Authorities say Vermont facing police recruitment, retention crisis

Published: Aug. 6, 2021 at 5:41 PM EDT
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RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont’s Acting U.S. Attorney says the state has a police recruitment and retention crisis and that with violent crimes on the rise, police departments cannot keep up with the number of officers leaving.

The Burlington Police Officer’s Association says it was surprised their department was identified in a commentary released by the U.S. Attorney’s office Friday. “I didn’t realize it was on the U.S. attorney’s radar, that specifically,” said BPOA vice president Joseph Corrow. Still, he admits that recruiting, police morale, and retention is a statewide problem.

Acting U.S. Attorney for Vermont Jonathan Ophardt cites a recent survey that found out of 75 Burlington Police officers, 31 are actively seeking employment elsewhere. Given that climate, Corrow says the job is harder than it has been in the past. “The focus is, we need more police officers right now because the calls we are dealing with are becoming increasingly more violent,” he said.

Ophardt says between 2016 and 2019, Vermont saw violent crime offenses increase from a rate of 136.5 to 202.2 per 100,000 people. He says by encouraging adults with good morals and upstanding character to consider policing as a career, Vermont can build the force back up. “Policing is a necessary part of our society. How we do it might be something that we are discussing and what tools are being used and what manner they are used, but we are always going to be needing good, dedicated men and women,” he said. Ophardt says those considering the profession need to focus on the important moments when police engage with the community and help victims.

“It’s not just arresting people, it’s really being an active part in the community and engaging with those we serve,” said Rutland City Police Chief Brian Kilcullen. He says roughly 25% of the RCPD force is currently unfilled. One difficulty they face is finding qualified candidates -- about 90% of applicants are dismissed. He anticipates two officers will attend police training full-time in October, but it takes a while before they can be full-time service officers. “It takes roughly 10 months for someone to become a full-service officer, and by then we may have further separation. So, we’re always playing catch up.”

Corrow says that kind of “catch up” is the most difficult part that police forces across the state are battling. “We have lost so many police officers that we need to get back to that level. It is going to take years upon years upon years unless we are able to recruit officers that are already officers in the state,” he said.

The Burlington Police Commission has asked the city council to increase the police force by eight positions, bringing the total to 82 officers. After cutting the force by 30% last year as part of an “experiment” to reallocate resources, it’s not clear if the council will act on that recommendation Monday.

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