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Berwick battling shortage of police, may hire candidates as young as 19

BERWICK (AP) — The police chief here says the borough is accepting new officer candidates as young as 19, and will pay their way through the police academy if they haven’t already graduated.

Chief Kenneth Strish said the borough is making the move after openings for two officers attracted only four applicants, even after extending the application deadline.

It’s not worth arranging the tests required for so few candidates, he explained.

In the past, applicants had to be at least 21.

Paying for the police academy would run the borough around $6,000 to $9,000 per officer, he tallied. That’s in addition to whatever per diem the borough agrees to pay the candidate during the six or seven months of training.

The investment would be worthwhile for the right candidate, he said.

“We want to hire people who are suited to our department, who want to stay, not just use our department as a stepping stone,” he remarked.

The borough has used a similar recruiting tactic before, he recalled. Assistant Chief Troy Maneval was hired and then sent to an academy, he noted.

Rules forbidding people under 21 from entering bars don’t apply to officers responding to incidents, Strish said, so a young officer’s age wouldn’t be a hindrance.

Shrinking pool

Berwick used the same advertising routes it has in the past. Those include the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association, local newspapers, social media and visits with cadets.

But the pool of potential candidates has shrunk, he said.

Nationally, there are fewer people enrolling in police academies, he noted.

Some of it is probably connected to a nationwide labor shortage, he acknowledged.

But he also blamed fallout from national coverage criticizing officers, as well as Defund the Police and similar movements.

“It affects how people view the profession,” he said.

“Sometimes there are some mistakes, and we have to fix them,” he said. “How you handle it, what happens when things go wrong, that’s key.”

Nevertheless, Strish said, “This is an honorable profession. It’s a profession I believe in.”

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