Retaining police officers is no easy task, NH cities and towns reportBy KIMBERLY HOUGHTON
Union Leader Correspondent
January 15. 2017 11:23PM
MERRIMACK — Police departments throughout the state are reporting a decline in law enforcement recruits, prompting agencies to take different approaches to hire and retain qualified police officers.
In an effort to find and secure professional patrolmen, the Merrimack Police Department is hoping to try a new concept that would offer a proposed financial incentive for new officers.
“We are increasingly having a difficult time filling police officer positions,” Capt. Denise Roy recently told the Town Council.
The department is requesting funding in its proposed budget that would allow new police officers who complete their first year of probation on the force to receive a $5,000 cash incentive. In return, the police officer would be required to sign a contract promising to remain with the department for a period of time; if they leave before the date established by the contract, they would be required to return the $5,000.
“Almost every law enforcement agency across the state is experiencing this same challenge — trying to not only recruit qualified candidates, get them through the police academy part and then retain them. It is a real challenge,” said Police Chief Mark Doyle.
In Merrimack, Doyle said new patrolmen aren’t necessarily leaving the local department for a different law enforcement agency, but are often finding it difficult to work rotating shifts on holidays, weekends and evening hours. Some of them do not expect that type of demand, explained the chief.
“Conceptually, this gives us an opportunity to attract the best and the brightest from across the state,” Doyle said of the hiring incentive.
It will also help attract the type of patrolmen who would be most beneficial for Merrimack, added Roy.
Currently, the department spends about $20,000 hiring an officer, enrolling them in the New Hampshire Police Standards and Training Council, participating in field training and getting them outfitted, according to Roy.
Then, after all of that preparation and money, the candidate may not work out, she added.
The hiring incentive, if approved, could potentially attract individuals already working in the law enforcement field who understand the process, which would be a tremendous benefit, said Roy.
Merrimack police are asking that $10,000 be placed into the department’s newly proposed budget to begin implementing the hiring incentive for new officers.
In Nashua, Police Chief Andrew Lavoie agreed that the number of candidates interested in entering the police force is dwindling. Previously, the city’s police department would have up to 400 or 600 individuals attend quarterly testing sessions for candidates interested in becoming police officers. Now, the amount of potential recruits attending those sessions is closer to 100, said Lavoie.
“It is a bad time. Society is making the most demands on police of all time, and there is a lot of scrutiny,” he said, stressing Nashua will not lower its standards because the number of qualified candidates is declining.
While the Nashua Police Department does not offer a hiring incentive, Lavoie said that after new officers complete their first year — primarily 12 months of internal training — they receive a $9,500 raise when they are classified as second-year officers. That salary increases again when they move to their third year as a patrolman, he explained.
“Our guys don’t even get vacation during their first year. You need to want to be a cop,” said Lavoie. “If you prove yourself, you get rewarded.”
The Nashua Police Department has a recruiting division to help ensure that the right people are entering its doors, according to Lavoie, adding the pay raises within the first couple of years are an incentive to keep those individuals within the department.
In Manchester, the city’s police department is hosting a free seminar next month in an effort to recruit potential police candidates. The seminar, which has been planned for 6 p.m. Feb. 27 at the Robert Frost Hall at Southern New Hampshire University, will discuss the police department’s requirements, testing process, hiring process, state academy program and how to prepare for its upcoming police exam on April 1.
Sgt. Mike Biron of the Manchester Police Department said his agency does not currently have any type of incentive or retention bonus in place for new officers.