BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – On Tuesday, March 9, the Bellows Falls Police Department discussed staffing concerns with the Village Trustees. Municipal Manager Scott Pickup discussed the frustrations the Police Department was having with hiring officers. According to Pickup, it is “creating retention difficulty…[and] this issue is going to become more of a problem for our scheduling.” He mentioned that other regional police departments were offering sign-on bonuses to recruit new officers.
Police Departments in Dover and Wilmington, Vt., and Keene and Hanover, N.H. have offered sign-on bonuses to recruit new officers. In an interview, Dover Police Chief Randall Johnson said the bonus was implemented in his department in February of 2019 and explained that offering the bonus “had helped to attract a certified officer.” Johnson explained that if the candidate passed the evaluations this would be the first time the bonus was awarded. He said that the bonus was given incrementally over a two-year period to encourage long-term commitment.
Captain Todd Lawrence from Keene Police Department said that 16 officers were hired since the bonus program was implemented in 2019. He said four out of the 16 were certified officers. Lawrence mentioned that through the hiring process he had learned that four of the officers who came from local departments had planned to relocate to Keene before the bonus program was announced; but he agreed the bonus, “helped kickstart the process.” KPD also offers a relocation bonus for moving expenses that two of them utilized.
Speaking to Bemis about the bonus, he explained that the Trustees have not made any decisions. He said this was a tool that could be used to get qualified candidates.
At the Trustees meeting, Bemis said BFPD had “at least one [part-time] candidate” they hoped to send to a class in June but explained it could “take up to a year” for the training.
Becoming a law enforcement officer in Vermont requires a new hire to pass background checks, testing, and evaluations. They also attend a 16-week course at the Vermont Police Academy in Pittsford. Officers must be certified by the Vermont Criminal Justice Council, which includes entrance testing, the academy program, and field and service training. For officers who are certified in another state, they do offer a waiver process when hiring in Vermont.
To maintain certification, police officers must also attend up to 30 hours of in-service training annually. A higher level of certification means more qualified officers and increased salaries.
In an interview, Lt. Justin Sanctuary of Walpole Police Department said that their department does not always offer a bonus, but one of the reasons they do is for the cost of training. A bonus helps attract more certified officers. “We try to use money already allocated to retain and attract new applicants,” he commented.
Bellows Falls Police Department is currently seeking to hire a full-time police officer. They have internal postings and are conducting one-on-one recruitment. They have also posted information on their Facebook page and the town website.
The Bellows Falls Village Trustees meet on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month at 6 p.m. in the Lower Theater of the Bellows Falls Opera House.