The Portland Police Department will begin offering $10,000 sign-on bonuses to lure 10 new officers and four dispatchers as part of a plan to fill vacancies that have accumulated in the city force.

The hiring push comes before the beginning of the Maine Criminal Justice Academy’s next training class in August.

Current officers who refer a successful candidate to the force will also receive a $2,000 bonus, up from $1,000, Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said in a statement Friday.

“The reality today is that the folks we find are our best candidates have skills that are in high demand and this allows them to choose from many opportunities,” Sauschuck said. “We hire less than 6 percent of our current police officer candidates because we have high standards for those who serve our community and our focus will always be on quality over quantity. However, I am concerned about the stress that these vacancies put on our current employees and our overall mission, which is why we’ve decided to implement the signing bonuses.”

The money will be given out in installments. The first $2,500 would be disbursed to candidates when they are sworn in before they leave for the academy in Vassalboro. The second disbursement of $2,500 will be paid when the candidate completes the academy program and 14 weeks of on-the-job training. The final $5,000 would be paid at the end of the rookie’s two-year probationary period, the city said.

In 2016, first-year officers earned an average of $54,000 plus benefits, the city said, making the bump a nearly 10 percent pay raise during the first two years of service.

Candidates who withdraw or quit before the two-year mark would be required to give the bonuses back, city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said.

Grondin said there are currently 12 officer openings. The department is budgeted for 163 sworn police officers. She said the department’s goal is to hire 10 officers per year.

Sauschuck said the department is currently a couple of hundred thousand dollars under budget for salaries, and projects it will be roughly $100,000 over budget for overtime by the end of the fiscal year June 30.

Other departments in southern Maine have also implemented sign-on bonuses, including Westbrook, which is offering $14,000 for new officers amid its own hiring crunch.

Since November 2016, roughly 40 departments or agencies have posted job openings on the Maine Criminal Justice Academy website.

The Cumberland County Jail is also experiencing a shortage of correctional officers, leading the jailer’s union to decry unsafe working conditions inside the housing units.

In 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported national mean pay for police and sheriff’s patrol officers was $61,270 per year, or $29.45 per hour. The annual mean wage for police and sheriff’s patrol officers in Maine is between $30,870 and $43,710. That compares to an annual median wage for all Maine workers of $44,180 for 2015.

Staff Writer Megan Doyle contributed to this report.

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MattByrnePPH