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Criminal justice experts say policing not as popular as it once was

A police vehicle outside the Pittsfield, Massachusetts police station.
Nancy Eve Cohen
A police vehicle outside the Pittsfield, Massachusetts police station.

Some local and state law enforcement officials have said they are having trouble recruiting candidates to become police officers. And some criminal justice educators at area colleges and universities said the reasons for this vary.

For instance, in Springfield, the police department tried to get 50 recruits for its ongoing police academy class, but only ended up with about half that. Once those candidates graduate next month, the department will still have 32 vacancies. In Amherst and Northampton, those departments only have a handful of vacancies, but their police forces are a fraction of the size of Springfield’s.

Creaig Dunton is an associate professor of criminal justice at Western New England University in Springfield. He said his department has been seeing fewer students looking to become officers, instead pursuing other aspects of criminal justice. As for that, he said there are many reasons including a negative connotation of policing by the public.

"The danger, the unpredictability, even just the shift work and days off and all of that, that's not conducive for a lot of people especially when they are young and are trying to start a family," he said.

Gary Berte, an associate professor of criminal justice at Springfield College said his department encourages students to take an internship with a law enforcement agency to give them a taste of what the profession might be like.

“A lot of students are interested in sort of the fringe area until they become comfortable, like putting your foot in a hot tub of water, we try to immerse them a little bit at a time,” he said.

Separately, Berte serves as a member of Springfield’s police commission.

Berte said other ideas to attract more new officers could be lowering the minimum retirement age and offering loan forgiveness for those who join police departments and are carrying debt from their education. He pointed out some departments are even offering signing bonuses to attract candidates.

And Dunton added better pay and benefits for police could also make the job more attractive.

Adam joined NEPM as a freelance reporter and fill-in operations assistant during the summer of 2011. For more than 15 years, Adam has had a number stops throughout his broadcast career, including as a news reporter and anchor, sports host and play-by-play announcer as well as a producer and technician.
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