Franklin chief: It’s tougher to fill openings

Manpower within the Franklin Police Department has been a talking point at several recent city council meetings, but what are the numbers behind these discussions?

Chief Kevin Anundson elaborated on the issue in an interview earlier this year.

“We didn’t hire anyone last year,” Anundson said.

The 2020 budget has eliminated one officer position, and city manager Tracy Jamieson said Tuesday it was a position that was already vacant.

Jamieson said this is the second time in five years that a city budget has eliminated a position within the department. She said the reason for the cuts directly relates to the desire of city council and Franklin residents who have made it a priority to hold the line on taxes.

Anundson has said the department’s “full complement” of officers, including himself, is 17. The force was at 15 until about two weeks ago when patrolman Ethan Brownlee left for a position closer to his hometown, bringing the number to 14.

While the city is actively working to replace Brownlee – Anundson said he administered physical and written testing to a series of candidates Saturday – the department is facing is a dwindling number of applicants.

“In 2018, we had 19 applicants,” said Anundson.

At the end of 2019 the department advertised for a vacancy through a system called the Mercyhurst police consortium list, which is a hiring process through which graduates of Mercyhurst University’s criminal justice program can submit their name and where they’d be willing to go for a job.

“It’s a much larger pool of people,” Anundson said Tuesday. “It speeds things up a little bit.”

Despite Franklin’s involvement in this program, Anundson said he reached out to about 20 applicants and had only one response.

In January, Anundson addressed this phenomenon, saying “it’s getting more difficult to find people, even the academy classes are getting significantly smaller,” he said.

At that time, Anundson said he believes a lot of this has to do with not only money but also the lack of specialized career paths a small department can offer.

As an example, he said many of the recruits in the area will look for positions in Millcreek, Erie or Pittsburgh.

One offers a higher salary and opportunity for advancement, the other offers the excitement of a specialized unit such as bomb squad or SWAT.

“Hiring seems to take an eternity,” Anundson said Tuesday.

He said this process, from advertising to hire, is a time frame of at least three to four months.

And hiring a new officer won’t necessarily fix officer shortage issues.

“First we’re two short, now we’re three short, and once we go four, then we start having issues with covering shifts,” Anundson said of a turnstile of employees that, even if sporadic, can very quickly turn into a problem.

This also includes the fact that life as a police officer is taxing and can include injuries, something the department is facing now with two officers out of commission on medical and injury leave. That means 12 officers are working now.

“That’s just something you can’t really plan for,” Anundson said Tuesday.

Anundson said the city’s system of reactive hiring, or waiting for a position to be vacated before looking for another, isn’t a suitable option.

“You could be looking at six months before you have an officer out on patrol,” Anundson said Tuesday.

Anundson also reacted Tuesday to comments at Monday’s city council meeting, which predominantly called for more hires to the department, with a hint of frustration.

Anundson said that while the comments made by councilman Christian Marshall and others shed a mostly truthful light on the department’s situation, there’s not much that can be done in the immediate future. Marshall said the department needs a boost in manpower.

“The city council knew (about eliminating officers) when they passed the budget. There’s nothing that can really be done about it now,” he said.