FARMINGTON — The police department has five positions to fill and finding candidates is a challenge, Police Chief Kenneth Charles told selectmen Tuesday night.

“Sgt. (Edward) Hastings (IV) has moved on. He resigned to take a position with the fire marshal’s office,” Charles said. “With the retirement of school resource officer, Bridgette Gilbert, that’s another key position that requires a particular skill set to satisfactorily fill.”

Also vacant are a detective and two patrolmen positions.

“At the same time, I still do have one candidate in the late stages of the application process,” he added. “I’m hoping he’ll finish soon. To speed that process along we’re going to sponsor a law enforcement pre-service academy.”

Two phases are involved, an online phase first then a second in-person phase.

“We’ll host a phase II class. We have the curriculum and resources,” Charles said. “I know you’ve been talking about firefighters for a super long time. The pain you have felt for so long Chief ( Terry Bell) is the pain we’re dealing with at this point. All agencies throughout Maine are struggling to keep their numbers up. At the same time, we want to keep standards up.”

Background checks, criminal history, polygraph process and fitness requirements were noted.

“I personally will not compromise for my department,” Charles said. “It’s getting harder and harder to find applicants.”

Farmington is budgeted for 13 officers. Charles is working with the bargaining unit to adjust some agreements for staffing requirements.

“All departments in the state are pulling from the exact same pool of applicants,” he said. “It tends to be the smaller communities that lose out.”

When asked by Selectman Scott Landry about how far off his department’s pay scale might be from other jurisdictions, Charles replied that when compared to larger cities, it was off by a few dollars per hour. The chief added that the trend is for personnel to leave for bigger departments, rather than smaller ones, and many are losing personnel to state jobs.

“We’re several dollars off from those agencies,” he noted. “People can go and they’re not working overnight shifts.”

Fellow Selectman Stephen Bunker attributed the hiring issues to national controversies tarnishing people’s ideas on a career in law enforcement. Charles countered that residents continue to back him and his officers.

“I tell a lot of people this is a department that is well supported,” Charles said. “This is a good place to be in law enforcement.”

With Carrabessett Valley, Jay, Farmington and Wilton the only Franklin County towns with 24-hour police coverage, and a noted increase in officers dealing with juvenile-based incidents, due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, Charles stressed the need for the round-the-clock schedule.

“It’s important,” he said. “I don’t think it’s something we can compromise. The demand on officers is greater and cases they’re being asked to respond to are becoming more involved.”

Charles suggested approaching students at the University of Maine-Farmington, as their field of study could translate well to police work.

“There are a lot of people graduating with degrees that are very transferable to law enforcement,” he said. “Namely psychology majors, considering 75% of what we do is directly involved with the psychology of the person and being able to work with them.”

When extra hands are needed, Charles reaches out to the sheriff’s office. The state police are another option, he said.

“It’s a struggle for all,” he said. “I know we’re not the only ones.”

 


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