FAIRFIELD — The Fairfield Police Department recently launched an internship program aimed at providing hands-on experience in law enforcement to local college students while at the same time addressing the staffing shortages that have recently swept across the agency.

The number of qualified people applying to the department continues to decline, according to Tom Gould, chief of the Fairfield Police Department.  This trend has left the department with two full-time positions that have been unfilled since March.

The Fairfield Police Department’s dwindling number of applicants coincides with a national decline in law enforcement officers entering the profession. The number of full-time sworn-in police officers per 1,000 residents dropped 11% nationwide between 1997 and 2016, according to a 2018 study by the U.S. Department of Justice.

“Applicants for law enforcement positions are becoming fewer and fewer.  I think a lot of departments are having issues finding quality help,” Gould said. “We knew we needed to think outside the box in order to attract attention to our department.”

The program, which was developed in November, caters to Thomas and Unity college students who are 21 years old, or 20-year-olds with more than 60 college credits who are working toward a degree related to law enforcement.

Camille Coyne, a senior at Thomas College, will be one of the first working interns with the Fairfield Police Department. Camille Coyne

Currently, the department is working with two Thomas students who are set to be working by mid-January. Camille Coyne, a senior at Thomas College, learned about the program after speaking with the department during a recent career fair at the school.

Coyne, a criminal justice and forensic psychology major, said she thinks the internship program is something more schools should offer students.

“I think this is a really positive thing. Lots of criminal justice majors don’t get the opportunity to do part-time work with police departments so we’re kind of going in blind,” Coyne said. “Being able to do part-time work and focus on school is great, more schools should offer programs like this to students.”

According to Gould, the idea for the program came from one officer who thought his alma mater could serve as a good place to start finding new recruits.

“Sgt. Patrick Mank suggested an internship program that could be offered to local colleges. Sgt. Mank, who holds a degree from Thomas College, reached out to them and found that an interest existed,” Gould said. “Officer Nolan Allen, who is a recent Unity graduate also became involved and is working with Sgt. Mank to judge interest in the program there as well.”

For Mank, creating the program meant looking at the recruitment process in a new light.

“The internship program was introduced to address and tackle several reasons why people may not be applying…” Mank said. “The program started as a concept through discussion on thinking outside of the traditional approach to recruiting new law enforcement officers. Traditionally, law enforcement positions have been filled when an agency has had an opening through a job posting of some sort. Applicants would then apply, a hiring process would ensue, a candidate would be selected, and the training would begin. With little to no qualified applicants applying, this approach is no longer effective as it once was.”

The department allows students to have flexibility with their hours and schedule their internship around their classes, according to Mank.

“Students aren’t just getting stuck behind a desk doing paperwork,” Mank said. “They do everything that the full-time officers do … The internship process is a lot like the regular employment process and we’re very flexible with them.”

And just like full-time officers, interns will be put through extensive training before they begin their work with the department.

“They will need to pass an academy certified physical agility test as well as complete a full background check that requires a polygraph and psychological review,” Gould said. “They will then take a 40-hour online course from the Maine Criminal Justice Academy after which they will attend a two-week classroom-based program.  Once completed, they will spend several days training with our department-issued firearms and begin an extensive field training program that must be completed before being certified as a police officer.”

It’s this level of training that Gould said will set participants of the program apart from others when they apply for jobs after graduating college.

“When they apply for positions within the law enforcement community, those departments will know that they have successfully completed all three phases of the training required by Maine law,” Gould said.

The department is currently taking applications for the upcoming spring semester, according to Mank.

“As this internship program is still in its early stages, the agency is looking to gather feedback from the community along with our upcoming participants to better the program,” Mank said.

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