Community leaders optimistic over proposals to fill police vacancies

Written by on February 7, 2022

Community leaders optimistic over proposals to fill police vacancies

By Anthony Orozco / WITF
February 7, 2022

One police chief said the proposals address one of the biggest factors for bringing and keeping people on the force – money. (Photo | PAcast)

Some municipal and law enforcement leaders are lauding proposals from state Attorney General Josh Shapiro to help fill vacancies in police departments across the commonwealth. 

Shapiro detailed the proposals in a letter to top state lawmakers and Gov. Tom Wolf last week.

Reading Police Chief Richard Tornielli is one of several law enforcement officers who met with Shapiro last year to give input on ways to shore up police ranks. 

Listen to the story.

After reading the letter, he said the proposals address one of the biggest factors for bringing and keeping people on the force –  money.

“The signing bonuses, the retention bonuses that he talks about, will almost certainly be welcomed by, I’m sure, any law enforcement agency in the Commonwealth. I certainly would,” Tornielli said.

Tornielli referenced Shapiro’s proposal of a $6,000 signing bonus for new officers and $1,200 in “hero pay” to keep first responders and 911 operators in their posts. 

The chief said his department is close to reaching its full capacity of 168 officers after a recent round of hires. But, he noted he wouldn’t be surprised if he lost nearly a dozen officers in the next six months due to retirements or attractive offers from suburban police departments.

Those agencies want experienced city police and some may offer higher pay or lower costs of medical insurance, according to Tornielli.

Shapiro also suggested expanding outreach and recruitment efforts to diversify police departments, expanding and guaranteeing state funding to cover the cost of cadet training, and creating new scholarships up to $8,500 for new officer training.

Reading is one of only a few police departments that runs a police academy. Tornielli added he would like to see training assistance and funding to recruit people from within the community they would eventually serve. 

“We also have kids that are in college or just out of the military that are paying their own way through the academy,” Tornielli said. “So, to give them some tuition assistance, especially in areas like the City of Reading and we have a super high poverty rate.”

Reading pays its own recruits while they go through the academy, but other cadets are not as fortunate. 

“We may have some individuals who live in our own community who just financially can’t put themselves through the police academy,” Tornielli noted.

Pennsylvania Municipal League Executive Director John Brenner said he sees some real benefits in Shapiro’s proposals.

“What we’re hearing from municipal leaders throughout Pennsylvania – from cities, boroughs and townships – is that they’re having the same issue that every other employer is having in the United States,” Brenner said. “And that’s looking for good people to fill important roles.”

But the former York mayor noted if lawmakers do move on these proposals, they should ensure taxpayers don’t absorb the costs.

“Local governments, like everybody else, are facing increasing costs right now, and to have further burdens placed on local entities without the financial resources just doesn’t make sense,” Brenner said. “I think all of those ideas are welcome. We would just want to work together with the legislative leaders and make sure that the money is there to make it happen.” 

The Municipal League has not officially endorsed  Shapiro’s proposals.

Brenner said representatives from the group’s more than 120 member communities will set new policies at a statewide summit in the fall. The organization may end up officially endorsing the proposals and even suggest other avenues. 

Top state lawmakers have not responded to requests for comment on whether legislation is forthcoming to follow-up on the initiatives.

Brenner said he hopes politicians on both sides of the aisle can see eye-to-eye on the issue.

“Local law enforcement really is not a Republican or Democratic issue. It’s a community issue and it’s something we all have to work on together,” Brenner said. “So, whatever solutions are developed here has to be done in a bipartisan way, and I believe there’s probably some consensus out there on issues like these.”

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