview with a panel of YPD officers, a one-on-one interview with Chief James Perrotti and an extensive background check before they are offered a conditional offer of employment.
Individuals who receive that conditional offer are also subject to a polygraph test and a psychological exam before they are admitted to train at the academy.
“This is Yale University; we’re looking for someone who is interested in working at a police department at a world-class institution with a diversity-rich environment,” he said.
The ongoing recruitment concept has drawn attention from local law-enforcement agencies, Woznyk said, and some departments — though he declined to name them specifically — are considering implementing the program.
Adopting this recruitment program has helped the YPD beat the national trend of fewer job-seekers in law enforcement, Woznyk said.
The YPD union, the Yale Police Benevolent Association, reached an agreement with the YPD requiring officers to be of at least 50 years of age and have at least 70 years between their age and the number of years they have served before they are eligible for retirement.
As for the unoccupied Segway, Woznyk said the YPD is in the process of choosing a new officer who will train to harness Griffith’s old set of wheels.