CONWAY — Lack of housing in the area has hurt the Conway Police Department’s ability to attract and hire officers and dispatchers, said U.S. official Chris Pappas (D-NH), who drove through town on Monday .
Conway Police Chief Chris Mattei and second-in-command Lt. Suzanne Kelley-Scott said while new officers can earn good salaries of around $54,000 with benefits, their recruiting efforts are insufficient, as rents for the same one-bedroom apartment can be so expensive. up to $1,500.
Pappas told them that Congress was working on a new $50 million grant program that can provide retention bonuses, recruiting efforts and salary increases — “support for things like body-worn cameras and some big expenses, that the departments take place these days,” he said.
Mattei said the department is doing well with retention. and many officers grew up locally. When fully staffed, Conway PD has 24 officers.
Future officers, Mattei said, often take jobs in southern New Hampshire, where the pay is better and the departments are much larger, giving more opportunities for advancement. Conway’s housing problem makes it even harder to compete.
“We have an extreme problem here with housing,” Mattei said, noting that an officer recently left after losing his housing.
“He had two roommates; the two roommates moved to different areas for different job opportunities outside of law enforcement, and he just couldn’t afford to rent the house himself,” said Mattei.
Mattei said there were no apartments to rent here and his 20-year-old son, who wanted to stay in the area, had not yet been able to move.
The police have had a position open since September and only recently made an offer.
In the past, Mattei said, Conway police had many more applicants. There would be 25 candidates for an officer position, and then nine would pass the physical training requirements.
For the position open since September, there were 18 applications, and only five were serious.
Mattei said that appears to be because law enforcement has faced public criticism nationwide and salaries have not kept pace with the cost of living.
“The pool is shrinking and the quality of applicants also seems to be declining,” Mattei said.
Over the past year, a few job applicants have called and said they can’t come to the valley because housing is too expensive, he said.
Kelley-Scott has said in the past that if a recruit shows up and isn’t clean-shaven, they’ll be turned away. “Now you couldn’t even consider doing that – we might advise them in the future if we were going to go ahead with them,” she said.
The news the police gave Pappas was not all bad. Mattei explained that since Jan. 1, a group called Carroll County Mental Health has been helping officers when it comes to responding to people in crisis. He said it was helpful.
Mattei said when a call came in, the officer arrived and made sure the scene was safe. Then, a mobile mental health intervention team assesses the person’s needs. The police can take the person to the hospital if necessary.
In the past, officers had to decide what to do with the person. Now someone expert makes that decision.
“It worked really, really well,” Mattei said.
He added: “We find it difficult to change and let someone else on the scene make a decision, but I think in this case it is welcome.”
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