Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood didn’t mince words as she spoke last week about the struggles of retaining officers and attracting new cops in a climate she believes has seen an increase in danger and disrespect.
“I’m shorthanded and I got staffing issues,” Clapprood said during a meeting with editors and reporters at The Republican. “A lot of my problems now are recruiting. I don’t get the people that want to be officers.”
The department strives to keep approximately 500 officers, but currently has 466, including patrol officers and supervisors, Clapprood said.
While experienced officers are retiring in significant numbers, there is also difficulty in recruiting new officers, Clapprood said.
“It’s not as respected or prestigious as it once was,” Clapprood said of the police profession. “I mean, you were proud of being a police officer. I mean, there’s a lot of things now where, you know, between the press and the public, we were not really respected.”
A member of the department for four decades, Clapprood was appointed last February as acting police commissioner by Mayor Domenic Sarno, and then named permanent commissioner in September.
Clapprood said she is working on multiple strategies to retain and recruit officers, including multiple academies and programs that promote the health and wellness of officers.
The department had planned an academy for 50 officers in December. There were just 40 candidates then, and that number has shrunk to 35, Clapprood said. Those candidates will probably be needed just to fill new vacancies by the time the class graduates in late May, she said. Another academy will follow as soon as possible, she said.
Clapprood said that makes she adjustments to ensure there is always a set number of officers on duty each shift, for the safety of the public and the officers.
The department loses decades of experience annually as officers retire when they reach the “magic” numbers for their full pension — 55 years old and 32 years of experience.
“And their families and loved ones are encouraging them to go while the getting’s good, while you’re healthy,” Clapprood said. “Enjoy your retirement. Get out there. It’s dangerous. It’s stressful. But when that happens, I lose experience. You know that one of the big advantages of police work is it’s like driving a car. The thing that helps you the most is experience.”
Officers struggle with stress and morale, the commissioner said, leading her to examine a health and wellness programs for officers, with possible future steps ranging from having comfort dogs at the station to offering yoga or meditation.
The department works to improve equipment and uniforms to enhance the environment, she said, “because to me if you’re happy in the job you’re more likely to stay in the job.”
Sarno, in praising the job done by Clapprood in the past year, said she has been a strong, vocal advocate of officers dealing with mental health issues, and pushing for officers to use employee assistance services. The national suicide rate “continues to rise in this stressful occupation,” Sarno said.
Officer Joseph Gentile, president of the Springfield patrol officers union, also praised Clapprood in a statement issued Friday by the mayor’s office.
“What we have seen from Commissioner Clapprood is that she truly cares about our officers’ well-being and mental health,” Gentile said. “She also has demonstrated by her actions that she has our back and that has definitely been noticed.”