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CPD Facing Increased Overtime Shifts Amid Hiring Shortages

Cambridge Police officers are increasingly being asked to work 16-hour shifts as the department faces a hiring shortage.
Cambridge Police officers are increasingly being asked to work 16-hour shifts as the department faces a hiring shortage. By Jina H. Choe
By Sally E. Edwards and Asher J. Montgomery, Crimson Staff Writers

Amid staffing shortages, the Cambridge Police Department is increasingly “forcing” officers to work back-to-back shifts to cover open positions.

Forcing occurs when the department does not have the minimum number of officers available to respond to calls for service. According to Cambridge Police Commissioner Christine A. Elow, in these cases, the most junior officer available “gets forced to stay” after their shift, working up to 16 hours straight.

Elow said she is “really concerned” about forcing and its effects on officer’s morale in a Tuesday interview, as the department is working to fill 26 vacancies.

“If you have a young family, or if you have a number of different challenges, when you think you’re only working eight hours and you’re working 16 hours, that is not good for retention — to say the least,” she said.

Sergeant Beth Halloran, who runs Cambridge’s police academy, said that her team works with recruits to explain forcing during the training process.

“We explain that given the lack of police officers and the inability to kind of fill these positions, that oftentimes you come for work for eight, but you have to stay for 16,” she said. “We let them know that it happens quite often, depending on the month, depending on vacations.”

Woody Miller, who retired from CPD last year after working as an officer for 36 years said that because of forcing, the demands of policing are “not conducive” to a family lifestyle.

“There’s a lot of stuff you miss, like when you have kids, you miss all the events — the baseball games, the soccer games, the basketball games,” he said. “Your family life is cut very short.”

According to Miller, prior to the staffing issues, only a small number of designated officers were forced. Miller worked as one of these officers as a member of the fourth platoon.

Miller said that the department relying on forcing when there are staffing shortages is necessary in order to keep residents safe.

“We live crazy lives just so we can protect the public at large,” he said.

Elow said that CPD is “constantly struggling to fill the open slots that we have,” and referenced the city’s requirement that officers live in Cambridge as a main reason for the department’s staffing challenges.

“This is a city that is really hard to rent,” she said, citing Cambridge’s declining working class population as a result of the increasing lack of affordable housing in the city. “I think our demographics in the city have changed pretty drastically — and that’s impacting, I will say, our hiring.”

Miller said that the department has struggled to recruit new officers amid a recent decrease in appreciation for police officers, on top of the difficulty the job poses.

“We were never heroes, but now we’re really not heroes,” he said.

Elow also said that the 2020 Black Lives Matter protest against police brutality also contributes to the force’s difficulty to hire new recruits.

“​​I do feel like the George Floyd national narrative has had an impact,” she said. “Specifically when you’re trying to hire people of color or people with a social justice lens.”

Chris Sullivan, president of the Cambridge Police Patrol Officer Association, echoed Elow’s sentiments. In an email to the Crimson, Sullivan wrote that while the conversations around police accountability “led to useful reforms,” it also “marked a period of extreme negativity and even hostility toward the entire law enforcement profession.”

“It prompted a large number of early departures or retirements from the field,” he wrote. “And it became a major barrier to men and women who may have considered law enforcement as a career field, but became reluctant to do so under the conditions created by “defund police” activists.”

Elow said that despite the increased difficulties of policing, CPD is actively recruiting “people who really care about the community, who want to make a difference with our most vulnerable and marginalized.”

“If you want a job like that, that pays a living wage, is really rewarding — but the schedule can be a little tough — this might be the job for you,” she said.

—Staff writer Sally E. Edwards can be reached at sally.edwards@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @sallyedwards04 or on Threads @sally_edwards06.

—Staff writer Asher J. Montgomery can be reached at asher.montgomery@thecrimson.com Follow her on X @asherjmont or on Threads @asher_montgomery.

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