NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- A new class of 26 recruits officially got its start at the police academy here last week as the city Police Department looks to fill more than 100 vacancies.
The department decided to start the class now with 26 recruits instead of waiting for a full-capacity class because a number of candidates would likely have looked for jobs elsewhere in the meantime, said Chief Dean Esserman.
"We've learned that if you wait for a large class to form up, you lose those who are waiting to start academy," he said.
Another eight recruits from other municipalities also are in the department's academy class. Those departments will reimburse New Haven for the training, Esserman said.
Eighteen of the 26 are white males, one is a black female, one is a black male, four are Hispanic males, one is a Hispanic female and one is classified as other female.
Police are in the midst of performing extensive background checks for both police and Fire Department applicants. Both departments each have more than 100 vacancies.
Vacancies in the Police Department have caused the city to rely more heavily on overtime.
The situation also has had other effects, such as slowing the department's ability to conduct background checks.
The department has had a number of promotion waves over the past year that have replenished the detective bureau and many vacant supervisor slots.
The state's Police Officer Standards and Training Council academy has also seen high demand from departments across the state for academy spots, said Academy Administrator Thomas Flaherty. The main academy has accepted its max of 50 recruits for every class over the past two years.
"I think we are going to see a need for a while," Flaherty said. "I think economy is doing a little better and towns and cities are hiring."
The main POST academy trains recruits predominantly from smaller municipalities. New Haven, New Britain, Milford and Waterbury are among cities that have their own satellite academies.
Another New Haven academy class of about 30 recruits will start around July and will overlap with the first class, said academy Director Lt. Max Joyner.
The first New Haven class will finish around the end of the year and the second class will finish in 2015. Those who graduate from the academy must then spend three months in a field training program.
Both classes come off a civil service list that was formed from a massive 2013 recruitment campaign. More than 1,400 people signed up to take the test, which was twice the number that took it following the previous recruit campaign in 2010.
Despite all the hiring, the department is likely to still be at a shortage come 2015 when slightly fewer than 50 officers become eligible for retirement, according to the 2013 chief administrative officer's report for the department. Esserman said there is a potential for many of the 50 to retire.
"You're not just losing numbers; you are losing experience," said police union President Louis Cavaliere Jr..
On top of that, a number of sworn officers who already are eligible for retirement are expected to put in their papers before the end of July this year, Cavaliere said. That is the cutoff for personnel to keep retiree medical benefits that were negotiated in the previous contract.
Cavaliere said he proposed that the city extend the old retiree medical benefits to the end of this contract as one possible way to keep veteran officers onboard longer than when they immediately become eligible for retirement.
City officials are in the process of weighing proposals to reach the best outcome for the city and department, said Mendi Blue, the city's acting director of labor relations, in a statement.
"In doing so, the city must carefully balance short- and long-term implications because any adjustments made to retiree medical benefits today could have a significant long-term impact on the city's obligations regarding future retirements," she said.
It is not unusual for a city to be in a position where some years there are a great number of officers hired and other years there are very few or none, Esserman said.
"I think like many agencies, we hire in feast and famine," he said, "Big numbers and small numbers, but not regular numbers."
The department will be looking to possibly run smaller academy classes more regularly in the future, Esserman said. The Providence Police Department did that during Esserman's tenure there. A small class was placed every year for seven years.
Not only will doing small and regular classes help the department and city now, but it will also help 20 or 30 years down the road when officers become eligible for retirement, Esserman said.
There likely will be another academy class placed sometime in 2015 along with the start of another recruitment campaign, Esserman said.
"We have a Board of Alders and a mayor who are very committed to public safety and who are supportive of hiring to rebuild our strength," Esserman said.
Copyright 2014 - New Haven Register, Conn.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service