Groton - The loss of five police officers over the past month has sparked a recruitment effort that City Police Chief Thomas Davoren says has led to the largest pool of candidates ever.
Davoren said he also expects it to be a more diverse group then in past years thanks to an effort to reach out to "non-traditional" areas for recruitment, places such as the Naval Submarine Base and college campuses. He said one applicant is a paraprofessional who heard about the job through a youth officer at the school.
"We're reaching out to people who may not normally have considered a role in law enforcement," Davoren said. "We want people from all walks of life."
Interviews with the city are starting at the end of the month in anticipation of hiring and sending at least two recruits into the police academy in January. Two more should follow in April. Mayor Marian Galbraith said the city is prepared to fund four positions and perhaps another depending on how the budget shapes up this year. The department is authorized for 32 officers but was below 30 before the retirements, she said.
Davoren said he was not completely caught off guard by the new vacancies having known about three of the retirements.
Recent retirements include Officer Dave Brown, Cpl. Donald "Jene" Comstock, and detectives Dave Bailey and David Thomas. Additionally, Officer Matthew Seidel, who was working on special assignment with statewide narcotics unit, recently announced he had taken a position with the Norwich Police Department.
All of the retirees had at least 25 years in with the department and most had reached their maximum in retirement benefits after hitting 30 years. Officers are eligible for pension after working for 25 years and reaching age 50.
Comstock, who has taken a position with the eastern Connecticut State University Police Department, said the fact he was no longer adding to his pension was one of the factors in his decision to leave.
"I can say I honestly, even after 30 years, still loved coming to work every day. I loved my job that much," he said.
But he also said it's been a long year since the death of Lt. Thomas Forbes, a veteran officer who committed suicide at the department last summer.
"Tom and I started together," Comstock said. "I think it took a toll on some of the guys."
Davoren said the shifts are being covered until the new officers are hired and he has already moved to fill a detective position and made a promotion to fill Comstock's position.
From the initial entry examination to the battery of local tests and finally police academy, Davoren said the process to become a police officer is comprehensive and time consuming. He does not expect an new officer on the beat until late next year. The starting pay for a new officer is $53,521.