HAVERHILL — With a growing population and continuing concerns about gang activity, Mayor James Fiorentini is offering a plan to put more police officers on the force and fill vacancies faster.
One part of the plan is to eliminate Civil Service for hiring, which the mayor said would accelerate the process.
Fiorentini said the Haverhill Superior Officers Union has agreed to negotiate with the city to eliminate Civil Service, when and if the Police Patrolmen’s Union agrees to eliminate it.
The mayor noted that several cities have left Civil Service and are doing their own testing and assessments.
The mayor also wants to start using “special” and “intermittent” police officers to temporarily fill vacancies. He said these on-call officers would be used to fill open positions while the city pursues filling vacancies with permanent officers.
He outlined his plan, which includes filling 16 current police vacancies in an expedited fashion, at the Sept. 10 City Council meeting, where he updated councilors on his negotiations with the Police Superior Officers Union on a new labor agreement.
The mayor told the council that the superior officers made two "critical" concessions as part of a three-year contract offering a 2% pay increase each year for the first two years, followed by 1.5% increase and slightly increases the differential between captains and lieutenants.
In its new contract, the Haverhill Superior Officers Union agreed that eliminating the provisions of the state’s Civil Service law is in the best interests of the police department, the mayor said.
Fiorentini who is currently in negotiations with the patrolmen’s union, stated "now is the time for the patrolmen’s union to step up to the plate, and agree to allow us to use special and intermittent police officers, as are currently used in so many other cities including Methuen and Manchester, New Hampshire."
Fiorentini noted in a press release that since 2010, the city has added 23 new police officers to the budget, climbing from 85 officers to 108 officers.
Today, the city has the highest number of police officers in its history, he said.
Although all the positions are fully funded, there are currently 16 open positions that arose through a combination of retirements, those who left for other jobs, and those who are out due to injuries.
In addition to filling those open positions, the mayor said his goal is to add even more police officers and be able to fill vacancies faster.
"Every year we add more police to the budget, but there continues to be too many vacancies due to retirements and transfers and the time it takes to hire and train new recruits," Fiorentini said. "We want more police, so we need to find creative ways to fill these openings faster and get more police on the street.
Fiorentini’s plan to speed up the hiring of officers includes an increased effort to fill police vacancies from the latest state Civil Service list. He said the city has applied to fill 20 vacancies.
"The city applied early and has already begun processing the applications," he said.
Fiorentini said the use of qualified, trained intermittent officers, which is allowed by Civil Service, will allow the city to always have a full complement of officers and is a major step toward making certain there are always enough police on the streets.
Fiorentini is also proposing $10,000 hiring bonuses for police officers who transfer from other communities to Haverhill.
"We need to recruit people from other communities to come here and a hiring bonus is the best way to do this," the mayor said.
Councilor Joseph Bevilacqua reacted positively to the proposal.
"The idea of doing the lateral transfers from other communities is a great idea," he said. "I think we have to be very aggressive in trying to recruit additional police officers for our city."
The mayor said there are currently 48 candidates on the latest Civil Service list of candidates, obtained by the city last week, who are seeking employment as police officers in Haverhill.
In addition to the current 16 open positions, there are expected to be a few more vacancies in the coming months.
Civil Service sends the names of two candidates, based on test scores, for every opening, the mayor said. The candidates are given preference based on test scores, but there are some tie scores, which is why there are 48 names for an anticipated 20 openings.
Of the 48 candidates, roughly 25 have already indicated interest in applying to be a police officer in Haverhill, according to Human Resources Director Denise McClanahan.
The process of hiring a new police officer includes mental and physical evaluations, background checks (the longest part of process), police chief interviews, and a state physical abilities test before a community can send recruits to the next Police Academy training session, which is 24 weeks, the mayor said.
Finally, the recruit is ready for on-the-job training, the mayor noted.
The council approved the new Police Superior Officers contract, but noted that parts of the mayor’s plan for speeding up the police hiring process require approval of the patrolman's union.