LINCOLN – The Lincoln Police Department can now more easily accept new members from other police departments in the state thanks to an ordinance passed by the Town Council on Tuesday.
The Lateral Transfer Policy gives the department leverage to hire officers from other departments without those officers starting over completely.
Town Administrator Phil Gould, who served as administrative captain of the Police Department before he was elected last November, has been an advocate for the policy, noting that the department will be short-staffed soon, if it isn’t already.
The council-approved amendment to chapter 44 of Lincoln’s code establishes the following pay rates for certified police officers electing to be considered as a lateral transfer:
• Those with up to two years of requisite police experience shall be eligible for the pay rate and vacation schedule of a year two patrolman. Those with three or more years of experience are eligible for the pay rate and vacation schedule of a three-year patrolman.
• Time spent attending the Police Academy and time served as a probationary police officer will not qualify as years of prior police experience when calculating years of previous police experience upon appointment.
On Monday, the Ordinance Committee met to discuss last-minute changes to the policy ahead of Tuesday’s full council meeting.
Town Councilor Bruce Ogni, a former police officer, raised a few concerns with the lateral transfer policy. He said he’d move forward with it on a trial basis.
He asked what would motivate an officer earning a pension in another community to come to Lincoln.
“In most people’s mind, you would because the community might be more police friendly, the equipment might be better, you might be ready for a not-so-high volume of calls. I think money plays into that decision,” he said.
Ogni added, “I think, eventually, this might become a problem inside the department, where you’ll have a guy who has spent three years here for that pay scale earning the same as the new guy who comes in.”
Councilor Ken Pichette said he understood Ogni’s concerns, but thinks it would be difficult to convince an officer to take a heavy pay cut.
Ogni cautioned that the policy might pit communities against one another when they’re all competing for the same pool of candidates. He suggested advocating to the state for additional police academies.
Two academies per year for the entire state is not enough, he said, especially with the difficulties recruiting law enforcement officers today.
Gould said he shares Ogni’s concerns about the lack of new officers, and said there are 10 other communities in the state trying to get lateral transfers for that reason.
Lincoln’s department is down 18 percent in personnel due to retirements.
“We’re trying to address speeding and other public safety concerns, minus seven out of 37 officers,” he said. “I can see a lot of overtime being created while we try to fill those spots.”
There are fewer openings in the academy for Lincoln then there are spots to fill in the department. Between the academy and probationary periods, he said it takes about a year for a new officer to actually impact manpower.
Gould said Lincoln is working on sending three candidates to the academy in January. Out of the top 10 candidates participating in that academy, three have already signed with other agencies.
“Now we’re all fighting for the same recruits,” he said. When he attended the academy in 1992, there were roughly 350 recruits. The last academy saw 45.
Ogni argued that the lateral transfer policy is more of a Band-Aid than a long-term solution.
In addition to more police academies, Ogni suggested a statewide standardized police test providing a statewide list of candidates to recruit. Otherwise, he said, officers will be “flying all over the place.”
Town Solicitor Tony DeSisto said the issue is being raised in other communities, where leaders “are starting to realize this isn’t going to be a good situation to be in from an administrative standpoint for law enforcement.”
Other communities have asked the state for additional academies, he said, also agreeing that a standardized test would be a good move. He said he would draft language for the next council meeting, so that the town might ask the state for help.
“The plain fact of the matter is: there are just not enough recruits,” he said.