Agencies team up to recruit new cops

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Colchester police Chief Jennifer Morrison says police agencies across the country are having a hard time attracting qualified candidates to vacant positions. For the first time, Chittenden County agencies are coming together to host a joint recruitment event to attract applicants to their departments. (File photo)

Colchester police Chief Jennifer Morrison says police agencies across the country are having a hard time attracting qualified candidates to vacant positions. For the first time, Chittenden County agencies are coming together to host a joint recruitment event to attract applicants to their departments. (File photo)

For the first time in history, the police agencies of Chittenden County are coming together for a joint recruitment event, standing alongside the hiring departments they typically compete with.

Attendees will have the chance to take the written entrance exam and physical fitness test and speak to representatives from departments across the county, including Colchester, all in one day at South Burlington Middle School on Friday.

Each participating department will also deliver a short pitch, telling the applicants what their agency has to offer, Colchester Police Chief Morrison said. She hopes hearing about small and large departments alike will help both sides discover the best match.

“What we’re trying to do is allow candidates the opportunity to find the right fit,” Morrison said. “[We also want] to generate some excitement around the profession of policing. We want more people to investigate this career.”

Colchester will join representatives from Burlington, Essex, Hinesburg, Richmond, South Burlington, Williston, Winooski, University of Vermont, Vermont State Police, Vt. Fish & Wildlife and the Chittenden County Sheriff’s Office.

Morrison has seen interest in the profession ebb and flow through her own career, affected largely by available federal grant money, current military operations and public sentiment.

“It has been a difficult landscape for us,” Morrison said. “It’s difficult to get people excited about wanting to serve in an environment in which they feel they are hyper-scrutinized and criticized all the time.”

When funds are limited, it curbs the department’s advertising capacity and makes it difficult to compete with the more than 18,000 police agencies across the country for an already limited number of qualified candidates, she said.

The department does recruit applicants studying criminal justice in college, but Morrison said that doesn’t necessarily give candidates a leg up.

“I want folks who are interesting and add value to the community,” Morrison said. “It does not concern me whether they have a criminal justice degree or not. In many ways, I’d prefer they have a different interest or viewpoint.”

At CPD, Morrison said less than 10 percent of applicants receive an offer of employment. Around 30 percent are eliminated after a written test, and several more are weeded out after a physical evaluation.

Interviewees also must provide a lengthy personal history, undergo a polygraph exam and pass a background check, among other steps.

“Even if folks really wanted to be cops, it’s tough to get them through the whole process,” Morrison said.

Accepted candidates will subsequently head to the Vermont Police Academy and complete 16 weeks of field training, plus a yearlong probation period. Jeff Baur, sworn in last January, will graduate next month and join CPD as an officer. Morrison said between 15 and 20 candidates applied for that job when it was vacant.

Had no qualified applicant emerged, Morrison insisted the PD wouldn’t have settled. It’s a bad investment, she said, to invest resources purely to fill an empty seat.

Because of the time consuming and costly training mandate, CPD offers a $5,000 signing bonus to any new hire who is already a full-time certified officer in Vermont. The figure dwarfs the $30,000-plus it takes to pay a recruit while he or she is at the academy.

Currently, CPD has just one vacancy on the books, Morrison said. Still, she’s aware some employees may move on soon. With such a lengthy hiring process, Morrison said it’s important to be prepared.

“The reality is that when people leave, they give us two weeks notice but it takes us four months to hire someone,” Morrison said. “We are looking for one or two good candidates out of this event.”

Morrison said the constant hiring cycle is a drain on staff resources in smaller departments like Colchester, pulling officers off regular duties to handle the administrative task.

“We just have to try something different because what we’ve been doing the last 10 years isn’t working,” Morrison said.