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Officials concerned on police officer burnout, overtime pay

September 24, 2018

ST. JOHNSBURY, Vt. (AP) — A shortage of police officers is driving up overtime spending at the St. Johnsbury Police Department.

But that’s not the main concern of town officials.

The select board discussed the overtime issue at its regular meeting on Sept. 10 during Finance Director Lesley Russ’s report.

Select Board chairman Tim Angell first raised the issue while looking over the town’s August financial reports.

Angell said the police department overtime spending had already reached 45 percent of its annual overtime budget even though the financial year was just two months old.

Selectman Kevin Oddy then said he noticed that overtime spending was also up in the emergency dispatch center.

Russ told the select board that staffing shortages in the police department were responsible for the escalating overtime hours because the department’s officers now have to work overtime to cover all the shifts. But Russ also said the lack of salary being paid to the unfilled positions offsets the increased overtime.

“It’s actually on target now,” said Russ.

Russ said the overtime increase in the dispatch center was in line with expected trends during the summer vacation season and that it should even out in the long run.

But Town Manager Chad Whitehead said while extensive overtime wasn’t a financial problem it was still concerning to him for another reason.

“The (Police) Chief brought this up before and he’s talked about it with members of the community,” said Whitehead. “With the guys working as much time as they are we worry about officer burn-out. So we do have some prospective new hires coming in. But the police academy doesn’t start until January so we’ll have to wait on some of that until then.”

Fully staffed, the St. Johnsbury Police Department has 13 members including one chief, two part-time officers and ten full-time officers. But it has been running short staffed since December of 2017.

The department has had difficulty filling vacancies left by the departures of Ofc. Chad Grant, Ofc. Michael Fuller, Ofc. Adrian Hahr part-time Ofc. Jim Warren and Sgt. Kevin Barone. Sgt. Lester Cleary also missed time this summer due to medical leave.

Police Chief Tim Page said that’s left the department covering for as many as three positions depending on the month and compounding the problem is the difficulty of attracting qualified candidates to police work and getting them trained. Page said he’s also tried a couple of new prospects this year that have not worked out.

Page says a career in law enforcement is no longer as popular as it once was due to negative publicity police have received nationally in recent years. Page also said many applicants simply don’t want to work their way up through the ranks by working weekends and overnight shifts.

“It’s not just our problem,” said Page on Friday. “Every department is going through this. It’s a state problem. It’s a national problem.”

Training is another issue.

Officer training can range from a week at the police academy for part-time auxiliary duty to 16 weeks for a fully certified level 3 full time police officer. Page says he does have one new officer ready to go to the police academy but that doesn’t start until January.

“It’s not a quick process,” said Page.

Whitehead praised the work of Page and the officers in the police department for holding things together.

“The department’s done really well rallying behind him to keep things moving along and putting in the time to keep things operational.”

Page said he’s always looking for new police officer candidates. The jobs include full time benefits and employee health insurance.

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Online: https://bit.ly/2MX9ngr

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Information from: The Caledonian-Record, http://www.caledonianrecord.com

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