A bill recently introduced to the Ohio General Assembly is aiming to boost police recruiting and rectify staffing shortages by lowering the minimum age to become a police officer from 21 to 18.
Senate Bill 53, which was introduced to the assembly on February 28 by Senator Kristina Roegner of Akron and Columbus Senator Michelle Reynolds, comes amid significant police staffing shortages due to increasing resignations and retirements, low recruiting numbers and buyouts.
According to Reynolds, struggling departments across the country have also been forced to hire lateral transfers to fill vacancies, which she claims “have sucked the life out of our local municipal police departments […]”
In addition, Ohio’s plan to hire lateral transfers has been beset with bureaucracy, hindering applicants from out of state from moving to Ohio.
Dan Hils, a former Cincinnati police sergeant and president of the Cincinnati Fraternal Order of Police, confirmed that officers are leaving the state in search of better financial prospects.
“There are billboards for Indianapolis police here in Cincinnati. There are bonuses all over the place. They’re trying to tell us people away,” Hils said.
The legislation does not require departments to hire 18-year-olds but gives them the option to do so if they wish.
The bill also does not change training requirements and other licensing standards that are necessary for individuals to work as police officers in the state.
According to the bill’s sponsors, the legislation simply broadens current “home rule” provisions adopted by cities, townships and counties in the state to include police officers.
As of now, local governments can hire 18-year-olds – just not for law enforcement purposes.
According to Reynolds, 18-year-olds can become firefighters and join the military in Ohio but are still barred on a state-level from becoming police officers.
Fourteen other states already allow 18-year-olds to become police officers, including Ohio’s neighboring states of Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Although 18-year-olds can enroll in Ohio’s Peace Officer Training Academy, they must wait three years before they can be hired and sworn in, which can hurt recruiting and reduce learning retention.
“This bill is simple and impactful, establishing parity for the age at which an Ohioan can protect their fellow Buckeyes at home and abroad,” she said. “This change will help ease our current officer shortage, and will allow Ohioans entering the field of law enforcement to earn more and sooner.”
The bill will have a second hearing on March 8 and has been referred to the government oversight committee.
Dan Hils called the staffing shortages a “mega-crisis.”
However, he would rather the minimum age be set for 19 instead of 18.
“Let’s get it out of high school age,” Hils said.
Hils also said that teenagers hired to police departments should start on administrative duties or be accompanied on patrols with more experienced officers at first.
“I’d go beyond saying 19 instead of 18. I also think that 19 would come with some conditions,” Hils said. “They could have assignments on the desk duty, something of that nature, or be with a senior partner and define that senior partner with legislature. I wouldn’t want a 19-year-old out with a 21-year-old … a 21-year-old is not necessarily fully mature in a lot of cases. So throwing a 19- and a 21-year-old in a car together is probably not a good idea.”
Major departments in the state are looking to beef up staffing through the measure.
The Cincinnati Police Department, for instance, is currently short around 100 officers.
According to city budget documents, the CPD is projected to have 1,024 full-time employees by 2024, despite being authorized to have 1,059. Currently, the CPD has less than 1,000 sworn officers in its ranks.
However, that projection was based on at least 50 recruits graduating in the most recent class, but only 31 did.
The CPD is still larger than nearby metro police departments despite the shortages, with more officers per capita than Columbus, Cleveland and Louisville. Cincinnati currently has 310 sworn officers per 100,000 residents, nearly double that of Louisville, while Columbus has just 200 officers per 100,000 residents.