YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — Patrol officers who serve in a special unit have had their training curtailed during the summer months because of a shortage of officers on the road.
Staff Inspector Lt. Brian Butler said the policy applies to officers who also serve on the Mahoning Valley Crisis Response Team, the Bomb Squad, police dog handlers or any other special duty.
Typically, officers who work midnights can take the shift prior to training off if they attend a training session. It also applies to officers who are scheduled training during the 40-hour workweek when officers receive training instead of working their normally assigned duties. That training can count towards their 40-hour week.
but because there are so few officers in the Patrol Division, some are being mandated to work overtime. It was then decided to have them forego the training during July and August so that they would be available to work their regular patrol shift and no one would have to work overtime to make up for their absence.
“It would lessen the mandating we have to do,” Butler said.
It was decided to suspend the training for July and August because that is typically when most officers take their vacations, Butler said.
According to recent figures supplied by the union that represents patrol officers, the city is down to 54 patrol officers working the road from 70 last May. Overall, the department has 38 percent fewer officers than it did in May 2020.
The biggest problem in keeping officers is what is perceived as a low starting salary, officials have said. Youngstown officers start out at $34,299 a year and go through 10 steps before making a maximum salary of $58,302.
City council did agree in 2019 to a raise for starting patrol officers and also decreased the time it takes to achieve maximum salary, but there has been no action on salaries since then.
The department is expected to lose as many as five officers this month through retirements or officers leaving for other jobs.
The department has 13 patrol beats it must staff for three shifts in a 24-hour period, not counting supervisors.
One thing police Chief Carl Davis has done is rotate officers with the rank of patrolman who serve on special units back to patrol duty for two weeks at a time to augment the patrol ranks. That is expected to continue until at least September.
Butler said under the union contract officers can not be mandated to stay over more than once in a seven day period, and that officers who are required to stay over are picked based on seniority, with the officers who have the least time being mandated to stay over first.
Because the officer shortage is so acute, after those less senior officers are mandated to stay over and can’t be mandated again, officers with more seniority have been required to stay over. Within the last two weeks, officers with over 20 years on the job have been forced to stay over because there are not enough people to work the shifts.
Butler also said the city is working on hiring at least five new officers as soon as possible and is finishing up background checks now. But to illustrate the city’s problem, one candidate they wanted to hire informed the city this week he was instead taking a job with the Youngstown State University Police Department, which pays a higher starting wage.
The department will also be hiring officers as soon as they pass their background checks, rather than waiting to hire them all in a group, in order to keep that from happening in the future, Butler said.
But just hiring an officer would not do enough to solve the current manpower crunch. It takes a new hire anywhere from four to six months to complete their training with field training officers before they are assigned a beat of their own.