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Local police departments see decline in applicants

DURYEA, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — Many area police departments are posting “help wanted” signs, looking to fill police officer positions. Law enforcement officials in our region say it is a growing concern especially for the smaller police departments.

Eyewitness News spoke to police chief’s across our region from both small departments and larger departments such as Wilkes-Barre. They all are seeing fewer applicants. They believe there are two key factors at work here. They describe it as a “political climate” that is making people think twice about being a police officer and an economy that is offering other career opportunities.

“We’ve seen it over the last year and a half. Full-time and part-time… Not getting a lot of applicants,” said Chief Nick Lohman, Duryea Police Chief.

Lohman says it’s is a major concern for police departments, especially smaller departments like his which depend on a combination of full-time and part-time officers to provide 24 hour protection to its 5,000 residents.

“The money is not the same as it is in the bigger cities. The overtime is not there, advancement for the officers, so the bigger towns and bigger cities are probably getting kids coming out of the academy these days,” said Chief Lohman.

Lohman recently expressed his concerns in a social media post urging the leaders of area communities to do whatever they can to help attract more applicants, namely raising salaries.

“They came to us with a great offer to try and boost it up, to help us get more officers, to increase our full-time salaries, to try and get people in knowing how hard it’s been to get them,” he said.

The I-Team stopped by the Lackawanna College Police Academy in Scranton which provides training for local police officers.

The director of the academy says they haven’t seen a drop in the number of applicants, which could be welcome news for local police departments.

“What I’m hearing in the field is they are having a very difficult time. Probably a week doesn’t go by I get two or three calls do we have anyone interested?” said John Chilleri, director of Lacakwanna County Police Academy.

Wilkes-Barre Police Chief Joe Coffay says he has his full compliment of 85 officers, but there’s been a drop in applicants.

“I believe it’s the climate, the political climate in the area and throughout the country. It’s getting to be a job that we are having a hard time finding applicants for,” Coffay said.

Chief Coffay is referring to nationnwide protests in the wake of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. Plus, ongoing calls for more accountability by police departments across the country. It especially pertains to dealing with members of underserved minority communities.

Daryl Lewis is a member of Black Lives Matter and the NAACP of Wilkes-Barre. He believes that the issues raised by these high profile cases will not be resolved overnight.

“The trust relationship between the community and law enforcement has been damaged. Some of these things that have been captured on film recently has shed some light on poor practices that have been going on in the shadows for generations,” said Lewis.

Another factor in fewer people applying for police officer positions, the economy is doing rather well and there are plenty of jobs or careers to choose from where they can make more money and not place their lives in danger.

A state police spokesperson tells the I-Team they have not seen a drop in the number of applicants to the state police academy.

The director of the communications office PSP released the following statement to Eyewitness News:

“The 116-year history of the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) assists us in the recruitment process. PSP is currently focused on the most qualified applicants with the goal of increasing women and minority candidates. The Basic Training Section has developed policies and procedures to reduce the attrition rate from the Academy. In 2017, the Recruiting Section began an initiative at the Academy called the “Cadet Life Tour.” The one-day event takes place approximately 4-6 weeks prior to their arrival date to the Academy. At the Cadet Life Tour, they are exposed to the physical training standards and given a brief overview of what will be expected of them to become a graduate of the Pennsylvania State Police Academy. This program has appeared to be beneficial and feedback from the cadets has been positive.

In addition, the Recruitment Services Section has taken an active role in guiding an applicant through the entire hiring process. The Mentoring Program enhances the development of applicants by having experienced and knowledgeable troopers share their expertise, values, skills, perspectives, attitudes, and proficiencies with prospective candidates.”

Current starting salary: $63,364

Corporal Brent Miller, Director, Communications Office
Pennsylvania State Police

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