Mass. PD moves $75,000 from salary budget to pay for hiring bonuses
Chicopee hopes the signing bonuses will attract experienced officers from other communities
By Jeanette DeForge
CHICOPEE, Mass. — The City Council agreed to back a police plan to beef up the force by offering signing bonuses to experienced officers from other communities who are interested in transferring to the city's department.
Calling it a creative idea and a proposal that will likely save money in the long run, the City Council voted 12-0 last week to transfer $75,000 from police salaries to a different account to pay for the bonuses.
The city announced the proposal on April 20 and said it would start taking applications on May 1. Initially officials believed they could pay the bonuses directly through the salary account, but further research showed the City Council would have to approve a transfer into a separate account, Mayor John L. Vieau said.
Departments across the region are having difficulty recruiting and retaining police officers. In order to keep special programs such as its C3 policing and bicycle patrols, especially during the summer when most employees want to take vacations, the department is hoping to add up to five officers who "very rapidly be street ready," Police Chief Patrick Major said.
Chicopee is not the first to offer recruiting bonuses to transferring officers, but it is still a rare way to bring in new people.
The bonuses are being offered to academy-trained officers who have a minimum of one year of experience and work in a Civil Service Department. Chicopee is offering $5,000 for those with one to 3 years of experience, $10,000 for those with three to six years of experience and $15,000 for anyone who has been an officer for more than six years. Under Civil Service regulations, officers also must receive permission from their existing police chief before they leave.
"The cost of academy and field is $35,000," Major said. "We are still saving $20,000 in having an officer much more rapidly on the street and serving the city."
The department currently has 11 people who entered the police academy in April, but after graduating from the 26-week program, new Chicopee officers spend another 14 weeks in a city-run field training program where they work with a number of experienced officers who are specially trained to teach. The new officers will not be ready to patrol on their own until the end of the year, Major said.
An officer who transfers will still go through a field training program but it will be much shorter and designed to teach the city's policies, procedures and other things someone new to the city's department would need, he said.
Councilor William Courchesne, who works for the Hampden County Sheriff's Department, said one of the additional problems departments also faces is even if they can attract recruits, a number do not finish the academy training because the either resign or fail part of the course.
As of last week, no officers had applied for transfers but Major said he has seen some discussions about the signing bonuses on social media.
The one debate that took place among the City Council is how enforceable the clause that requires a transfer to pay back the bonus if they do not fulfill the five-year commitment.
Council lawyer Daniel Garvey said it is used frequently in the private sector and is enforceable.
City Councilor Delmarina Lopez argued even if an officer does not complete the five years and does not return the bonus, the city would likely have saved the money in overtime along with having the value of improving public safety by having enough people working.
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