Area chiefs speak to staffing strain following police reform measures

  • Heath Police Chief John McDonough, pictured in 2018. FILE PHOTO

  • Jason Pelletier is the new police chief for Charlemont following the retirement of Jared Bellows. FILE PHOTO/BELLA LEVAVI

Staff Writer
Published: 9/4/2022 2:59:25 PM
Modified: 9/4/2022 2:55:37 PM

Local police chiefs say Franklin County is left facing “a learning curve” as local departments face staffing challenges in the wake of police reform measures from 2020.

“I think this has hurt the hilltowns a lot,” said Jared Bellows, Charlemont police chief who recently retired.

Under the police reform legislation, called “An Act Relative to Justice, Equity and Accountability in Law Enforcement in the Commonwealth,” that was signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker in 2020, state lawmakers created the Bridge Academy’s mandatory training that has eliminated part-time officer training and requires all officers to receive full-time training.

“I understand and agree that the state has gone that way to take away part-time training,” said Scott Minckler, chief of the Leverett Police Department, which also provides policing services to Wendell. “But we are currently facing a learning curve.”

The law comes into effect slowly, requiring one-third of all Massachusetts officers to take Bridge Academy courses each year for three years. Departments have seen many longtime officers choose to retire rather than participate in the mandatory training.

Bellows decided to retire when it was his turn to go through Bridge Academy training.

“I didn’t have the time to do all the things the Bridge Academy required in one year,” he said. “It didn’t make sense for me to do it.”

Bellows had a full-time job, on top of his 20-hour chief position. The Bridge Academy requires three weeks of in-person training. He would have needed to use all of his vacation time on his other job to attend the training.

“A lot of guys only worked two to three shifts a month,” he continued. “It doesn’t make sense wasting all of your vacation of their full-time job to do the training.”

“Small towns primarily have part-time police officers, so putting in the Bridge Academy and taking away the Reserve Academy (part-time training) directly has an impact on us,” Minckler said.

An example of the Bridge Academy inadvertently prompting vacant positions in small-town departments can be seen in Charlemont. The department has had four people quit or retire due to the required training, and Charlemont Police Chief Jason Pelletier expects to lose one to three more officers.

Minckler said his department has lost two officers, and the Heath Police Department has lost the same number, according to Heath Police Chief John McDonough. Vacancies in small departments, they said, create strains across the policing system of the county.

Bellows said if the requirements would have taken place over three years instead of one, he would have stayed in the department. He thinks many other part-time police officers would have stayed working as well. He stressed that he is not against training, just that, “the way it was put together made it impossible for people to do it.”

“We are understaffed,” Minckler said of policing in Leverett and Wendell. In his department, when there are unfilled shifts, the work falls back on full-time officers or the towns rely on State Police.

With these vacancies, departments are looking to hire new officers but are having a difficult time doing so.

“If we were to hire someone, they have to have already been trained because we can’t afford to pay for training,” McDonough explained.

Additionally, small-town departments struggle to pay competitive wages for officers who are already fully trained and who might get offers from larger departments.

According to Pelletier, full training costs the police department about $30,000.

“We do not have that money,” he said.

Bellows explained fully certified police will leave small-town departments to take full-time jobs with better pay.

“I don’t blame them,” he said.

If departments across the county haven’t already reconsidered the structure of their departments, local chiefs say they will be forced to do so in the coming years.

“We are going to work on rebuilding the department once we know everyone’s Bridge Academy status,” McDonough said of Heath.

Some towns have turned to regionalization as the answer to some of the problems created by the reform. Buckland and Shelburne’s police departments recently began sharing a chief. Bernardston and Leyden, as well as Wendell and Leverett, have created regional departments.

“We don’t have the manpower anymore to do it by ourselves,” Minckler said.

Still, Bellows noted he’s “not a huge fan of regionalization,” saying the departments “lose local control.” He explained people in Charlemont knew he was accessible and would see him around town, but that might not be true in more regional departments.

Other departments are looking to move away from part-time employees and find space in their budgets to hire full-time officers, since there is only full-time training available for new recruits. For example, Colrain is reconsidering the model for its four Police Department employees that include full-time positions to be able to attract workers.

Not only are there hiring issues across the nation in many jobs, but McDonough said police recruiting is extremely difficult right now. He spoke about Springfield, a much larger police force than the departments across Franklin County, having a difficult time filling its ranks.

“It’s going to be impossible for hilltowns to continue the way they have,” Bellows said.

Bella Levavi can be reached at 413-930-4579 or


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