NORWICH – The Norwich City Police Department is facing a staffing shortage that's making it nearly impossible for it to run at full capacity.
The department's now operating with six of its 20 positions unfilled, most of which were vacated by officers leaving the NPD for opportunities with agencies in nearby municipalities. Another NPD officer is out with an injury and another still may be leaving the department soon for a position with the New York State Police.
In all, the department is running close to half-capacity, said Police Chief Rodney Marsh, making it another victim of a nationwide trend of police shortages.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that the number of full-time police officers has declined by nearly 23,000 over the past six years. The average number of full-time sworn officers per 1,000 U.S. residents decreased from 2.42 in 1997 to 2.17 in 2016 (down 11 percent).
“It's a challenge,” said Marsh, citing the months-long process it takes from testing to training in order to recruit new officers. “It seems like we're seeing this more and more, but there's a shortage across the whole area. There's such a shortage across the country right now that departments are offering incentives to draw certified officers and it's created a bidding war between agencies.”
The NPD is no different. On Wednesday, Marsh went to the City Council to pitch the idea of a sign-on bonus in hopes of attracting lateral transfers from other agencies. The department's willing to fork out $7,000 to $10,000 and a $65,000 salary to a seasoned officer to join the NPD – something Marsh said would alleviate much of their burden.
The department's offering starting pay at $54,000 trusting that it might be enough to attract new blood. Marsh said he's even considered small changes to longstanding policies, including allowing exposed tattoos and facial hair if it draws qualified applicants.
“The wish is that we could bring in a couple more laterals because they're already trained and already have experience; but that's what every department wants,” he said.