In order to break into law enforcement in 1990, Marc Hagan had to beat out 80 applicants hungry for a job at the Brunswick Police Department.

The career has been good to him. For 30 years, he climbed the ladder in Brunswick and Lisbon before taking over as Topsham police chief in 2020.

Yet, according to law enforcement officials across the Midcoast, the pipeline behind Hagan and his contemporaries has largely dried up in recent years. Today, many departments work shorthanded while struggling to attract even a few applicants for widespread vacancies.

“Everybody’s looking,” said Hagan, whose department is two officers short of the 16 he says it needs. “Not a lot of people coming out of college want to do this job right now.”

Topsham, Brunswick and Freeport are among the dozens of Maine communities currently listing policework openings. Bath is in the process of filling its last vacancy — but only after the position sat open for over 18 months, according to Deputy Police Chief Michelle Small.

Several factors contribute to the shortage, Brunswick Police Chief Scott Stewart said. He suggested part of the problem is generational: younger workers seem to be less willing to pay their dues working weekends, nights and holidays, especially when a red-hot labor market has opened doors to less stressful, better-paying jobs.


“It does take a special person,” Stewart said. “When I train new officers, I tell them nobody has ever called me and said, ‘Hey, come on over, I’m having a great day.’”

Labor market trends have contributed to similar firefighter shortages in recent years, according to Brunswick Fire Chief Kenneth Brillant. Brunswick and Freeport are both currently seeking firefighters, according to online job postings.

While policework can a be thankless at the best of times, widespread protests following the police killing of George Floyd in May 2020 dramatically shifted the tenor of the conversation around law enforcement, according to local department heads. Midcoast officers say they have good relationships with their communities, but criticisms of police, including the social media refrain “All Cops Are Bastards,” appear to have turned some would-be applicants away from the field and pushed other early career officers to quit.

Progressives around the country have promoted movements to reroute police budgets since 2020. The current vacancies in Midcoast police departments neither serve public safety nor save communities money, according to local leaders.

“The need for law enforcement is there,” Small said. “Our calls for service are up. Our traffic enforcements are up. Everything’s busy as can be, but we’re just not getting the number of applicants that we were getting in years past.”

Officers in Topsham have worked significant overtime hours to paper over the staffing shortage, which can contribute to burnout and drive up local police budgets, Hagan said. He added that an overtired police force is more likely to make mistakes.


In Brunswick, which is currently seeking to fill five vacancies, Stewart’s staff have had to prioritize patrols, leaving important initiatives like the department’s drug enforcement task force underserved.

Some towns have tried to entice candidates by raising salaries or instituting sign-on bonuses, Stewart said. But he added police departments have limited ways to address the lack of workers because, unlike in most professions, lowering the bar for entry is not a viable option.

“We refuse to lower our standards just to fill vacancies,” he said. “I think that would be a disservice to the public.”

Stewart, Hagan and Small say the right person can still thrive in a law enforcement career, which can be exciting, varied and fulfilling. Yet they agree the job isn’t for everyone.

“You’ve really gotta have a passion for it,” Small said. “It’s a profession that’s going to hold you to the line. Maybe it’s easier going to do something else.”

Comments are not available on this story.