by Brad Durrell
The Bridgeport News
March 5, 2010
Bridgeport officials are stepping up recruitment efforts to hire at least 20 new police officers.
“We’re casting a wide net,” said Mayor Bill Finch, emphasizing the city’s desire to hire the best personnel possible.
“Having a police department that keeps our citizens safe — that’s the bottom line,” Finch said during a City Hall Annex press conference last week to detail the recruitment efforts.
Funding for 20 of the new officers will come from a $4.8 million federal Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant. The U.S. Department of Justice funds will be enough to pay the officers’ salaries for four to five years.
The city will have to pay for any other officers hired from the same recruitment class, which may be required to meet minimum staffing requirements to receive the COPS grant.
Finch said he’s uncertain how the officers’ salaries will be funded after the COPS grant expires. “We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” he said. “Hopefully, the economy will get better.”
The mayor emphasized he is grateful federal officials have made the COPS money available at this time, saying it should allow the Bridgeport Police Department to replace retiring officers.
The department now has 408 officers. The new officers would be selected by this fall but then would have to attend Police Academy training before becoming full-fledged department members sometime in 2011.
The city’s previous list of potential officers, based on a 2004 civil service test, has expired. “That’s a good thing,” Finch said. “We can do things differently now.”
Apply by May 28
The application deadline for recruits is May 28, although physical testing will take place earlier. For the first time, people can apply on-line at PoliceApp.com or bridgeportct.gov (click on “City Job Openings”). Written applications also will be accepted.
The sluggish economy is likely to lead to many applicants. “I can guarantee there will be a long line of people to do this,” Finch said.
Police Lt. Lonnie Blackwell, one of the officers on a team working on the recruitment drive, said 1,500 people already have signed up to start the application process.
“There’s definitely an interest,” said Blackwell, noting about a third of those interested individuals are Bridgeport residents.
Asst. Police Chief Lynn Kerwin, who is heading up the recruitment efforts, said the goal is “to reach out to as many qualified and capable people as possible. We want to come up with the right people who are a good fit for Bridgeport.”
Starting salary will be $42,315, plus what Finch called “great” benefits. These include healthcare insurance, a retirement plan, and paid vacation, holiday and sick time.
While some other communities in the region pay slightly higher starting salaries, Finch said he doesn’t think the starting pay in Bridgeport will be a deterrent.
“People don’t become Bridgeport police officers because they make a lot of money,” Finch said.
Instead, he said, future police officers want to work in Bridgeport because it is a place where they will put their training into active use.
“This is reality here,” Finch said “This not a sleepy town. You have an opportunity to be a multi-dimensional public servant here.”
Kerwin said the opportunities include serving with mounted, canine, motorcycle and parks units. She also said the city offers 100% college tuition reimbursement for officers.
“You do your time here, you leave fulfilled,” she said.
Blackwell said some people “only want to be Bridgeport officers.”
Open, innovative process
Finch promised the process would be “as fair and open as possible” and would involve “a new, innovative process” when it comes to testing and selection. City officials are working with black and Hispanic officers’ groups and other organization to attract a diverse class of applicants.
The Bridgeport Police Department has operated under court oversight for 25 years due to past findings of discrimination within the department, but the oversight is expected to end soon.
Various consultants are being hired to handle different aspects of the testing process, such as the written and physical exams. An out-of-state consultant also was hired to conduct community focus groups on what qualities the public would like to see in Bridgeport police officers.
Kerwin said being a good police officer is about more than just fighting crime — it’s about building relationships with the public. “You really need to like working with the community,” she said. “You really need to like getting out of the car.”
City acting Personnel Director David J. Dunn said the written exam, which is pass/fail, will have “a large emphasis on integrity.”
Applicants also will be tested on how they react in potential police situations, be interviewed by the chief, and must pass background tests. Toward the end of the process, potential recruits must undergo psychological testing.
Candidates must be U.S. citizens, at least 21 years old, possess a high school diploma or GED, and pass appropriate job screenings and a physical ability test before they are eligible to take the written exam. Physical ability testing will be May 15-16 and May 22-23 at Central High School’s Kennedy Stadium.
The Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder law firm has offered to make $30,000 available to pay for the application fees of Bridgeport residents and certain other individuals.
The application fees are expected to be increased significantly in the coming weeks because, Finch said, they now don’t come close to covering the city’s costs.