The Harrisburg Police Bureau swore in seven new hires and promoted two officers in a ceremony at the State Museum this morning, welcoming its last class of new recruits before the city exits financial recovery.
The seven rookies bring the bureau’s officer complement up to 145, Capt. Gabriel Olivera said. Police leaders hope to recruit another class of eight to 10 officers in July.
The incoming officers will complete six months of police academy training and almost a year of in-house training before they hit the streets with platoon assignments.
The class includes one National Guard veteran, a professional EMT, and one former deputy sheriff. While the bureau said in December that it hopes to bolster its ranks of minority and women candidates, six of the new recruits are white men.
If trends from recent years continue, most of the officers sworn in today may not remain with the department for more than five years.
Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse revealed in December that 41 of the 71 officers hired by the bureau since 2014 have left the force, resulting in a “staggering” 58-percent attrition rate.
Today, Police Commissioner Thomas Carter said that the bureau has provided the mayor and city council with a list of recommendations to improve retention in the department.
He declined to say what those recommendations were until the city enters a new contract with the Fraternal Order of Police union.
He did say that the city has struggled to maintain a full complement of officers since it entered Act 47, a state financial recovery program for distressed cities.
Under Act 47, Harrisburg had to cap police salaries and cut perks, including longevity pay and inflation-based pay raises, Carter said today.
Harrisburg entered Act 47 in 2011 and will petition the state to exit the program this spring. Local leaders will adopt a new five-year financial recovery plan for the city with the help of a newly created financial oversight board.
Carter hopes that plan will increase police salaries cap and restore raises, making it easier to recruit and retain officers.
At $40,000, Harrisburg’s starting salary for police is half of that in neighboring townships, Deputy Chief Derric Moody said in December.
Moody said most young officers who join the force are eager to learn valuable policing skills in an urban setting. But they also know they can command higher earnings in a different department.
Beyond just retaining its existing officers, Harrisburg must compete with neighboring townships to attract new recruits.
Harrisburg selects all of its officers from the Dauphin County Consortium, which administers a written exam and physical agility test to candidates.
The consortium publishes a list of qualified police candidates and sends it to more than a dozen municipalities. Police departments then screen candidates with their own in-house hiring processes.
About 250 officers applied to the Dauphin County Consortium to enter this month’s class of recruits, and 200 moved on to the next round of screening, Olivera said.
After a shortlist of candidates passed background checks and another round of written and physical tests, Harrisburg made eight job offers to candidates it selected from the consortium. Only one declined.
This year holds a number of staffing and operational changes for the Harrisburg Police Bureau. The city hopes to equip all uniformed officers with body-worn cameras by this summer and also will open a new substation in South Allison Hill.
The derelict Public Safety Building will also get a new roof this year. Olivera hopes the $TK project will boost morale among officers and civilian support staff.