Bangor Police Sgt. Dave Farrar responds to a call while on patrol Friday afternoon. The department has twelve open officer positions and is testing a few operational changes that they hope will help fill patrol shifts and attract new employees. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Police departments in Bangor and Brewer are stepping up their efforts to recruit new and experienced officers in a hiring climate that’s turning out fewer applicants.

With a dozen open officer positions on its hands, the Bangor Police Department is testing a few operational changes to help fill its patrol shifts, such as pairing provisional officers with experienced ones and allowing part-timers.

Maine police departments have struggled to fill positions and retain officers since before the pandemic hit three years ago. The Bangor and Brewer departments hope their efforts will draw more people to law enforcement — whether young graduates or those looking for career changes.

Fully staffed, Bangor has 86 sworn officers, though the department hasn’t hit that number in decades, Sgt. Jason McAmbley said. Now, they have about 73 officers.

Bangor Police Sgt. Dave Farrar patrols the streets of Bangor on Friday afternoon. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

When McAmbley joined Bangor in 2001, the department had only five openings for which they received approximately 150 applications.

To get a job as a Bangor police officer, candidates must submit a written application, undergo an interview, clear background and reference checks, pass a polygraph test, complete psychological and medical exams and have a final interview with the police chief.

Successful applicants complete an 18-week training at the Maine Police Academy, followed by Bangor’s four-month field training program, where new hires work alongside a veteran officer.  

The lengthy hiring and training process means the department often waits months for the help they need immediately. Sometimes, officers Bangor plans to hire get scooped up by other departments that have faster, less extensive training and hiring protocols.

“We’ve hired people months in advance of the academy to make sure they’re working for us and we don’t lose them to someone else, because it’s competitive,” McAmbley said. “And we’re not the only agency that does that.”

The department has four new hires completing police academy training now, and recently hired another three “blue pin” candidates — people who have prior policing experience and can receive a more streamlined education and training protocol.

Bangor Police Sgt. Dave Farrar stops to ask two men with open containers to dump the alcohol they were drinking downtown near the Bangor Public Library on Friday. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

To help fill shifts and ease the strain job openings put on existing officers, the department is exploring using part-time officers, bringing back retirees and employing officers from other departments to oversee special events such as Bangor’s waterfront concerts in the summer.

It’s also using officers who haven’t yet graduated from the police academy to fill shifts, but they must be paired with another officer, McAmbley said.

To make the job more attractive, the department implemented a schedule in which officers work three days, then have three days off. This allows the officers to get plenty of rest and have time with their families and makes it possible for them to work overtime if they choose.

The department is also providing officers load-bearing vests to hold the equipment they carry with them, including handcuffs, radios and tasers. This would replace the 35-pound equipment belt, which can strain an officer’s lower back.

The city also gave the department a raise last year, making Bangor “one of if not the best paying agencies in the area,” McAmbley said.

Though the Brewer Police Department has only one opening in its 23-officer team, Chief Jason Moffitt said he has found far less competition for open positions in recent years, which makes recruiting officers tougher.

The Bangor Police Department is seen on Friday. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

The Brewer department has become more proactive in its hiring process by building relationships with local colleges to draw new law enforcement graduates and using social media to attract applicants, Moffitt said.

The Bangor department will welcome anyone interested in law enforcement, whether they just graduated or they’re looking for a career change.

“We have someone in the academy now who was a bank manager in her previous job,” McAmbley said. “She’s smart and law enforcement needs more smart women. We’re lucky because we have a lot of smart women.”  

Eleven of Bangor’s 73 officers are women. In 2001, Bangor had only one female officer, McAmbley said.

McAmbley said he has found some young people are interested in law enforcement, but have one specialization in mind that they’d like to pursue such as a K9 officer or crime scene reconstruction. They just aren’t interested in working their way to those top positions through patrol work.

“They think it’s what they see on TV, and it really isn’t,” McAmbley said. “The public’s perception of what law enforcement is and does in this country hasn’t helped.”

The breadth and quantity of calls the Bangor department receives has also deterred some officers, McAmbley said, especially those to assist someone experiencing homelessness, which makes up a large portion of the department’s calls.

Bangor Police Sgt. Dave Farrar gets into his cruiser on Franklin Street after stopping to talk to some pedestrians while on patrol Friday afternoon. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

“People want to arrest the bad guys and solve cases,” McAmbley said. “From where I started to where we are now, policing is so much more social work. Everybody calls us for everything, and we answer the phone.”

To take those calls in which someone needs help, but not necessarily law enforcement, off the shoulders of officers, the department established a community relations team designed to connect people with the social services they require.

For those willing to put in the time and work their way through the ranks, McAmbley said the Bangor department has so many specialties, from its bomb squad to polygraph operators, that candidates are sure to find something they like.

“You can come find your niche in a place like Bangor that’s so busy but has so many specialties and you can try different things,” McAmbley said. “We’re a front-row seat to the greatest show on Earth and you’re getting paid to be there.”

Avatar photo

Kathleen O'Brien

Kathleen O'Brien is a reporter covering the Bangor area. Born and raised in Portland, she joined the Bangor Daily News in 2022 after working as a Bath-area reporter at The Times Record. She graduated from...