YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — Numbers provided by the union representing patrol officers with the city police department show that not only has the department lost officers since last May but also a lot of officers who are assigned to patrol.
Officer James Rowley, head of the union, said the department is down 38% overall from the number of officers it had in May of 2020, and the number of officers who are assigned to the patrol division has dropped from 70 to 54. And more are leaving.
In July the city is expected to lose about five officers due to retirements or officers leaving for another job. Earlier this week, Staff Inspector Lt. Brian Butler, who helps oversee the hiring and recruiting process, said background checks are being done on five potential candidates. The goal is to have them hired as soon as possible.
Butler said there will be additional hires throughout the year, although, he was not sure yet how many new officers will be brought on board.
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.
The last time the department hired officers was May 2020 when three officers were added.
The department has 13 patrol beats it must staff for three shifts in a 24-hour period, not counting supervisors or 39 officers.
Because of days off, vacations, sick leave or other issues, officers are constantly being asked to work overtime and sometimes mandated to stay over, Rowley said.
“Afternoon turn is getting mandated every day,” Rowley said.
Officers are also coming in on their days off to work because of a shortage of manpower, Rowley said.
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.
The biggest problem in keeping officers is what is perceived as a low starting salary, Rowley 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.
Rowley said he wants to work with the administration and city council to see if a way to retain the officers who are there now.
Mayor Jamael Tito Brown said retaining officers for him is a top priority and said he wants to work with the union to find a way to make the department competitive with other departments.
Brown said chances are stimulus money awarded to the city probably cannot be used for salaries or benefits, but there can be other ways to help attract candidates and keep them in the department.