Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

PORTLAND  — Law enforcement agencies statewide are struggling to find staff and say they are at a critical point.

From Kittery to Caribou, police departments are short-staffed and officers are burned out.

“It’s a tough job,” Gardiner Police Chief James Toman said. “It’s a tough job. It doesn’t seem to be as glorious as perhaps it once was.”

Toman said they’ve been trying to hire officers for nine months now. In all that time, only 10 people have applied.

They’ve also already lost four officers this year. The fifth left Thursday.

“My existing staff is required to pick up the slack,” Toman said.

He’s concerned his current officers will quit and leave.

“Employee wellness is extremely important,” Toman said. “When officers say, ‘We’re tired,’ that’s a concern. That’s a big issue and that’s one of the things that prompted the sign-on bonuses.”

They’re offering up to $15,000 for experienced officers.

The bonus is paid out over the course of three years.

“If I’m not getting the applicants, I’m for the sign-on bonuses, but we also have to take care of the existing staff,” Augusta Police Chief Jared Mills said.

Mills said there’s never been a shortage this bad in his 23 years on the job.

For these departments, help may be on the way. The Maine Criminal Justice Academy is about to have their biggest class ever.

“We’re trying to help in any way that we can to put qualified, experienced, trained officers out on the streets,” Maine Criminal Justice Academy Assistant Director Jack Donald Peck Jr. said.

The academy has 140 people on the waitlist.

“That’s a positive thing, and hopefully that continues and that will be good for all of us,” Mills said.

“It’s unfortunate that it’s come to this,” Toman said. “I don’t know that I’m surprised, but it’s unfortunate.”