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Ohio’s Office of Law Enforcement Recruitment is launching a pilot program at two universities that guarantees criminal justice graduates jobs in local law enforcement.
Police departments across the country are finding it difficult to fill their ranks this year as officers depart at an increasing rate and fewer people apply for law enforcement jobs.
To help fill the gap, Ohio has launched a program to recruit more young people for local departments and state police agencies through a partnership with state universities.
The program, which will pilot at two universities this fall, will be open to upper-class criminal justice majors and pair them with law enforcement mentors who will help them develop leadership skills. Upon graduation, the participating students are guaranteed a job with one of 12 participating law enforcement agencies in the state.
"In a time when many law enforcement agencies are struggling to recruit highly-qualified candidates, this program will create a pool of pre-qualified applicants with a strong understanding of criminal justice issues and the know-how to form positive relationships within their communities,” Gov. Mike DeWine said in a statement announcing the partnership.
Recruitment and retention of officers was an ongoing challenge in law enforcement even before the coronavirus pandemic led to increased burnout across all manner of public sector jobs and last summer’s racial justice protests intensified the turmoil.
But the problem has worsened over the last year.
Departments are on average filling 93% of their authorized positions, and retirements and resignations have surged in the last year, according to a recent survey conducted by the Police Executive Research Forum.
Retirements were up 45% from April 2020 through March 2021 compared to the same time frame the year before, according to the survey of 194 law enforcement agencies. Resignations were up 18% during the same period.
Meanwhile, hiring rates dropped by 5% overall and 36% among large agencies with more than 500 officers.
PERF cautioned that numerous retirements in small agencies could boost the reported retirement rate (the overall rate jumped from 2.85 retirements per 100 officers to 4.14 retirements per 100 officers), but noted that even in law enforcement agencies with 500 or more employees, the retirement rate increased 27%.
Ohio’s program, which is overseen by the state’s Office of Law Enforcement Recruitment, is meant to address recruitment concerns by providing a new pathway into criminal justice and increasing the diversity of officers hired by agencies, said Patrick Oliver, the director of the criminal justice program at Cedarville University, one of the two participating universities.
“We can’t get enough qualified candidates through the process, and we can’t get enough qualified minorities and women through the process. This program addresses both,” Oliver said while speaking to reporters about the program. “We are going to recruit them, select them, train them, develop them and then have a pool of highly qualified candidates.”
While many criminal justice majors go into policing, the program is unique in that it will guarantee graduates entry-level law enforcement jobs at local agencies with staffing needs, Oliver said.
Central State University is the other school participating in the pilot, which could be expanded to other universities and law enforcement agencies after the initial pilot year is complete.
To qualify for the program, students will have to meet a series of qualifications, including maintaining a 3.0 GPA, meeting attendance requirements, and being of “high moral character,” Oliver said. Students will have to undergo screening similar to that of a police agency to be accepted, including undergoing physical fitness tests and polygraph examinations.
Oliver said the program may have a high-elimination rate based on the standards, but that’s by design.
“We are raising standards not lowering standards,” he said. “We want to get the very best college students to be in this program.”
Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.