Rockland PD turns to sign-on bonuses in struggle to fill positions

Wed, 05/05/2021 - 7:45pm

    ROCKLAND — “I’m running out of options,” said Rockland Police Chief Chris Young. “I’ve tried everything that I can think of as far as advertising different media that we’ve never used before – A cross section including several police-related websites, The International Association of Chiefs of Police – and this is the only other thing that I can really come up with and plan, to try to get at least a couple of these officers on board.”

    With the local department down four officers, and a nationwide shortage of law enforcement agents, Chief Young is proposing to attract certified Academy-trained police officers to join the Rockland force by offering sign-on bonuses. The money comes from an already established department fund that was created approximately 10 years ago when an officer left Rockland PD and joined another agency. Since Rockland had spent $10,000 to put him through the Academy, the next agency to hire him had to reimburse Rockland for that investment.

    Referred to as “buying” an officer, the fund has grown, allowing Rockland PD to “buy” new hires from other municipalities, as well as accept reimbursement from others.

    “It’s worked to our advantage that we’ve worked up a kitty to be able to fund a program like this,” said City Manager Tom Luttrell, during the May 3 Rockland City Council agenda-setting meeting.

    Whereas other police departments are also offering sign-on bonuses, Young sees his proposal as more aggressive due to its frontloading. Other departments, according to him, are rationing out the money to the new hire. They may disburse $2,000 after the first year, another $2,000 after the second, and so on. Rockland’s idea is to give the Academy-certified officer the entire sum upfront.

    Young is following this front-loading tactic based on the viewpoints of a couple of his officers who were hired from outside the area.

    “It is enticing because they can look at that money and say ‘OK, well, I can afford to move now,’” he said. “That’s at least a foundation, to say ‘OK, that piece is taken care of. At least I can secure a rent right now and move forward from there.’ It’s just one less issue for some of those officers.”

    Several contingencies would be in place over the first five years of the sign-on employment here.

    If they are terminated for any reason whatsoever, then they have to pay the City back the money. Nothing would be disbursed to that employee until they’ve successfully completed the entry program.

    If they were to leave within five years, then they would owe Rockland at a rate of $2,000 for every year of the contract that they didn’t fulfill.

    The offering of a sign-on bonus, however, didn’t sit as well with some members of Council. Councilor Nate Davis asked why Rockland didn’t just offer to pay the officers more money; he then acknowledged that the City didn’t necessarily have more money to offer.

    Mayor Ed Glaser wondered why officers didn’t simply go to other agencies with higher salaries.

    “I don’t know if this is going to work,” said Glaser. “I don’t know if this is a good idea or not. But if this is a tool that you think you need, I’m going to support you on it. [But] I think we need to find other ways to get good officers.”

    Resident Steve Carroll, speaking during Public Comment, suggested that the department need only reach out to police officers around the nation who are currently working in major crime areas.

    “A lot of very good, experienced police officers — maybe officers that are getting ready for retirement — are probably getting very sick and tired of all of this going on in the inner cities,” said Carroll. “And they’d like to get out. I think they’d like to find a place that’s kind of peaceful and where people aren’t shooting at them all of the time. I don’t think that money is often the solution to this problem.”

    Regardless of where they come from, Young stressed that all hiring guidelines will continue to be followed. All of the things that the department does to ensure that they are getting the best officer – the vetting, the psychological, the polygraph-- would still be in place.

    “Being four officers down, an Academy graduate is going to be an immediate stop-gap for us,” said Young. “They would be able to come in, in what would be an accelerated field training program because they’ve already got so much of what they need in their toolkit.”

    Rockland City Council will vote on Young’s proposal at the Monday, May 10, Rockland City Council meeting, which starts at 6 p.m., via Zoom.

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