Presque Isle Police Department is bucking the statewide staffing trend

11 months ago

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — The Presque Isle Police Department is fully staffed for the first time in about five years, according to the city’s police chief.

The city enrolled its police department in the Maine Public Employees Retirement System in 2021, and since then has been successfully retaining existing staff and attracting qualified candidates to vacancies.

There are 19 sworn police officers in the department on the new plan. Police Chief Laurie Kelly, the deputy chief and four dispatchers have access to the same retirement program as the officers, which is the only police department in the state that is structured this way, according to Kelly.

Presque Isle is a bright spot in a hiring climate in which many law enforcement departments around the state have multiple vacancies they cannot seem to fill.

Presque Isle has historically shown that if people have a retirement system in place, they would complete their whole career in the city, Kelly said.

A few officers continue to be on the old system because it is harder to opt out of it, but recent hires are signing up in the new retirement system. The new system allowed Presque Isle to keep two officers who were planning to transfer to other departments in the state. Officers looking for better retirement options joined the Presque Isle police force after the new program was implemented.

“We are up to staff for the first time maybe since 2018,” Kelly said.

The city pays into the retirement fund and the more officers enrolled the less the city contributes. The plan requires 25 years of service before benefits are paid out and there is no age limit to join.

Before Presque Isle switched to the state plan, the city was a training ground for police officers who had no incentive to stay and would go to other departments.

Hiring replacements is a laborious process that involves several steps including physical and medical fitness tests and completion of an 18-week training program at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy in Vassalboro, so losing good candidates after going through it is costly.

“So [Maine PERS] has always existed; it’s just different municipalities that either opt into it or not,” Kelly said. “When the city went back to it, we did get a lot of people that came back.”

After the 25 years of service is filled, a member of the police force can stay on or pursue a different interest in retirement, Kelly said. 

No one in the current police department for the city has refused the state retirement benefits, Kelly said.

Police employees can go to other departments in Maine that also offer state retirement benefits without having to opt out. They can transfer it.

Kelly hopes the retirement system will keep new hires in the police department for their full 25 years they need to earn their benefits.