N.H. Follows National Trend in Police Officer Shortages
Police departments throughout the U.S. are struggling with recruitment and retention, and New Hampshire is no different.
A national survey this year by the Center for State and Local Government Excellence found that police vacancies were the top most difficult positions to fill for jurisdictions.
Currently, New Hampshire police departments are trying to fill an estimated 40 vacancies.
Manchester Chief of Police Carlo Capano says chiefs across the state are worried about the shrinking pool of applicants taking the test to become officers.
"When I took the test in 1995, there was roughly 1,500 applicants and out of that there a class of 10 that was hired," he says. "Nowadays if I can get 100 to apply, that's a good size for me."
Of that 100, only some will pass the additional battery of tests and the six-week police academy and period of probation required of beginning officers.
"Not everyone wants to be a police officer anymore. And obviously that's driven by the economy," Capano says. "When the economy does well you may not get as many people that want to be police officers."
Policing experts also blame the shortage of applicants to a decline in police's reputation, fueled by high-profile shootings captured on camera and shared on social media.
Capano, who is currently advocating for body cameras for his force, says that cameras are helpful but that social media can also quickly spread baseless rumors.
He also points to the mass retirement of baby boomers to explain the rise in vacancies over the last decade. Currently, nearly 80 percent of police officers have been on the Manchester force for less than eight years, making it a young department.
Chief Mark Chase, the vice president of the N.H. Chiefs of Police, says rural departments like his, in Center Harbor, are getting hit especially hard by the shortage.
In some towns, only a few people apply for positions, and not all of them are qualified.
"I think there is a perception out there that smaller police departments do not offer as much training or career advancement as larger agencies," he says. "I absolutely agree that there are few specialty assigns - canine, detective, juvenile - and with less personnel there can be less chance for advancement."
But Chase says the lack of specialization in rural departments means that his officers "need to know how to handle everything."
Center Harbor is one of the many New Hampshire towns looking to fill a vacancy. Some are offering up to $10,000 in bonuses to qualified applicants.