The Brewer Police Department is offering one of the highest police signing bonuses in the state as departments attempt to fill their ranks from a dwindling pool of applicants.
Brewer police said Tuesday that they’ll offer a signing bonus of up to $20,000 to any experienced police officer who joins the city’s police force. The officer would need to have at least five years of full-time experience after attending the Maine Criminal Justice Academy to receive the $20,000 bonus, though officers with less experience could receive smaller bonuses. The signing bonus is contingent upon a two-year commitment to working for the Brewer police force.
Maine police departments have struggled to fill vacancies and attract candidates in recent years, and the number of cops across the state has dropped 6 percent since 2015. Those in law enforcement say they’re seeing fewer people wanting to enter the field, and that bonuses are a stop-gap measure to fill openings.
In Maine, a shortage of applicants right now also owes in part to the reverberating effects of a suspension of training at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy a year ago.
On top of the $20,000 signing bonus, the new hire in Brewer could earn up to $29.03 per hour, which works out to roughly $60,000 per year, and would be given two weeks of vacation time to start, according to a hiring flyer. The maximum hourly rate would rise after July 1, 2022.
Brewer’s deputy police chief, Chris Martin, said the bonus is intended to attract a qualified candidate who could immediately begin work while three other new hires undergo training at the police academy, which has a backlog of people waiting to attend training since it suspended training after cadets tested positive for COVID-19 a year ago.
Rick Desjardins, the executive director of the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, said there were 133 people waiting to attend training, a number he expected to wane as the hiring process weeds out unqualified applicants and the next round of classes begin.
“The issue really is about the volume of applicants for agencies to fill positions,” he said. “A lot of agencies have multiple vacancies and they just don’t have the requisite number of applicants to fill those positions.”
The Brewer Police Department has nine patrol positions, but four of them are vacant. One officer is on military deployment and the three other vacancies will be filled after the hires graduate from the police academy, Martin said. Brewer has 21 sworn officers, according to the latest state data.
“In the past three years, we’ve lost far more officers than what [the Criminal Justice Academy] can produce as fully certified full-time officers,” Martin said.
Other Maine departments have also offered signing bonuses to attract candidates in recent years. Orono began offering $10,000 signing bonuses in January 2020, while Gardiner is currently offering $15,000 to experienced hires. Westbrook is offering up to $14,000 to experienced officers and touts on its website that officers aren’t subject to a COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
Edward Tolan, the executive director of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, said that Brewer’s signing bonus was the largest one he had heard of, but that hiring challenges among cops — and associated cash incentives to ameliorate them — predated the COVID-19 pandemic.
He pointed to the Portland Police Department, which began offering $10,000 signing bonuses in May 2017.
“It’s a sign of the times that we’re just not seeing people want to get into law enforcement,” Tolan said, listing factors such as shifting public opinion about policing and candidates’ failure to meet hiring standards.
“So it’s one more way to try and attract them to the job,” he said of the hiring bonuses.
The bonuses are ultimately a stop-gap measure as Maine law enforcement agencies struggle with low applicant numbers, Desjardins said.
“Unfortunately, a lot of those hiring bonuses are essentially taking current law enforcement officers and repositioning them in different departments,” he said. “What we really need is new officers that are coming to the profession.”