25 Investigates: Uphill battle to train recruits, address police shortage

Over the past few months, we followed the Northern Essex Community College and found recruits face a long road filled with pressure.

HAVERHILL, Mass. — For months, 25 Investigates has been reporting on issues with police overtime at local departments. Police chiefs tell us part of the problem is fewer people are applying to become officers so they have prioritized finding more officers who are capable and want the job.

Over the past few months, we followed the Northern Essex Community College/ Methuen Police Academy and found recruits face a long road filled with pressure.

“In March of 2019. I took the civil service test, and then I had to wait to July to get my results back, and then I had to wait until September as well for them to post it online for everyone to see and that’s when the interview process came about,” said recruit Angel Aviles.

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Aviles is training to become a member of the Haverhill Police Department. He listed some of the things he must do to complete the academy.

“Push-ups, sit-ups, a mile and a half run, and 300 meter sprint…and all of that has to be timed in order for you to move on. And when I accomplished that, I had to take a mental evaluation test to see if I am fit for the job,” Aviles said.

In the months ahead, recruits will work on driving and shooting skills, defense tactics, and the development of people skills and ethical decision-making abilities.

Aviles is one of 96 recruits right now at this academy. The recruits are part of one of the largest classes in that academy’s history. Recruits come from 27 communities.

Communities feeding the police training program at North Essex Community College.
Communities feeding the police training program at North Essex Community College. (Boston 25 News)

Academy director John Scippa says they are running two classes concurrently in order to try to help area police departments to get back ‘up to speed’ in regards to their staffing issues. And this academy he says is just one of 12 going on right now throughout the state.

Haverhill Police Chief Alan DeNaro said even with his city’s 13 recruits the department will still fall seven officers short of the 20 positions it needs to fill to be a full staff. And that’s if all 13 recruits make it through the process.

“The last three or four classes, I would say we’ve lost anywhere from one to two cadets,” Chief DeNaro said. “They have to meet the physical standards they have to meet academic standards, they have to meet the disciplinary standards, they have to meet the qualifications standards.”

Boston 25 viewers told 25 Investigates this fall they were frustrated with department claims that applications had dropped. Several said they’ve been on the civil service list for years, and they think the process should be more accepting.

But local police chiefs tell 25 Investigates they’re careful to make sure departments maintain standards.

“We have credit issues, it could be past criminal history. For whatever reason they put an appeal in and civil service decides to leave them on there or put them back on the list, but it doesn’t mean they would be qualified to be a police officer,” Lawrence Chief Roy Vasque told Aliyu. “If we lower the bar, we will be compounding an already difficult situation. We are trying to build trust with the community.”

Lawrence is one of the few communities that could be fully staffed if all it’s recruits make it through this class.

“We really try and poll the officers to figure out, ‘is anyone trying to leave early?’ Because it is, like, a year-long process to get somebody to replace somebody,” Chief Vasque said.

It puts pressure on the recruits to survive the 900 hours of training, but they tell Boston 25 News they’re not backing down.

“My dad is a lieutenant at the Haverhill police department, my uncle is a patrolman currently and my grandfather is a retired detective, so I’ve always had a passion for it,” said Haverhill recruit Kaylee Sarfde.

“There is another academy coming up soon in July or September of this year, so hopefully we can fill those spots because it is a necessity for us,” added Aviles.

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