SHELBY — A new hiring process for the Shelby Police Department will provide some much-needed relief to an understaffed and overworked police force.
On Tuesday night, Shelby City Council unanimously passed a motion to authorize the mayor, as director of public safety, to sign a memorandum of understanding between the city and Shelby FOP Lodge #180 regarding the hiring, training and retention of new employees.
The agreement states new employees may be hired by the Shelby Police Department even if, at the time of their hiring, they do not possess an Ohio Peace Officer Training Certificate, or an Ohio Peace Officer Training Council certified substantial equivalent.
This change will allow the police department a reprieve in the hiring process during a major staffing drought. According to Chief Lance Combs, the department is currently short five officers and one dispatcher.
“It’s an officer’s market, they can go anywhere and get hired if they’re looking for high-paying places, and we’re getting picked-over academy graduates or lateral transfers who are bringing in issues that we shouldn’t hire,” Combs said. “But in this staffing crisis, we certainly don’t want to lower our standards.”
Waiving the requirement does not mean the department will have untrained officers working the streets. It means that newly-hired employees will be sent to the next available full-time police academy, paid for by the city of Shelby.
All new hires requiring academy training will be paid at the first step in the wage scale. After graduation, the newly sworn-in officers will be on a typical probationary period of one year.
These officers will then be required to stay employed at the Shelby Police Department for the next five years. If an officer fails to stay for the full five years, they must reimburse the city for all training costs.
“I think if we can get them for the first five years, we’re going to keep them for 25 years,” Combs said. “Our goal is long-term employment, not necessarily people who are chasing the highest wage in the area.”
Combs said the department currently has three qualified individuals who are ready to start this new hiring process. Each has already passed background checks and been accepted to the full-time police academy offered locally at North Central State College.
The cost to the city would be $8,500 per student in the academy; after three years, Combs estimated the total investment to be $18,000 — which would still be cheaper, and more reliable to calculate, than hiring a lateral transfer.
“You’re always going to have an investment in people, and at the end of the day, it’s easier to predict fixed costs with full staffing,” Combs said. “And it helps with stress and burnout; these guys are working all the time, and they’ve had enough. We need to find a way to get them some relief.”
Councilman Garland Gates, who chairs the city’s Civil Service Commission, said that by removing the training certificate requirement, the number of eligible applicants for the police department increased considerably.
“The civil service commission recognized we need a broader throw of the net, and say that requirement is no longer needed,” Gates said. “Although lateral transfers are fine, there is always a possibility that people might be bringing their baggage with them. And the pool of laterals has dried up.”
Combs said the department was processing way too many lateral transfer applications and spending too much time only to realize they were ultimately not hirable.
“With people we’re sending to the academy, we can keep tabs on them; our full-time people have a huge investment in those people succeeding, and it gives us light at the end of the never-ending hiring tunnel,” he said. “My hope is, by the end of the year, we are at full staff, which will also reduce overtime costs.”
Combs said interest in policing has seemed to decline in recent years, but noted that law enforcement isn’t the only sector that’s having trouble hiring these days.
“I think we’re seeing across the country right now that everybody seems to be hiring and nobody seems to be wanting to take those jobs,” he said.
“It’s not just in policing, but I think it’s exacerbated by recent events throughout the nation, including COVID, the George Floyd protests, and knee-jerk reactions to treating all police officers in one light as opposed to recognizing there are bad employees in every profession.”
After 20 weeks in the academy and a 12-week field training period, Combs estimated the officers should ideally be fully-trained and ready to go in October or November. He added there are benefits to this new hiring process other than the financials.
“When I went to police academy, I went with one other person who helped push me. Groups of students who come together have a higher success rate, and it brings them together to bond; when they come back to us, they already know their strengths and weaknesses,” he said.
Combs emphasized that the actions of the Civil Service Commission, and specifically Gates, were what brought this solution to the department. He noted the commission was willing to meet frequently and search for ways within civil service laws to bring the department the widest range of applicants.
“Garland Gates saved this process. Had it not been for his giving of his time to listen to this proposal and getting it adopted and through council, we would not be able to do this,” Combs said.