Springfield Police Chief Lee Graf addresses the city s newest 11 officers, seated in the front row, that were sworn in at the City Hall Forum. Bill Lackey/Staff

Springfield police try to bolster staffing despite national shortage

The Springfield Police Division is continuing to recruit and grow despite a recent national report that says there are thousands of fewer police officers across the country.

The report released in late 2018 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics show there were about 700,000 police officers across the country in 2016 — the most recent data available. That’s about 23,000 fewer than in 2013, according to the report. The shortage is more serious when population growth is considered.

According to the report, there used to be about 2.42 officers per thousand residents 20 years ago. Now, it’s down to 2.1 per thousand residents.

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Locally, the Springfield Police Division has 124 officers, police chief Lee Graf said. Clark County Sheriff Office representatives didn’t return messages for comment, but their website says they have about 140 sworn law enforcement personnel on staff. One hundred seventeen are deputies.

Champaign County Sheriff’s Office has 20 employees, Sheriff Matthew Melvin said. However, the office has lost several employees recently.

“Over the last two years, I have lost eight employees to other law enforcement agencies for various reasons, the main one being higher pay by these agencies. I have also lost four employees to retirements/medical reasons. During last year’s budget proposal I presented this hardship to the County Commissioners and fortunately, they have been gracious enough to supplement the 2019 budget in hopes of attracting and retaining qualified deputies,” Melvin said.

Graf said he is encouraged by the Springfield Police Division’s 2018 recruitment. The division welcomed 11 new officers in June. However, he said he has noticed a change between the time he started in law enforcement and now.

“Our last civil service test was conducted on Dec. 2, 2017,” Graf said. “About 100 had signed up to take the test, about 80 actually showed up, and approximately 55 passed the test. When I took the test back in the mid-1990’s, several hundred tested. When I took the Dayton PD test in the late 1980’s, well over 1000 took the test. There is no doubt that less people are applying for law enforcement positions.”

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“We were happy with the quality of many of the candidates that tested in 2017, but we would all like to see a bigger group of individuals taking the entrance test,” Graf said.

Graf and associate professor of criminal justice and director of the criminal justice program at Cedarville University Patrick Oliver said they believe higher scrutiny of police and the growing demands of the job have caused otherwise qualified applicants to seek other careers.

“A police officer’s job is more difficult than it’s ever been, there is no question about that,” Oliver said. “However, it is a highly awarding and fulfilling career for those who are suitable for it.”

Despite the decrease, Clark State’s Peace Officer Training Academy is set to graduate about 20 cadets on Wednesday.

Report

The report released by the BJS shows that while there are fewer police officers than in 2013, there are still more police officers than there were in the 1990s and the early 200s.

However, there are more residents now than there were in the 1990s.

“From 1997 to 2016, the number of full-time sworn officers in general-purpose law enforcement agencies increased by about 52,000 (up 8%),” the report says. “During the same period, the total U.S. population increased by about 56 million (up 21%). As a result, the number of full-time sworn officers per 1,000 residents decreased, from 2.42 in 1997 to 2.17 in 2016 (down 11%). The 2016 rate of full-time sworn officers per 1,000 residents was also lower than the rates in 2000 (down 7%), 2003 (down 8%), and 2007 (down 7%).”

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Oliver said he finds the statistics troubling. The fewer police officers on the streets makes the job more dangerous.

“It’s becoming more difficult to find qualified applicants due to a lower interest in the job and fewer people can get through the rigors of the selection process,” Oliver said. “

The report also found that there was an increase of civilian staff in law enforcement.

“From 1997 to 2016, the number of full-time civilians in general-purpose law enforcement agencies increased by about 121,000 (up 53%),” the report says. “From 1997 to 2016, the number of full-time civilians in sheriffs’ offices increased 110%, or by about 98,000.”

Springfield Police

Springfield police would be considered at full staffing when the division has 131 officers. Therefore, the police division is at a 94 percent staffing level.

SPD hire year-round, Graf said, and are always looking for qualified police officers that are actively working at other departments. However, those who are not police officers must take a civil service test as part of the application process.

“We are planning to conduct another civil test in late winter/early spring, we haven’t set a date yet,” Graf said. “Persons coming in through civil service testing can be actively employed police officers, but are more typically individuals that have not attended an Ohio police academy to attain a peace officer certificate. There can also be candidates who are certified peace officers that have graduated an academy but have not yet found a sworn law enforcement position. Finally, there are those that are currently in academy programs and are expecting to receive certification.”

The test helps determine whether an applicant is prepared for police training and being a cop.

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The division is trying to be aggressive and attract qualified employees, Graff said.

“We have made several visits to local police academies in an effort to draw those students towards our Division,” Graf said. “We intend to revisit these academies and others when we get a firm civil service testing date. We did this leading up to the 2017 test and it produced results - we want to do it on a larger scale for this upcoming test. I also hope to work with various communities leaders to get the word out throughout our city to consider employment with the Springfield Police Division.”

Part of that is the creation of a video that was posted online including Facebook.

“We will also be stepping up on social media to get the word out - as well as with our friends in the media. The city helped us produce an informational video last year that we will be pushing out - we hope it will encourage prospective employees to look our way,” Graf said.

National Discussion

The attitude towards policing has changed over the years, Graf said. He believes that has contributed to the lack of people in the profession.

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“I’m not surprised by this trend,” he said. “For the last several years, law enforcement has been vilified in the national media. Couple that with societal and generational trends in our country and being a cop becomes a pretty hard sell for a lot of qualified individuals, particularly among non-Caucasian candidates.”

The Springfield Police Division wants a diverse workforce, Graf said, and it’s harder now to recruit minority candidates.

However, being a police officer is still a career he recommends.

“Law enforcement is not an easy profession - a candidate has to be drawn to want to serve their community in this capacity. This is not a routine, 9 to 5 job - far from it. The training is long and hard, the pressures can be intense, and you can face real danger in this profession. However, the job will also afford you a living wage with good benefits and so many opportunities to grow and learn. This job has rewards that go so much deeper than pay - the pride and fulfillment of helping others in their most desperate hours has no real price tag.”

Oliver said the great recession that started around 2008 has had a lasting impact on local governments across the country as well. He said economic turmoil can have large impacts on the benefits that are offered to new police officers.

“Pay rates are comparable but that benefits have been reduced,” Oliver said. “Health care requires a greater contribution from the officers themselves and there’s been a modification of the pensions. If a pension was still in place there is a greater contribution.”

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