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Police Departments Struggle To Find Part-Time Help

An Ellicott police sport utility vehicle is pictured outside the township building. Ellicott, like several police departments, is in need of part-time officers. Submitted photo

Back when David Price started out as a part-time police officer, the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Academy had more than 30 students all eager to begin careers in law enforcement. As was so often at the time, those students who made it to graduation had to “scramble,” he said, to find employment among the handful of local police departments that were hiring.

“It’s the opposite now,” said Price, now chief of the Fredonia Police Department and a 28-year law enforcement veteran. He noted that there are more open positions — full- or part-time — than there are job seekers as more longtime officers leave or retire.

In the last two years, Fredonia has gone from having six part-time officers to one. Part of the problem, Price said this week, is a diminishing pool of candidates coming out of the academy who end up working for Fredonia, Lakewood-Busti, Ellicott, Westfield, Carroll or the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office.

When smaller departments do bring on new part-time officers, many end up leaving quickly for full-time positions at other agencies that offer better pay and benefits.

Price acknowledged small-town police departments are typically “stepping stones” for young officers looking to advance. “You invest money and time in training, and after a short time after you make that investment, they leave,” he said.

Whereas in the past when a part-time officer might stick around for a couple of years, “We’re lucky if we get a year now,” he said.

The Lakewood Village Board on Monday approved the hiring of a new part-time officer for the Lakewood-Busti Police Department. The hire was much to the pleasure of Lakewood-Busti Police Chief Christopher DePonceau, who told The Post-Journal it’s been tough the last few years finding part-time officers to fill vacancies.

“Each year there seems to be fewer and fewer people applying to enter the police academy, and this causes a shortage in cadets for us to hire as well as other police agencies who rely on part-time officers,” he said.

At the Westfield Police Department, the smallest force in Chautauqua County outside of the Carroll Police Department, village Chief Rob Genthner had to create a new full-time position after he struggled to find part-time help. At present, Westfield has two part-time officers along with six full-timers.

“I need probably at least three more (part-time officers) on top of the two we have,” Genthner said. “The biggest thing, we used to hold on to part-timers for two to three years, but with so many retirements in the county, we hire a part-time person and another department hires them into a full-time position.”

Genthner noted many part-time officers work for other police departments. “We’re sharing part-timers throughout the county,” he said, later adding, “It’s making it even harder when making the schedule to have to work around that.”

He added, “We definitely need more recruits in the academy to fill those positions in every department.

Chief William Ohnmeiss of the Ellicott Police Department discussed earlier this month the difficulties in finding new officers. “We haven’t had this problem before because part-timers were available,” Ohnmeiss said. He said the town needs part-time help to work, especially when full-time officers are either sick or on vacation.

The Carroll Police Department in the southeast corner of the county employs four part-time officers, including Chief Bill Nelson. He said while every other department in the county has part-time employees to complement full-timers, Carroll is strictly staffed by part-time officers.

“I don’t have the attraction others do,” Nelson said of other police departments that can seek to retain officers by offering them full-time jobs when they become available. “I don’t have that. It’s even tougher to be fully staffed.”

Nelson said he recently lost an officer, but was able to bring a new member on quickly to fill the vacancy. “I got lucky,” he said, but adding, “I worry every time when one of my guys might leave.”

Like town police forces, the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office employs part-time workers. Details, Sheriff James Quattrone said, include court security, summer navigation, inmate transports and some enhanced patrol contracts.

“We are also experiencing difficulties in finding qualified candidates,” the sheriff said.

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