Ohio law enforcement agencies are encountering obstacles in their attempt to address staffing shortages by hiring out-of-state officers.
Heath Police Department Chief Dave Haren recently explained to the Newark Advocate that previously sworn officers from other states cannot simply get to work and fill vacancies. Instead, they have to first go through several hoops and hurdles to abide by the state-required training certification process.
Haren said that before an officer can start work, they have to complete around 178 hours of training through the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy (OPOTA). After obtaining a certification, they then have to undergo subsequent HPD field training.
In total, the process usually takes around three months — sometimes longer, depending on the applicant. Since the industry is dealing with fewer applicants overall and pressing staff shortages, the additional training requirements for out-of-state applicants can add further delays to hiring.
“[It’s] obvious to all law enforcement offices in the area and around the state: the available applicants, the people applying, is greatly reduced,” Haren said.
The police chief also added that around 10% to 15% of candidates in a hiring pool are disqualified after a background check.
Another major disadvantage is that the small department offers lower wages due to less funding, and often loses applicants to larger and more well-funded agencies in bigger cities like Columbus.
“We can’t compare with the money that’s offered in Franklin County. But we are very comparable within Licking County law enforcement,” Haren said. “We have to stay competitive to get and keep good officers in within the county. Trying to outbid Franklin County on the pay scale, it’s not feasible for the budget for our city.”
While some argue for doing away with OPOTA training requirements to increase out-of-state hires, other law enforcement experts say the training is necessary.
State Representative Kevin Miller, a former lieutenant with the Ohio State Highway Patrol, said the oversight provided by OPOTA is important.
“One of the issues you deal with when you look at out-of-state transfers and things of that nature, is when there’s not a uniform standard across the country, state by state,” he said. “When each state has their own specific regulations or training requirements, it’s very difficult to just say ‘if you transfer in and you’re a police officer in such and such state, you can be a police officer here.’ That’s why there’s the oversight by OPOTA.”
Jeffrey Sowards, commander of Central Ohio Technical College’s police academy, said the additional training depends on each officer’s prior training and whether it meets the state standards. Some may need close to 500 hours of training.
Although Sowards admitted that the additional training can take some time, he said hiring out-of-state applicants as lateral transfers still offers a faster way to get officers on the streets, in about one-third of the time it takes to hire and train a new recruit.
Miller said the problem is not likely to be resolved anytime soon, as training obstacles, low pay, negativity in the media and increasing retirements due to mental health reasons continue to plague the profession, but that legislators should do everything they can to support law enforcement with increased pay and training in the meantime.