One hundred police officers have accepted the Columbus Police Department’s recent buyout offer and are retiring, leaving some in the Ohio community worried about the impact on public safety.
After negotiating a new contract with the city’s police union, the department offered a pension buyout of $200,000 to 500 officers considering retirement. Ultimately, 217 officers applied to the program and 100 officers were offered the retirement-incentive deal, each with more than 25 years of experience on the job. They include four commanders, nine lieutenants, 28 sergeants and 59 officers.
Following the completion of the buyout, 1,722 sworn officers remain on staff, according to the Columbus Division of Police and the Department of Public Safety. However, the retirements may cause the department to temporarily cease operations of its mounted unit, which lost six of its sergeants.
In addition, the current head of the Major Crimes Bureau, Commander Robert Strausbaugh, is among those retiring. The commander spent a grueling several years fighting violent crime in the city. Strausbaugh leads the team that investigates homicides, felony assaults, robberies, cold cases and gun violence cases.
Veteran lieutenants in leadership roles in the department’s SWAT team, Basic Training and Community Service units were also awarded buyouts.
Gun violence has been on the rise in the city, which set record-high numbers for homicides over two straight years, including 205 homicides in 2021. Earlier this month, seven Columbus citizens were shot and killed in just a four-day period starting on July 14.
In February this year, former Columbus Detective Terry Kelley, who worked in the department’s homicide squad, suggested that senior employees were already suffering from burnout due to high caseloads and the “continuous carnage” taking place in the city.
Activist Tiffany White, who works to recruit minorities for the police and fire departments, said she is hopeful that the retirements will relieve some officers suffering from burnout. However, she said there is still a pressing need for more officers and resources to prevent gun violence.
“We cannot continue to have 12, 15, 17, 18-year-olds being gunned down in the streets,” White said.
Regarding the buyout, White was worried but optimistic about the department’s future. “It does give me concern, but it also gives me a little bit of hope that we start moving more toward that community policing model,” she said.
Columbus DPS assured the public that none of the officers who accepted the buyout were patrol officers, and it would not impact public safety.
In White’s view, the move is a step toward improving the quality of the police force. “We’re trying to rebuild that community trust,” she said. “We want to make sure we have the best.”
Meanwhile, Columbus police academy recruitment and training continues to move at a steady pace. According to the DPS, the next academy class consists of 55 cadets. Once they graduate next month, the officers will undergo 15 weeks of training on the streets with field training officers. Another class of 46 new recruits just started training at the academy last month as well.
City officials say the retiring officers will leave the department over a staggered period that began in May.