Police chief: Low pay hinders recruitment effort

RINDGE — Turnover on the town’s police force, resulting from low base pay, and the subsequent high cost of training for new non-certified officers could be costing taxpayers more money than if they paid officers higher wages to begin with.

Most recently full-time officer Chris Martin left the Rindge department, citing low pay as his reason for joining the Peterborough Police Department, according to Rindge Police Chief Frank Morrill. In an effort to retain Martin, Rindge offered to increase his salary from $37,500 to $42,000 but was unable to match Peterborough’s offer of $46,200.

According to Morrill, the department has seen five full-time officers leave in recent years for similar reasons.

In 2010, Officer Scott Radford left the department to work for the State Liquor Commission; in December 2011 Joseph Hazelrigg went to work for Marlborough Police; in April 2012, former Rindge Police Chief Mike Sielicki resigned to become chief of the Kensington Police Department; in December, 2013, Officer Tom Horne left to work for New Ipswich police; and in March, 2014, Martin resigned to work for Peterborough. Each officer cited an increased earning potential in other departments when he resigned.

Morrill says because Rindge doesn’t pay a competitive salary, it is not possible for the department to hire and retain experienced and certified officers. Rindge has to hire new recruits and ends up footing the bill for their police academy training.

And with a 40-hour-a-week job now vacant, the department has to compensate by using overtime and part-time officers.

Morrill said non-certified recruits are paid a salary of $30,000 to $35,000 and require 14 weeks of academy training, costing the department approximately $5,000 for equipment as well as their wages during the training period. The department must pay for the officer’s uniform, bullet-proof vest, sidearm, bullets for the range, and other equipment. Additionally, after training is complete all new hires must complete a polygraph test, psychological evaluation, physical fitness test, and extensive background checks performed by a sergeant or detective ranked officer in the department. Morrill says the background check process is intensive and takes two weeks and full-time commitment from the officer in charge, meaning another officer is not on the street.

After the 14 week police academy program is complete, the officer must complete an additional 12 to 16 week training program in Rindge. “It’s 26 weeks before you even get the person on the road to fill vacant shifts,” said Morrill.

There is something to be gained by the community by retaining experienced officers, Morrill said.

“A rookie officer takes several years to get to know the community,” said Morrill. “An experienced officer will have an intimate knowledge of the community and the people in it.”

“I think the citizens do value knowing who the officer is and the officer knowing who is in the community,” he added.

When the job application deadline for the vacant full-time position ended on Monday, the department had only received applications from people who are not certified police officers. If the department decides to hire one of those applicants, Rindge will have to pay for the academy to certify the officer.

In an effort to entice a certified applicant, the Board of Selectmen in a non-public session recently decided to offer a $45,000 base salary, according to Morrill. According to a statement from the department last week, that number is still approximately $1,000 short of the state average for an officer base salary.

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