Portland has pushed back its timeline for hiring a permanent police chief as it attempts to draw more applicants.

The city had initially planned to begin reviewing candidates on March 20, a month after posting the position online. The review will now start on April 10, a spokesperson for the city said Friday.

“We are still accepting applications and hope the updated brochure will increase the number of apps,” city spokesperson Jessica Grondin said in an email. She said the city has received 26 applications so far.

Once the review process begins, it will take “at least a couple more months,” before the city manager makes a recommendation and the City Council approves the new hire, Grondin said.

Interim Portland Police Chief F. Heath Gorham Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Interim Chief F. Heath Gorham has been leading the department since November 2021 following the resignation of Chief Frank Clark, who held the role for two years before leaving for a job in private security.

Gorham was not immediately available to respond Friday afternoon when asked through a spokesperson whether he is pursuing the permanent chief position.


Portland Police Chief Frank Clark Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Portland’s search comes at a time when recruiting and retaining law enforcement officials is more difficult than ever, said Ed Tolan, executive director of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association.

Until recently, the association’s website attempted to keep an up-to-date list of each of the state’s more than 120 sheriffs and police chiefs. But earlier this week, Tolan decided constant turnover had rendered the exercise pointless.

“We can’t keep up with the changes,” he said. “We were doing two or three chiefs every week. We finally said, ‘This is crazy.’”

Today’s police leaders must confront widespread staffing challenges that can leave remaining officers overworked and burned out. Increased scrutiny from lawmakers and the public in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in 2020 combined with Maine’s comparatively low police chief salaries have pushed both rank-and-file officers and police leaders into other careers, Tolan said.

As of Friday, the police department has 29 unfilled positions out of a staff of 187, according to a department spokesperson.

The opening for the chief advertises a $135,000 to $175,000 pay range. That salary is similar to advertised openings in communities like Oxford and Bellingham, Massachusetts, both of which have populations a quarter the size of Portland’s.

Clark was earning a salary of $136,000 at the time of his departure, while Gorham earns $140,000.

Nearly 300 people responded to a community survey the city put out in December with the search consultant, GovHR USA. Many cited trustworthiness, honesty and forthrightness as essential characteristics for the next chief. The survey results also showed a preference for a chief that will hold officers accountable to high professional standards and commit to de-escalation techniques.

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