New Portland police officers are welcomed to join the force in a ceremony at City Hall Friday morning. Credit: Portland Police Department

After years struggling to fill vacancies and operating shortstaffed, the Portland Police Department is crediting a new recruitment officer and her use of social media for attracting its biggest class of incoming officers in recent memory.

Maine’s largest municipal police force welcomed 12 new officers with a ceremony Friday morning at City Hall.

Eleven of the new officers will be attending the Maine Criminal Justice Academy in Vassalboro “in a few weeks,” representing the “largest academy class Portland has sent in many years,” according to a Facebook post by the Portland police. The 12th is an officer joining the Portland department from another police force.

In a media advisory, the city noted that the January hiring of full-time recruitment officer Kate Phelan, who increased the department’s social media presence and communication with candidates throughout the recruitment process, played an important role in bringing in the new officers.

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“We need good people,” Phelan told cable television news network NECN in a March interview. “We want to help people. That’s an important quality, and that’s something you just have within you.”

The department has also been promoting a $10,000 sign-on bonus for new officers, who must complete a rigorous evaluation process — including written and physical evaluations, a background investigation and lie detector test — before being hired. The bonus is paid over three installments, the last of which comes after a two-year probationary period.

Additionally, the department made headlines in March when it announced it would no longer disqualify candidates who have used marijuana within the previous five years. Portland residents voted to legalize recreational use of the drug in 2013, and a similar referendum was approved statewide in 2016, although pot is still illegal under federal law.

With the incoming class of officers, the Portland police only have five remaining vacancies, a city spokeswoman told the Bangor Daily News. For at least two straight years, the department didn’t spend all of its salary budget, but overspent on overtime, city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin told the Portland Press Herald.

New Portland police officers in 2017 received an annual salary of $54,000, according to the department.

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Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.