ELMIRA, N.Y. (WETM) – Law enforcement agencies are observing National Police Week, which honors the men and women who gave their lives in the line of duty. The Elmira Police Department is remembering the loss of Chief John J. Finnell, Sergeant Charles Gradwell, Officer August R. Michalke, and Sargeant John C. Hawley. Sargeant Hawley’s death on January 8th, 1984 is the department’s most recent loss in the line of duty.

The Chemung County Sheriff’s office is also remembering the loss of four deputies: Harry Swartz, Gordon Brinthaupt, Roy Hazen, and most recently Deputy Jeffrey Alexander. He was killed on June 12, 2011 in a crash while driving his patrol car.

As police departments honor the fallen, they say it’s also getting harder to find new recruits. Elmira Deputy Chief Scott Packard says his department is currently down 11 officers. The department is looking to fill two open positions. 9 rookies are still in the Police Academy and won’t be ready to patrol the streets on their own until September.

“A lot of officers are pulling double shifts,” said Deputy Chief Packard. “We are unfortunately at the point where officers are occasionally getting stuck for an additional tour. If staffing isn’t there, we have minimums that we need to maintain on the patrol level.”

Chemung County Sheriff Bill Schrom says 6 new deputies are also still training in police academies. Scheriff Schrom says his force of 28 deputies could soon shrink by 6 due to retirements.

“I think we’ve seen a trend. I’ve certainly seen it over my career,” said Sheriff Schrom. “Aside from doing this, I’m also an adjunct professor at Corning Community College and I’ve taught up there since 2012 in the criminal justice program. I have seen a steady decline in enrollment in the criminal justice program, and I go back to when I took it in the late 80s. We would have to wait for classes because every class will get full, so we’d have to wait another semester or two before we can take the class we wanted, just because there weren’t openings. Now they can barely get enough people to hold a class in that program. That trend is transitioning over here. We’re not getting the people that are signing up for the tests and unfortunately those that are, they’re struggling with the physical fitness part of it. So, you do the written exam. Once that’s over, you have to take physical fitness exam which consists of push ups, sit ups and a mile and a half run.
They’re washing out two thirds of the candidates just in that process.”

“I also think its because of some of the new laws that have come down. Some of the exposure to liability, whether it’s criminal and or civil liability, to some of these young people, it scares them. They’re afraid that if they do their job, even if they do it in good faith, if they make a mistake, they’re going to be in big trouble for it.”

“How do we reverse that trend?” asked 18 News reporter Nicolas Dubina.

“We have recently started participating in more job fairs, even if it’s directed more toward college job fairs or just general jobs and you know, that they’re trying to showcase. We’re jumping on board and getting connected to that. I think that’s going to be a big help.
I think it’s encouraging these people that are interested in the profession that it’s a long process, and one of those processes is being physically fit at least to the degree that you can pass a physical fitness screening test, and I think that will bring up our numbers. So you know, hopefully, it’s that and hopefully some of these laws that might have seen like a good idea initially, they can step back and say no, maybe we need to revise this a little bit and make some changes.”

“The use of force stuff, I think it makes sense that you modify those a little bit. But I’m looking at bail reform. You know, you have these officers that are out here doing the job, they’re making an arrest and they are immediately releasing these people only to reoffend. Not just reoffend once or twice, but repeatedly, and it gets very frustrating. They get discouraged. They either don’t want to do their job, or they’re just saying what’s the sense of doing it because, you know, we’re going to put all this work into this, only to have so many be released back onto the street that we have to deal with,” said Sheriff Schrom.

“The pool has shrunk of potential applicants that we choose from,” said Elmira Deputy Chief Packard.

“How do we turn that trend around from your point of view? How do we get it going in the other direction where the pool is growing?” asked Dubina,

“Well, I think that the political environment of you know, people, people liking and respecting the police, I hope that that’s on the upswing. I think that that will help to draw more younger people into the career fold. It’s a very good profession. It’s a 20-year retirement and a very good career with a very good pension.

If you are interested in becoming a law enforcement officer in Chemung County, click here to learn more about the required Civil Service Exam.

If you would like to learn more about the Chemung County Sheriff’s Office, click here.

If you would like to learn more about the Elmira Police Department, click here.