Northfield, News

Understaffed after ‘several departures,’ the Northfield Police Department looks to incentives to attract officers

Northfield officials are hoping two new incentives will help attract police officers to their community as it faces challenges in filling vacant positions within the police department.

The incentives, which the Northfield Board of Trustees unanimously approved at its regular meeting Tuesday, June 18, include financial bonuses for current Village staff, both within the police department and outside of it, to help with recruitment.

Village Manager Patrick Brennan, a former police officer, said during Tuesday’s regular and committee of the whole meetings that hiring police officers has been a challenge for Northfield.

“As you know, the police department’s been looking for some time trying to fill vacant spots and increase hiring,” he said during the committee of the whole meeting. “We’ve talked about it here, we’ve talked about it at the board meeting, on our efforts to get to full staffing.”

According to a slide in Brennan’s presentation, the department has had “several departures” since the beginning of the year. Brennan later told The Record that the department currently has 16 sworn police officers on staff for 19 available positions; however, current staffing includes Chief William Lustig, who is on voluntary leave for an indefinite period of time.

In an effort to increase recruitment, Brennan suggested two new incentives: bonuses that can reach $1,500 for a Village staff member who helps recruit an officer, and higher pay for officers who choose to train new recruits as part of the field training officer program.

Under the first incentive, a Village employee would receive $500 if a candidate is hired as a police officer. They would then receive an additional $500 once that officer passes their field training program. The final $500 would come when the officer completes their probationary period, which Brennan said lasts two years.

Related to the trainer’s incentive, Brennan said he’s talked to a number of officers who have “commented on the fact that this department doesn’t incentivize or reward those officers that step up and offer to train the new officers.”

“And I think that that person is taking on additional responsibilities, there’s certainly additional paperwork, and they serve as that person for the conduit for ensuring that we get somebody that learns the Northfield way of doing things,” he said.

Field training officers will now receive an additional $6.90 per hour.

Brennan said while some departments provide incentives for the recruits themselves, he believes that practice actually hinders recruitment.

“My concern with that approach is that, when you do that, it can tend to lead toward job-hopping, where the new employee finds a better offer someplace else and they go take that job,” he said.

Village President Greg Lungmus said he supported the new incentives, and thanked Brennan for bringing it to the board’s attention.

“Hopefully, it incentivizes some guys to come to Northfield,” he said.

Police staffing recommendations shared with trustees

In addition to approving the new incentives for new police officers, Northfield trustees also heard recommendations from a recent police staffing study.

Brennan said the study was commissioned by Tim Frenzer, who served as Northfield’s interim village manager from August 2023 until this past April, and conducted by GovHR with the help of three retired police chiefs, including former Winnetka Police Chief Marc Hornstein.

The study, which mostly consisted of interviews with police department staff members, made four recommendations: adding a second detective; changing the administrative aide position into an administrative services manager; adding a full-time employee to the records division; and adding three new police officers.

Based on that survey, Brennan said he and Deputy Chief Michael Hutensky — who is filling in as top cop while Chief Lustig is on leave — are recommending adding one new full-time officer and a part-time officer, and delaying a decision on adding a second detective until the department is fully staffed.

Currently the department is authorized to have 19 full-time officers.

“In the budget for this fiscal year, you added one (officer) temporarily with the expectation of somebody stepping out, so you would have had extra personnel for a short period of time,” Brennan said. “What we’re recommending is make that 20th position permanent and add one to it.”

He added that he and Hutensky are continuing to discuss the right way to proceed with potentially adding a new records person and an administrative services manager.

One other change the department has already implemented is a change in how officers work.

Previously, there were three shifts with officers working eight and a half hours per shift. But Brennan said that structure led to what he called “mandatory overtime.”

“We don’t have enough people for the street, so the person that was getting off shift (was) held over for four hours, and then we ask the next shift — the midnight shift — to come in four hours early … so sometimes they’re working 16-hour days,” he said.

On June 10, the department switched to 12-hour workdays, with four shifts made up of four officers each. With this new workday, Brennan said officers get more time off in a row and get every other weekend off.

“So far, it’s working reasonably well,” he said, adding that the department will evaluate the new shifts in November.

Trustees all told Brennan that they appreciated the report and that they agree that safety is their No. 1 priority, with many voicing support for moving forward with hiring additional officers.

“I think that making sure that our police officers are supported and feel that we are working hard to solve this problem we’ve had for a long time is really important,” Trustee Tracey Mendrek said. “I would move forward as quickly as we can.”

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Peter Kaspari

Peter Kaspari is a blogger and a freelance reporter. A 10-year veteran of journalism, he has written for newspapers in both Iowa and Illinois, including spending multiple years covering crime and courts. Most recently, he served as the editor for The Lake Forest Leader. Peter is also a longtime resident of Wilmette and New Trier High School alumnus.

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