Hannah Qu, Contributing Photographer

Facing an officer shortage, the New Haven Police Department has taken steps towards their goal of recruiting more local residents to the force, including canvassing the Hill neighborhood within New Haven.

On Thursday afternoon, Mayor Justin Elicker, NHPD officers and community leaders gathered outside the Hill Police Substation and launched a recruitment canvass throughout the neighborhood to alert residents that NHPD officer applications are currently open and will close on Friday. Elicker and NHPD Interim Chief Renee Dominguez highlighted the importance of recruiting more people from the local community.

“This is so key for us getting the words out to the community.” Elicker said at a press conference before the canvass. “We are not just here to get as many applicants as possible, but especially [to] get New Haven residents to apply. I think it makes us all a better city, a better police force and we can do our job better.”

The department has sworn in 317 officers out of 406 budgeted positions this year, Dominguez said. Sergeant Paul Finch told the News that the NHPD is currently down 100 officers. The department is looking for 1000 more applicants in this application period.

Rose Dell, a police officer who has worked at the NHPD for 14 years, told the News that the anti-police sentiment has increased the difficulty of recruiting. Some locals contend that NHPD officers don’t properly represent the city’s residents, partially because many of them aren’t from the neighborhoods they serve. At a February workshop hosted by the Board of Alders Public Safety Committee, Ward 30 Alder Honda Smith said that the lack of Elm City representation on the force “is sad.”

Boise Kimber, a New Haven pastor, agreed.

“Do we just want to put everybody in jail, or do we want to have relationships?” Kimber said at the meeting in February. “One of the biggest issues that we’re facing is that the new officers do not know the community.

At the press conference, Dominguez said that right now is “the best time to be a New Haven police officer.”

“We are the best police department to join,” she said. “Right now, we need qualified applicants and we want people from the community who are able to give back to the community, who are able to make it a better place.”

In 2016, a Mayor’s Police and Community Task Force Report Regarding Recruitment for the New Haven Police Department concluded that the NHPD does not reflect the demographics of the city of New Haven. In the past 10 years, the minority representation in NHPD has dropped from 46 percent to 39 percent. Among the 22 highest ranking members in NHPD, only three of them are people of color.

At an August Board of Police Commissioners meeting, Dominguez set the goal to hire and promote more Black, Hispanic and female officers moving forward. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that the Hill neighborhood has an ethnic makeup of 32.6 percent Black or African American, 31.2 percent Hispanic or Latino and 29.5 percent white residents.

Ward 6 Alder Carmen Rodriguez told the News that she believes this canvass will better inform the people in the community who are interested in applying to join the NHPD, but who are not familiar with the specific procedures.

“I’ve been interested in applying to join NHPD since high school, and I want to work in the community and help out people,” Juancarlos Lopez, a prospective applicant, told the News. “I actually went to the police station to ask if they were hiring before I saw the application came out. I think the NHPD is doing a good job, but there’s a lot of crazy things happening nowadays, neighborhood shooting and fighting, for instance.”

Courtesy of Hannah Qu

New Haven has experienced a gun violence surge since the beginning of the year, with 22 homicides and 264 confirmed shots fired so far. Rodriguez told the News that police officers are taking additional shifts to answer calls and protect citizens. Some people, however, are concerned with paying police for working overtime.

“I would say no matter how many police we have, there is always going to be a problem with shooting.” Lopez said.

The canvassing team was divided into six groups for the walk in the Hill neighborhood. Officers Jason Rentkowicz and Rose Dell walked down Rosette Street, Devitt Street and Button Street. They placed recruitment flyers on people’s cars and in mailboxes, rang doorbells and asked pedestrians if they were or knew people who would be interested in applying to be a police officer. They also handed out plastic police badges to young children.

Along with the canvass, the NHPD is requiring that qualified applicants reside within 20 miles of New Haven after graduation from the Academy, and that New Haven residents have 10 extra points added to their final passing scores. These measures aim to increase community representation within the force, according to the NHPD brochure.

Dell told the News that in addition to regular community recruitment walks, the NHPD is also recruiting people at gyms, and having current police officers sharing their experiences on social media to encourage more people to apply.

Some people who spoke with the News did not directly express their own intention to apply, but agreed to pass the messages along to their family and friends.

The application to join the NHPD is due Oct. 15.