YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Wednesday, Youngstown police swore in five new officers to help a department that is so understaffed it had to break up a special unit that was used to concentrate on gun crimes.
Of the five new hires, two will begin training next week with their field training officers and should be on the road by the beginning of next year, two are going to the Ohio Peace Officers Training Academy and the fifth officer is beginning a military deployment overseas starting Friday.
The five are joining a department that currently has 138 officers overall, a decline of 11% from last year, including 95 officers with the rank of patrolman. Of those 95, 64 are assigned to the road.
The five new officers all said they felt a sense of duty to the city as the reason they signed up. Three of them are Youngstown natives.
The new hires are:
- Dan Spivey III, 41, a Youngstown native who previously worked for the department for a year before leaving for a job out of law enforcement.
- Juan Fornore, 35, an East Side native who was a part time officer for Struthers. Spivey and Fornore will begin training with their field training officers next week.
- Angela Strickland, 25, of North Jackson. A member of the U.S. Army, Strickland will be leaving on an overseas deployment Friday.
- Khadijah Whitfield, 27, a Youngstown native who will begin the academy next week.
- Ivan Thomas Jr., 26, of Austintown, who will also beginning training at the academy next week.
Spivey said he decided to come back because he thought the department and the city needed help.
“There’s things going on in the city and the world and there’s a need for experienced police officers,” Spivey said.
He said his job after he left law enforcement wasn’t the same.
“The passion wasn’t there, the satisfaction wasn’t there. There’s some things you can’t put a dollar amount to,” Spivey said.
Strickland said she wanted to be on the department because of her love for the city. She comes to the department after serving a stint on the security team at the municipal court facility on West Front Street.
“I want to be an asset in the community I love,” Strickland said.
Fornore said he took the city’s entrance level Civil Service exam the same time he took the one for Struthers and decided to come to Youngstown after they offered him a full-time position. He said that being an officer in the city he grew up in will be an interesting experience.
Thomas was working for Ludt’s Towing and would often run into city police officers when he was called to tow a vehicle. He said he was impressed with their professionalism and enthusiasm, which is why he decided to become a police officer.
Whitfield said becoming a police officer is a dream she has had since she was a child and she wants to serve in her hometown.
“This was always a dream of mine and now it’s come true,” Whitfield said.
Chief Carl Davis said the new hires are from the last civil service test the department gave and he said the department will be giving another test in the fall.
Davis said short staffing is a problem not just in Youngstown but across the country, as officers are leaving the profession because of the anti-police sentiment in some areas last year in the wake of protests following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
“We have always done more with less in Youngstown and that’s due to the resiliency and work ethic of our officers,” Davis said.
Davis praised the officers for the work they have done while short-handed promising that “help is on the way.”
But Youngstown also has to deal with what is perceived as a low starting salary at $34,299 a year, which critics say makes it hard to attract new officers and keep them because it takes 10 steps to make it to the maximum salary of $58,302.
In 2019, city council did agree 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.
Davis said he has been in talks with council members and Mayor Jamael Tito Brown in an effort to increase the starting salary to attract more candidates.
Davis also said that the Neighborhood Response Unit, which was formed in May to deal with gun crimes, was recently disbanded and those officers were returned to the regular patrol shifts to increase staffing.
Of the five members of the unit, two had worked afternoon turn and three worked midnight turn, which are the two turns hit hardest by short staffing. Davis said when the department has more officers the unit will return.
The city staffs 13 patrol beats per shift with one officer per car. Not counting supervisors, that means a minimum of 39 officers have to be available for each 24-hour time period.