BOSTON — Once his wife put his badge on him, it was all smiles for Haverhill Police Officer Angel Aviles. But before getting sworn in, he went through more than a year of tests, interviews, and a police academy during a pandemic.
"We had to adapt and do things online," said Aviles.
On Wednesday, a new batch of officers received their badges after an academy like never before. The recruits were not sure when this day would come as COVID-19 force them to suspend training for seven weeks.
"A lot of the students actually had coronavirus so we had to shut down for a couple of months and during that time we had to quarantine at home," said Aviles.
COVID-19 wasn’t the only thing that changed the Northern Essex community college police academy.
These 92 recruits from a couple of dozen communities are now having even more conversations on de-escalation and dealing with minority communities, which is easier with more minority officers.
“For the first time ever we are now a minority-majority police department,” said Lawrence Chief of Police Roy Vasque. “We are the only one in the Commonwealth, 53% now. The average is 18%.”
The goal at this academy is to eventually model the program we’ve shown you at Fitchburg State University Police Academy. Leaders there say training and educating recruits simultaneously will decrease deadly force incidents and create better problem solvers.
“We need them at the most educated the most physically fit the most compassionate,” said the President of the Northern Essex Community College Lane Glenn. “We need them to be innovators. We have some legislation that we are supporting and trying to get passed that would require police officers in the state to have at least associates degree.”
Those educated officers used to earn more under the Quinn bill, but that became too expensive. Now departments everywhere are looking at their budgets to see what they need and don’t need to build much-needed trust with the community.
“We will certainly put more money into social services helping kids get jobs, helping kids in school, helping kids find another way, but it cannot come out of the police budget we are already 20 officers down,” said Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini.
Haverhill’s 13 new officers will help that shortage as they now transition into a 12-week field training program to learn everything from how to write a ticket to how to deliver a baby.
"The things you do every day you will be judged," said Haverhill Chief Alan Denaro.
“With all that’s happening among cops, a lot of people many think this is a bad time joining law enforcement but we are the new generation coming in,” said Aviles. “We are the new officers coming in and we can change that system moving forward and that’s what I hope to do on a personal level.”
Haverhill hopes to be caught up on its staffing shortage by next spring’s academy.
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