PITTSFIELD — A letter from Pittsfield police officers saying their safety is being jeopardized by a failure to hire new recruits came days before several officers were injured while making arrests in separate incidents over the weekend.

Chief Harold “Pete” Bickmore of the Pittsfield Police Department.  Contributed photo

Released last Wednesday, the letter expressed dismay the town’s Police Department had yet to hire two more officers. The three officers who signed the letter said current staffing is inadequate and “it is coming down to a safety issue.”

Just days after the letter was released, a woman injured two Pittsfield officers and a Somerset County corrections officer as she was being booked into the Somerset County Jail in Madison on charges she had robbed Dysart’s in Pittsfield where she was previously employed.

A day later, Officer Michael Cray was the only officer on duty when he responded to a disturbance during which he was head-butted and sucker punched multiple times, Pittsfield police Chief Harold “Pete” Bickmore said Sunday.

With one officer still in training at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, the department has only two officers to cover shifts, and they are concerned about burnout and fatigue, according to the letter.

The department in recent years has had four patrol officers, a sergeant and the police chief, Town Manager Kathryn Ruth said.

“We are working 50+ hours a week,” the letter reads. “Our ability to make quick and immediate decisions can become impaired. Our driving and driving response decisions can become impaired.”

Earlier this summer, the Town Council approved an agreement with the police union that established an employee sick bank, modified the residency requirement so officers must live within 50 miles of the police station and offers a $15,000 signing bonus to new officers. Half the bonus is provided at the start of employment and the other half after a year on the job.

The town is in the process of negotiating another agreement with the union, Ruth said, but she declined to provide specifics until the agreement is finalized.

The letter from officers said it was their understanding Ruth had been authorized to negotiate with the union on new hires, but town leaders believed the union was slowing the process.

Ruth said Monday she had not been authorized to negotiate on her own with the union. That is done by a Town Council committee that includes Ruth, Mayor Heather Donahue and Deputy Mayor Timothy Nichols. Ruth said no member of the committee has said the union is delaying the process, and the committee has been able to work well with union representatives.

The letter said two qualified candidates were awaiting decisions on the department’s open positions, and the candidates could be lost if “action is not taken.”

Ruth said she was not aware of any barriers to hiring the candidates but, as far as she knew, Bickmore had not made an offer to either candidate.

The Morning Sentinel was unable to reach Bickmore on Monday for comment on the hiring process.

Town Councilor Michael Cianchette has spoken at council meetings about the need to hire more officers. He said Monday the understaffing creates problems for officers, residents and businesses.

“What if one officer gets taken out of commission? Then one officer is going to cover the whole town?” Cianchette said. “It introduces human error, not because they are incapable but because people get tired, and then if something happens, it opens the town up to litigation.”

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