ROCKLAND, Maine — Finding qualified candidates to serve as police officers has become increasingly difficult, according to Rockland’s top police administrators.

In December, when the department had a patrol vacancy, only one candidate applied for the post, and that person withdrew before the application process was completed.

The city re-advertised the job in January and seven people applied. But Deputy Chief Chris Young recalled that when he was hired in 1996, there were 50 applicants for the job.

The problem being faced by Rockland is not limited to the city alone. The Washington County Sheriff’s Office reported last month it has had difficulty filling vacancies. There are about 40 public safety positions in Maine — mostly police officer jobs — advertised on the Maine Criminal Justice Academy website.

A combination of factors have led to the decline in candidates, according to Young and police Chief Bruce Boucher.

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, many people who would have sought out police jobs instead entered the military, they said.

The standards to be an officer have increased as well, including more stringent physical requirements, Young said.

The schedule for a new officer also is a disincentive with the newest officers required to work nights, weekends and holidays.

“It doesn’t matter if it is your child’s first birthday; unless you have a vacation day or someone will take your shift, you have to work,” the deputy chief said.

The pay has not kept up with inflation, particularly for potential candidates who have four-year degrees, Young said. And the retirement benefits that lured earlier generations no longer seem to be attracting younger applicants.

“The younger generation has placed less of an emphasis on retirement. They don’t see retirement benefits as valuable as my generation,” he said.

Rockland police officers can retire with two-thirds pay after 25 years of service. A starting patrol officer’s pay in Rockland is $773 per week, which translates to about $40,000 per year.

The deputy chief said the overall distrust nationwide of police also has had an impact on hiring, though he maintained the community support is strong for police departments.

“But if you are a young person looking from the outside, you may not find police work an attractive option,” he said.

The process for hiring an officer is lengthy.

The first step is taking the physical and agility test, which is given by a department officer who is certified by the Maine State Criminal Justice Academy. On the same day, candidates are given a 100-question national test.

The scores on the written test are compared along with the experience and degrees of the candidates. Those who are the top candidates are then extensively screened. The background check includes being fingerprinted and checked for any criminal record. A felony conviction automatically disqualifies a person from a job. Certain misdemeanors, such as domestic violence-related offenses and theft, also automatically disqualify applicants.

Past employers will be checked, and if the person went to college the department will contact the college, its police department and former roommates. The background check includes contacting the police departments in every community the candidate has lived.

A polygraph examination as well as a psychological exam are done on prospective employees.

A credit check also is done.

Officers with no police experience are required to take an 80-hour course at the criminal justice academy. The Rockland Police Department also places all new officers through 15 weeks of field training, in which the rookies ride along with a certified trainer and write a daily critique.

Officers can then be on probation from one to two years.

Rockland police administrators are hopeful of filling their vacant patrol position soon. The seven candidates will gather at Rockland District Middle School Saturday, Feb. 27, for the physical agility and written tests.