New Bedford Police Chief: Department Is Facing a ‘Hiring Crisis’
The staffing issues facing the New Bedford Police Department are not unique to New Bedford, nor are they easy to resolve. Years of anti-police rhetoric have created a crisis of confidence in some circles and a reluctance among many young people to wear a badge.
It's tough to entice new recruits to police departments these days.
The New Bedford Police Union has been using social media to alert the public that the New Bedford Police Department has been operating "at a decreased staffing level per order of the Chief of Police."
The union's most recent contract expired 18 months ago, and it is certainly fair to say that it is attempting to use present conditions to win support for its positions. Yet the New Bedford Police Department, like police departments across the country, is facing a crisis, and the union's concerns have merit.
The union has a budget for 258 officers, yet only 211 positions are filled. Union President Lt. Evan Bielski told the Standard-Times that "Officers can get overworked and burnt out without adequate staffing."
"Some areas of the city might not get a dedicated patrol car," he said.
Police Chief Paul Oliveira told me he hears what the union is saying.
"I will continue to work with union leadership to address their concerns," he said.
Oliveira said that, like the union, he would like to see staffing levels "up to where they are budgeted."
But Oliveira said it's not an easy fix.
"The problem is not the availability of positions. The problem is getting people to fill the positions," he said. "There is a hiring crisis in police departments across the country. Unfortunately, there is no quick resolution."
City Councilor Brian Gomes, who chairs the Committee on Public Safety and Neighborhoods, is proposing a committee meeting on March 8, 2023, that would include Chief Oliveira, Lt. Bielksi, representatives from Mayor Jon Mitchell's office, and the Massachusetts State Police to discuss the current staffing situation and ways to ensure proper police coverage while the staffing shortage persists.
Gomes said there must be a "collective effort from police and citizens to work together for a better and safe community."
"Public perception has to change when it comes to police, and we can do it through public engagement," he said.
"I agree with Councilor Gomes that we need to emphasize the positive aspects of this job and encourage others to join this noble profession," Oliveira said. "This is a job like no other, and I believe we need to let people know just how rewarding it can be."
Gomes has filed a motion seeking council support for his proposed March 8 meeting. His motion is scheduled to be heard by the city council next week.