(Editor’s note; this story was mistakenly e-mailed to subscribers yesterday morning while still in rough draft form. Hopefully it didn’t scramble your head as much as it scrambled mine.)

Story By John Murray

Police agencies across America have struggled to attract recruits as crime increases and tensions grow between those who wear the badge and communities of color.

“We need police officers like never before,” Waterbury Police Chief Fernando Spagnolo said. “We need to attract people to this profession. We need to attract new young folks who want to serve their community, who want to reflect what their communities are, and believe in.”

Chief Spagnolo made those comments on May 5th during a swearing-in ceremony inside the Palace Theater for 18 new police officers in the city.

“As of today we are still 22 officers short of a full force,” Spagnolo said. “We will be starting another academy class in July and we’re hoping we can hire enough candidates to fill the open slots.”

A ceremonial parade through the streets of downtown Waterbury.

The parade included members of the Waterbury Police Pipe and Drum Band.

Waterbury Police Chief Fred Spagnolo, left, and Captain Michael Ponzillo.

Waterbury Deputy Chiefs John Napiello, left, and Dan Ferrucci..

Graduates marching towards the swearing-in ceremony.

Friends and families lined the street in front of the Palace Theater to cheer the graduates.

Waterbury has its own training academy. According to the Waterbury Police Department’s website, “the Department began running its own…Police Academy in 2005. Since then, the Waterbury Police Academy has graduated almost 200 police officers for the Waterbury Police Department and other police agencies throughout the State of Connecticut.”

The Waterbury Police Academy, “combines over 1000 hours of physical, academic and practical training, using current Waterbury Police Officers, officers from other police agencies and civilian instructors to teach the police recruits. After the police academy graduation, the new officers are put into a 10-week Field Training Officer (FTO) Program to put their newly acquired knowledge to use in real situations.”

Being a police officer has never been more challenging than it is right now. Officers are navigating through choppy waters of a COVID pandemic, a national reckoning with race relations, defund the police movements, and legislative efforts to hold officers more accountable.

“We are in uncharted territory right now,” Executive Director Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), a nonprofit police policy research group, told National Public Radio. “Policing is being challenged in ways I haven’t seen – ever.”

The Los Angeles Daily News reported in August 2021 that the Los Angeles Police Department had 300 open officer positions and almost 500 fewer officers on duty than they did in 2020. 2,600 officers retired in New York in 2020, up 491 from the year before. In the Portland, Oregon Police Department, 144 cops retired or resigned, a more than three-fold increase from the year before.

The societal changes combined with an uptick in violent crime have police officers exhausted and under intense strain.

“They’re worn out,” LAPD Chief Michel Moore told the LA Daily News. “They’re frustrated. They’re tired. They’re feeling fatigued, and they’re saying they’re looking for options outside the profession.”

Over the past five years, a quarter of the resignations have come from officers with less than five years on the job, according to the LA Daily News.

New Haven’s State Attorney, Patrick Griffin was the keynote speaker at the Waterbury swearing-in ceremony. “Now, this is your chance to build relationships that frankly have not existed before and reestablish trust with those communities that have lost faith in the criminal justice system,” Griffin said. “That is the charge of the next generation of police officers.”

Thirty-one recruits completed eight months of instruction and graduated from the Waterbury Police Academy on May 5th. These officers now begin their field training process within their respective communities. After successfully completing this field training program, these officers will patrol the neighborhoods of their respective towns or city.

The Waterbury Police Department will be adding 18 new police officers to their ranks from this graduating class. There will be an additional 13 officers who will be serving the following areas in CT: Mohegan Sun, Naugatuck, Newtown, Southington, Stamford, West Hartford and New Haven. This graduating class of officers was made possible through the support of Mayor O’Leary and the city administration.

Taking the oath of office on the stage of the Palace Theater.

Waterbury Police Department Recruits are:

• Javier Alvarez

• Nikesha Birch

• Anthony Bonicki

• Steven Borges

• Michael Campos

• Jennifer DeWitt

• Daniel Germain

• Norberto Gonzalez

• Tyler Gonzalez

• Samuel Grossenbacher

• Arelis Hernandez

• Arlind Istrefi

• Abdalla Johnson

• Dion Little

• Sugelly Machado

• Devon McClellan

• Iain Osborn

• Raul Pizzarro

Additional Police Agencies Recruits were:

• Christopher Bouchard – Mohegan Tribal Police

* Wayne McGuire- Naugatuck Police

• Brianna Tavares –Naugatuck Police

• Amanda Lopez – Newtown Police

• Logun Boulanger – Southington Police

• Matthew Leary – Southington Police

• Jacob Badgley – Southington Police

• Roger LaBella – Stamford Police

• Michael Scaturchio –Stamford Police

• Kevin Kaselouskas – West Hartford Police

• Gabrielle Curtis- New Haven Police

• Jonathan Escobar – New Haven Police

• Tyler Evan – New Haven Police

It’s not easy being Blue, and we wish all 31 officers a safe and productive career.