Chicopee Police Department to hire 13 new officers to address significant staff

CHICOPEE – Faced with multiple retirements and vacancies on the Police Department, the city is working to hire 13 new police officers.

The department is significantly short personnel. There are currently 90 patrol officers on staff and city regulations allow up to 120 on the force, Police Lt. Holly Davis said.

“The shortage is not causing any safety issues,” she said. “We are filling all of our beats and units.”

The fact that the police department is allowed 120 officers makes the shortage looks worse than it is, since the force is rarely expected to be that large. The complement of patrol officers was increased several years ago to allow candidates to be hired in anticipation of senior officers retiring so the two can overlap while the new officers are in training.

But, along with the current vacancies, two more members of the police department have expressed interest in retiring before the end of year, Davis said.

Mayor John L. Vieau, who is the appointing authority for the department, said he has been conducting interviews and is in the process of offering jobs to candidates.

Once they pass physical and psychological tests, the city is hoping to be able to secure 13 slots in the next Western Massachusetts Police Academy class which is scheduled to begin on Oct. 25, Davis said.

“I feel public safety, the police department and the fire department, are the two most important parts of the City of Chicopee,” Vieau said.

Vieau said he has also decided to hire an assessment center to evaluate police chief candidates. Chief William R. Jebb, who announced his plans to retire after a 34-year career, stepped down on March 26 and is currently on medical leave.

Capt. Lonny Dakin, who is serving as acting chief, has announced his own plans to retire at the end of the year, so Vieau said he has plenty of time to hire the next leader.

He promised a “thorough and transparent” process.

The city also recently hired a dozen firefighters after a “perfect storm” of retirements, resignations, injuries and deployments of members who are in military reservists or National Guard, left the department seriously short-handed. The COVID-19 pandemic also played a part because the Western Massachusetts Firefighter Training Academy is operating at half-capacity so it is difficult to educate recruits. At least six of the firefighters are expected to enter the academy for the next class.

There are many factors that have left the police department short-staffed, including the pandemic, Davis said.

“I would say retention and recruiting for law enforcement is down across the country. It is not as desirable a job as it once was,” she said.

To address that issue, the city recently held a career fair for anyone interested in becoming a police officer. Along with introducing candidates to the different divisions and opportunities in the department, human resource officials led them through the Civil Service hiring process, she said.

Following the session about 80 people registered to take the next Civil Service exam, which will be given in June, that will give the city candidates for future vacancies, Vieau said.

Even if all 13 recruits can enter the next academy class and graduate, it will nearly a year before they are ready to hit the streets on their own, Davis said.

The Police Academy lasts 24 weeks and new officers then spend 14 weeks working with a series of senior officers who are qualified to teach and evaluate their performance so any deficits can be corrected before they are working alone, Davis said.

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