Lanesborough Police Advisory Commission Welcomes New Chief
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — The Police Advisory Review Commission on Wednesday welcomed new Police Chief Robert Derksen, who took the place of recently retired Timothy Sorrell.
Derksen was chosen by the Select Board on June 3 after the Police Chief Search Committee recommended two final candidates out of 28 resumes.
He and Anthony Geraci, former police chief of Watervliet, N.Y., were the finalists but the Selectmen found Derksen's "boots on the ground" approach to be the most favorable.
Derksen is the was a captain with the sheriff's department in Cortland County, N.Y., where he served for more than 20 years. The search committee was "very impressed" with his experience in being hands-on in difficult situations.
Though he is new to the job, Derksen was able to identify and report some challenges that the department is facing.
The biggest issue, he said, is a full-time officer vacancy with a lack of candidates.
"That's a national issue, there were shortages even prior to the murder of George Floyd, and the 'defund the police movement.' There was already a 20 percent national vacancy and law enforcement so now it's just exponentially increased," Derksen said.
"So hopefully, we'll get a candidate soon, the officers have been great, filling in the gaps, you know, obviously, my concern is I don't want to burn them out."
A concern that many Berkshire County chiefs are facing has to do with the training for part-time officers, he said. Specifically, what will be done with part-time employees if they have to obtain "basically full-time certification" because of the elimination of the reserve officer training program in the state's police reform bill that was signed in late 2020.
"It sounds like the state's idea of this 'bridge academy' is not going to happen any time soon," he added. "From what we're hearing is the bridge academy isn't even a practical idea for at least a year or more, because the state just doesn't have the curriculum builds, or the infrastructure to implement any curriculum."
The Police Department currently has three part-time positions open but Derksen speculated that maybe it would be beneficial to convince the Selectmen to convert those to full-time positions because of the issue with certification.
"Even if the bridge academy was implemented tomorrow, I don't know how many of our current part-timers would be able to dedicate the 240 hours necessary," he added. "Because they all have other jobs I mean, it's a big commitment for them to say, 'Alright, I'm gonna take the next six weeks off of my primary job so that I can be certified.'"
New Commissioner William Mahon reported that there are around 17 vacancies in the Pittsfield Police Department, confirming the universal hiring struggle.
A suggestion was also made to possibly extend the application deadline.
Derksen said he will be attending a Berkshire County chief meetup on Aug.17 and will have better information on the best course of action to take for filling vacancies.
Sorrell also attended the meeting to bid farewell to the committee and ensure them that he will still be accessible in his retirement.
He served on the force for more than 33 years and had been the police chief for the last six.
"After 33 and a half years I'm not going to just go cold turkey and not be available for everybody so I'm still here," Sorrell said. "I can still be a source until my wisdom and knowledge is expired, which changes everything, so, I'm still going to keep my hand and some stuff here in town so you will see plenty of me."
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