“These are some brave, brave individuals out there. We have brave officers in the state of New Hampshire,” says Manchester Police Chief Nick Willard.
But the Queen City’s top cop says there aren’t enough of them—at least not in his city. As we’ve shown you in our special investigation—ON THE FRONT LINES—battling the drugs and related crime in Manchester is a huge job. And, Willard says the job is even tougher when you don’t have a full force covering the city.
“Crime reduction is number one,” says Willard. He adds, “The more officers I have out there, are going to help achieve that. But I also understand that it’s going to make the streets safer for the officers. The more officers I have out there, the safer it is for each one of them because they have the backup, because they have the numbers, because they have the resources.”
Two big obstacles in maintaining a fully staffed department:
- Relatively high frequency of retirements. 20 police officers have retired so far this year.
- Filling open positions with qualified candidates.
Out of the 237 officer positions at MPD, 21 are open. Willard says finding qualified recruits—like Officer William Regan—hasn’t been easy. Of the 158 people who signed up to take the last police test in March of 2015, only 5 officers were hired. Of the 140 people who signed up for the rest in November 2014, only 6 were hired.
Some of the challenges: People don’t clear the background checks and one-on-one interviews. MPD officers are also currently working without a contract and there’s a lot of debate and concern over pension benefits. Last but certainly not the least significant, is the rapidly deteriorating image of police officers around the country, thanks in part to all of the viral videos of violent and deadly police encounters across the country.
While these factors can make joining the police profession a tough sell, Willard shares another perspective of the career he’s enjoyed for decades.
“There’s something very unique about being a copper. There’s something that you cannot replicate—what it’s like to be a police officer in America. It’s as rewarding as you’ll ever have. It’s as exciting as you could ever imagine. It’s an opportunity, I guess to protect our freedoms and liberties here in the United States. Similar to the way our soldiers do overseas. I just see it that deeply. We are at the front lines of preserving liberties in this country, so every time you say the pledge of allegiance and you put your hand over your heart and you’re saying it, those are police officers that are making sure that your liberties are being preserved.”
Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas tells me that he expects a police contract to be ironed out at the Aldermanic meeting at City Hall on Tuesday, where closed-door meetings are expected to be held late into the night. What he can’t say at this point is how many officer positions will be funded in the contract.
Willard is asking the city to add an additional 5 positions to his department, so he could hire a total of 26 officers. The Mayor’s response: “I say he needs to fill the open ones first.”