RENEE ORDWAY

Police right to demand qualified applicants

Posted May 25, 2012, at 7:53 p.m.
Renee Ordway
Renee Ordway

Sit up straight, tell the truth and say “please” and “thank you.”

These are traditional, basic lessons for the average 5-year-old child.

Yet take a look around at a roomful of teenagers and even young adults and one could wonder whether anyone was listening all those years ago.

In the past couple of weeks there have been several stories around the state about the difficulty that police departments are having recruiting capable and qualified new officers.

It’s not a new problem. The difficulty in luring newcomers to a career in law enforcement has been looming for more than a decade.

But that was in a different job market, and a risky job, with relatively low pay and long and unpredictable hours, was easier to pass over.

Today’s market is a bit different, yet still departments are functioning with staff shortages, and the season of tourism, special functions and vacations is here.

That means even more overtime for an already overworked police force as officers are needed to fill in for those who are on vacation and to staff summer concerts and events.

In response, departments in Bangor, Portland and South Portland have created online recruitment videos hoping to entice qualified men and women to careers in law enforcement.

They are exciting videos, featuring rapid camera cuts, lots of flashing blue lights on dark urban streets, body armor and guns. And they are set to heart-pounding rock music, of course.

But still the days of having 100 or 200 people line up for the job are gone, and police chiefs say they are seeing sometimes as few as 30. That’s not a big pool when you’re looking for someone to hand a gun to along with some pretty serious authority.

Bangor police Sgt. Paul Edwards recently noted that they had 30 applicants for a recent position and not one of them was hired.

Police Chief Ron Gastia said while more applicants may have more education than ever before, they are not necessarily more qualified.

They may have an associate degree in criminal justice but aren’t keen enough to sit up straight or dress properly for a job interview, he said.

“One of the discouraging things is the number of candidates who can’t pass the physical exam,” Gastia said. “And they know it’s coming and exactly what is expected and they have plenty of time to prepare, but they get down to the academy and they can’t do it. There is no excuse for that.”

And for many applicants, Gastia says he senses a certain sense of entitlement.

“There is this sense that they are asking ‘What do you have to offer me?’ rather than trying to show us what they can offer the department,” he said.

Gastia has vowed to keep the department’s hiring standards high, even if it means leaving positions unfilled.

The flashing blue lights, the body armor and the guns are all pretty exciting and they play a part in the life of a police officer, but in reality most police officers in Maine will spend a majority of their time moving along intoxicated people passed out in public places, calming disturbed and disruptive mentally ill people, taking theft reports and breaking up bar fights and domestic disputes.

All of which takes great maturity, common sense and integrity.

And the ability to sit up straight, tell the truth and say “please” and “thank you.”

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