Martha’s Vineyard faces traffic officer shortage

As tourists on the Island increase, police departments try to recruit seasonal traffic officers.

A traffic officer guiding the vehicles coming off the ferry in Vineyard Haven. -Eunki Seonwoo

During the summer months, Martha’s Vineyard’s tourism season brings with it a large increase in traffic and people. According to the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce, the Island has a year-round population of 17,000 that can swell up to 200,000 people during the summer. While this is a boon for Island businesses, both they and some police departments are looking to recruit help for the summer season. This year, the Island faces a shortage of traffic officers as summer residents and tourists return. 

Traffic officers walk on the Island’s busiest streets keeping vehicles flowing and enforcing parking restrictions. They also spend some time answering the questions of Island tourists.

Edgartown Police Chief Bruce McNamee told The Times he is in need of more people to be summer traffic officers. Normally, there would be nine traffic officers working in Edgartown. This year, only five have been hired so far.

McNamee said his department is feeling similar staffing shortages Island businesses are dealing with this season. His department has already rerun advertisements for traffic officers to find recruits.

The summer traffic officers are usually young people, high school to college students, who have an interest in a law enforcement career. “I hope it’s a housing thing rather than a lack of interest,” said McNamee about the traffic officer shortage. 

The Edgartown Police Department also held mountain bicycle training for Island police officers recently, which McNamee said will be beneficial in supporting the smaller number of traffic officers, since cyclist officers can cover more ground on patrols on the bustling Edgartown streets. 

Edgartown isn’t the only town with this issue. Other Island police departments are also facing a traffic officer shortage this year. Specifically, Tisbury and Oak Bluffs also have similar problems. Aquinnah is in the middle of hiring personnel. Chilmark and West Tisbury are not dealing with the same staffing issues. 

Tisbury Police Chief Mark Saloio said his department could use one or two more traffic officers. Saloio said this year saw a lower number of traffic officer applicants compared with other summers. His department hired five traffic officers, but only four are working because one of the officers has been activated for 90 days by her National Guard unit. Saloio said that normally seven traffic officers are hired for the summer. “We don’t have the resources we usually do,” said Saloio. 

In an email, Aquinnah Police Chief Randhi Belain said his department doesn’t employ traffic officers. Instead, summer special officers are hired who completed the Municipal Police Training Committee’s (MPTC) Basic Reserve Intermittent Police Officers Class. Belain said he hires these officers since they can do certain tasks traffic officers cannot, “such as answering calls for service and making motor vehicle stops, just to name a couple of these tasks.” Belain said his department is in the process of interviewing applicants, but in previous years they usually have double the candidates. 

Belain said there could be different reasons for the reduced number of applicants, listing “housing and applicants not having completed the prerequisite training that’s required” as being possibilities. He said the MPTC Basic Reserve Intermittent Police Officers Class “isn’t easy to obtain,” and requires 375 hours to complete. Belain used to coordinate this course on-Island, but he said the Police Reform Law passed in Massachusetts requires those interested in becoming police officers to complete the MPTC Basic Recruit class, which takes 700 hours to complete. Belain said this change may lead to the hiring of traffic officers in future Aquinnah Police Department summer hirings. 

In Oak Bluffs, Chief Erik Blake said he made a realization of a need for more traffic officers in a conversation with Chief McNamee. He said they thought, “Wait a minute. The season is rolling in, but we don’t have that many traffic officers.” 

The Oak Bluffs Police Department calls its traffic officers community service officers (CSOs). Blake said that in 2020 not as many CSOs were hired because of COVID, so the officers were made into COVID ambassadors to spread awareness in the community. However, not enough CSOs could be hired this year, and some of the special officers would need to conduct CSO duties. 

Oak Bluffs has hired only about a quarter of the CSOs it typically has on board. The department has hired four, but typically has as many as 12. Blake said some of the potential hires are going to other jobs. His own son works in a restaurant, and makes more money than what can be offered through the department as a CSO. 

According to Blake, the shortage of officers is a nationwide problem. He said that the Island’s police departments will need to take a “broader view” in their CSO and traffic officer recruitment efforts. 

Blake hopes the public will be understanding of the situation. “Have patience with us. We are doing our best,” said Blake.

Blake believes despite difficulties from the staffing shortage, “this will be a good summer.”