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Local, national police departments see a decline in police candidates

More police training has been a nationwide call in the aftermath of the deaths of George Floyd and Rayshawn Brooks. Pictured a discussion at the Fitton Center for Creative Arts in Hamilton presented by the Hamilton Police Department’s Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team in 2018. NICK GRAHAM/FILE
More police training has been a nationwide call in the aftermath of the deaths of George Floyd and Rayshawn Brooks. Pictured a discussion at the Fitton Center for Creative Arts in Hamilton presented by the Hamilton Police Department’s Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team in 2018. NICK GRAHAM/FILE

When Fairfield police Chief Steve Maynard took his test to become a police officer in 1999, there were a few hundred others there with him.

Middletown Chief David Birk also sat among several hundred others when he took the test nearly 25 years ago.

But these days, police departments can have trouble gathering just dozens for the test that begins the possible employment process for policing jobs. Those positions have come under greater scrutiny in the past few weeks after George Floyd of Minneapolis died after an officer held his knee on Floyd’s neck.

Several law enforcement officials interviewed by the Journal-News said the interest drop in a policing career has lasted for a decade or more. Change in policing will happen because of the current environment of protests, but wonder how the renewed scrutiny of police will have on their continued efforts to recruit.

“It’s just not as appealing as it has been in the past,” Birk said. “You get in this line of work to help people and make change, positive change, and it seems like here recently, nationwide over the last 10 years it’s really started to decline.”

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Middletown still requires a local test for police candidates, and last year Birk said only 38 people took the test. They have 30 signed up for an upcoming police test on June 27, and 45 to 50 for the July 25 test.

Fairfield now accepts the police test given by the National Testing Network, but it hasn’t produced a larger applicant pool, Maynard said.

“Our ability to recruit and have offsite testing is something we didn’t have back (in 1999), which should grow our pool of applicants,” he said. “We’re not seeing that. The pool of applicants we are seeing to this day is much less than it was 20-plus years ago.”

The Fairfield Police Department is looking to hire for two positions, but those might be lost in cuts becaue of revenue decreased amid the coronavirus slowdown.

Maynard said road patrol won’t be sacrificed as that’s “the backbone of the police department is road patrol. When you call 911, that’s who’s going to come.”

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National decline

The policing industry has had their most difficult time filling positions over the previous 12 months, according to a Center for State and Local Government 2019 survey. And a Police Executive Research Forum 2019 survey shows more than 200 police agencies saying the length of service of police officers has declined over the past five years.

“Most law enforcement agencies are sensing a crisis in their ability to recruit new officers, and to hold on to the ones they have,” said Police Executive Research Forum Executive Director Chuck Wexler.

He said agencies have reported nationwide not being able to find enough qualified applicants to hire and train, which isn’t a matter of salaries being too low, or other problems that couldn’t be addressed. He said there just seem “to be fewer young people today who have any interest in policing.”

Butler Tech Public Safety Education Director Jeff Travers said a female cadet dropped out ahead of the next academy session starting in July because of the recent civil unrest. That type of decision is rare, especially after she went through the required drug screening, background check and fitness test.

“They just didn’t think it was the right time for them,” he said. “They were enrolled in the July 6 academy and passed everything, and we got an email because of things going on in society they just didn’t feel it was the right time for them to be a police officer.”

The Ohio State Highway Patrol’s recruitment numbers fluctuate annually based on need, said Sgt. Nathan Dennis, spokesperson for the patrol. There are 42 cadets enrolled in the patrol’s current academy, and last year, 93 troopers graduated in OSP’s spring and fall classes.

”At this time, it is uncertain how the current events will affect future interest regarding careers in law enforcement,” Dennis said.

Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones said “it’s tough for kids (under 20) to get in” policing.

“It used to be it was a calling to want to be in law enforcement, to make a difference. Now you have to give it a second thought, and I fully understand,” he said. “It’s going to be very, very difficult to find candidates. Even with a bad economy, it’s tough.”

The change in policing

As police reform demands increase around the country in the wake of Floyd’s death, Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio Attorney General David Yost announced reforms in law enforcement in Ohio last week. Some of the reforms include a standard use of force definition and reporting use of force to the state, and all officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths require an independent investigation.

“We must do more to make sure that officers who lack that professionalism and who show racial bias, who are bias, are not wearing a badge in the state of Ohio,” DeWine said.

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Police departments are typically the largest expenditure for local governments, but four recent polls show most Americans oppose the "defund the police" movement, which calls for a drop in police funding to increase budgets for other agencies that could respond to some of calls needing special training, such as those involving a subject suspected of mental illness or children.

Jones said policing will change because of the current environment.

“It’s always good to revamp and change,” he said. “But you can’t change by cutting the money.”

He added: “When you cut the money it means you have fewer officers, you have less training, but they’re complaining they want more training, but you can’t have more training with less money.”

De-escalation training has been what many departments have focused on in the past year, said Birk. DeWine and Yost are pushing this type of training, which really has its roots in the 1990s when the program was called Verbal Judo.

“When you go to a call, the officer’s blood pressure gets high,” said Birk. “The officer’s job is to bring people down to neutral and to make everybody be able to communicate and go through it without any physical altercation. That’s our job is to defuse the situation.”

At a glance

This issue: Police departments nationally have already seen a decline in viable police candidates, and it may drop more with the recent civil unrest.

Why: With more available non-policing jobs and negativity toward the police, people are turning elsewhere for employment.

What's next: Policing will change to remove those who lack professionalism and have a racial bias. Ohio will implement reforms, like de-escalation training, which area departments previously instituted.