Police shortage hurts Ship
By Dale Heberlig, Sentinel Reporter
Last updated: Tuesday, January 29, 2008 4:57 PM EST
The nationwide shortage of police officers is a problem that weighs
heavily in the Borough of Shippensburg, where Chief Fred Scott
constantly juggles his lineup to make ends meet.
With one patrolman on an extended disability leave and the ranks of
part-time cops quickly shrinking, Scott’s able-bodied officers (six
full-timers and three part-timers) are forced to pick up the slack with
The workload demands unusual department policies.
“I’ve had to deny leave lately, because I need guys on the road,” Scott
says. “That’s something I never had to do before.”
Borough council is also taking steps to change hiring practices to make
police jobs in Shippensburg more attractive.
Physical standards have already been relaxed slightly, and lawyers are
refining the language in a rule change to make it possible to hire a
prospective officer who has not yet achieved Act 120 certification.
Not just local
It’s a song sung from coast to coast and border to border.
Kim Kohlhepp, manager of the International Association of Chiefs of
Police center for testing and career development, says staffing numbers
is always among the top concerns for any police department.
He says Shippensburg’s plight is not unusual.
“They are not alone,” Kohlhepp says. “Many, many others have similar
He says the reasons vary geographically, and suggests low unemployment
numbers here may contribute to the problem.
The borough has sought police candidates since January, 2007 when
veteran patrolman Dave Lively retired. Scott says a handful of part-time
officers he used have also moved on to full-time work elsewhere or quit
for other reasons.
“I had six or eight part-timers a year ago, now I’m down to three,” says
One full-time officer — injured on the job — has been unable to work
It means double-duty for those left on the roster.
No one is complaining.
“We do what we have to do,” says Patrolman Mike Rinaldi. “Sometimes it’s
a double shift. Other times, we stay over for half of the next shift,
and the next guy comes in early.”
Rinaldi won’t discuss scheduling specifics for security reasons, but
says the pace takes it toll.
“It starts to wear on you physically after a while. You feel like you
never get enough a rest, and this time of year it’s easier to get sick
when you’re tired.”
Bob Van Scyoc is one of three part-timers the department leans on.
Van Scyoc retired as a sergeant six years ago after 23 years as a
full-time Shippensburg cop, including a stint as temporary chief.
He decided to stay on as a part-timer, and his recent workload is
growing. He says two patrol shifts a month has grown to a half dozen a
“There was a day when you had to fight off the people interesting in
police work,” he says. “It seems like there isn’t much interest
The local numbers support that thought.
Scott says he’s advertised for candidates twice in the past year in an
effort to create a list of available candidates.
He says six people filed applications the first time around.
“Three showed up to take the test and they all failed,” he says.
The second round of advertising generated just two applications. Only
one pass, then that applicant promptly withdrew from consideration prior
to a background check.
Scott says there are probably several factors contributing to the
One is money. The starting salary for a patrolman in Shippensburg is
$32,600. That figure ranks below the national average of $38,569 for
Money is not the only factor, Scott says.
“Police work is not what it used to be,” he says. ‘Who wants a job that
you have to work nights, weekends and holidays and have people call you
names?” he asks.
Scott says public disrespect for cops is growing.
“When I started out, people would own up to it when they did something
wrong. Nowadays there’s always a challenge. Everything’s adversarial.”
The seasonal crunch of spring and summer is approaching fast.
Rinaldi says, “We’re going to need time to cut our lawns and people are
going to want summer vacations.”
There’s no relief in sight, though.
If the borough council approves the hire of a candidate without Act 120
certification, that candidate becomes a cop only after completion of a
20-week training period. The next class doesn’t start at Harrisburg Area
Community College until June.
The math isn’t complicated. In that scenario, there’s no relief before
A qualified, Act 120-certified candidate, would be a godsend.
“Then we’d only need a couple of months to train them — teach them the
difference between theory and reality,” Scott says.
In the near term, it looks like more overtime for the department’s
members — including Chief Scott, who fills overtime needs along with his
“I’m pulling extra hours, too,” he says. “For example, I worked
Christmas, and other chiefs ask me why. I tell them I was hired as a