Keith Porch

Mansfield police Chief Keith Porch (Richland Source file photo)

MANSFIELD -- Keith Porch said he has not seen anything like it in his almost three decades of law enforcement.

"We have had three officer-involved shootings in six weeks," the Mansfield police chief said Thursday, one day after seeing his fourth officer exit on paid administrative after such an event this summer.

"I have never seen that happen in a community this size, since I was in the (Richland County Sheriff's Office) or the Mansfield Police Department. It's concerning, shocking and absolutely unfortunate that an officer had to take that action," Porch said.

"I know every officer when they take this job they would like to do 25 or 30 years without having to do that," said Porch, who started at the RCSO in 1994 before joining the MPD in 1999.

Per department policy, the four MPD officers will remain off duty until the state's Bureau of Criminal Investigation completes investigations into the three shooting incidents and presents its findings to the Richland County Prosecutor's Office.

It's also adding to the manpower problems for a police department that was already struggling to keep officers on the street.

The MPD is budgeted for 87 sworn officers to protect a city of about 46,000 residents.

As of Thursday, Porch said, the department is at 72, from the chief down to the newest patrol officer, meaning the department is down almost 20 percent of its authorized force.

The department has suffered from a spate of retirements and officers leaving for other law enforcement agencies. Just 48 applicants took the department's civil service test a few months ago with only 15 reaching qualifying scores.

Of the sworn officers, 43 are currently assigned to patrol, including nine sergeants and three lieutenants. That leaves 31 officers on patrol to cover 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"It's not just the vacancies we have. It's the administrative leaves. I have five officers dealing with injuries that are on light duty. We did just get two back off leave.

"We take one step forward and then two steps back. The scenario changes weekly," said Porch, who became chief in April 2019. 

"It's clear (our) manning situation is known to every law enforcement agency in the county and they have made it clear they are willing to help us through mutual aid when we need it," the chief said.

The MPD is swearing in 11 new officers next week. But that doesn't mean any immediate relief, according to the chief.

Two of the 11 are already certified through the Ohio Police Office Training Academy and can immediately begin the department's 14-week field training program.

The remaining nine will begin a 20-week course through North Central State College. Assuming they pass the course, they can begin the department's training.

"Best case scenario, I could put these (nine) guys on the street alone on patrol by next May or June," Porch said.

The chief has been forced to pull officers from "specialized positions" back to patrol, including an officer assigned to the Northern Ohio Violent Fugitive Task Force, a school resources officer, a major crimes detective and an officer assigned to the METRICH drug task force.

"As I explained to the officers, all of these positions are needed. We wouldn't have them if we didn't need them. But they have to understand the backbone of any police department is patrol," Porch said.

Recruiting remains difficult for a department the size of Mansfield.

"Everyone in the state is hiring," Porch said. "Some police departments are doing extraordinary things, offering $70,00 to $80,000 salaries to start and $10,000 to $20,000 sign-on bonuses.

"Those are things I can't compete with," the chief said. "But we have to do something or we will become a training ground for other departments. We will hire new officers, spend the money to train them and then in two or three years, they are off to another department.

"We may as well be taking a bucket of money and throwing it off the roof. At some point in time, we are going to have to come to the table and think outside the box on how to solve this.

"We should always be hiring, based on the factors of people retiring and going to other departments," the chief said.

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City editor. 30-year plus journalist. Husband. Father of 3 grown sons and also a proud grandpa. Prior military journalist in U.S. Navy, Ohio Air National Guard. -- Favorite quote: "Where were you when the page was blank?"