CINCINNATI - As the city plans for its largest crop of new police officers to hit the street by 2015, in the short-term, the police department will lean on seasoned veterans from around Ohio to accommodate the immediate needs of fighting violent crime.
A collaborative plan unveiled to combat violence on city streets on Monday at City Hall calls for the hiring of a “lateral transfer class,” or 15 to 20 police officers currently employed by other Ohio law enforcement agencies that might be recruited away or former officers from elsewhere to step into the Cincinnati ranks.
Meanwhile, a 60-member police academy recruit class is in the works in hopes of bolstering the ranks of an already short-staffed police department. Sworn staffing levels are at a 17-year low of 954, according to City Manager Scott Stiles’ memo to the mayor and City Council.
A formal job announcement on the city’s website could be posted as early as Tuesday night or by Wednesday at the latest, said Capt. Douglas Wiesman, police academy commander. An exact date for lateral transfer training has not been set.
Lateral transfer hires will serve as patrol officers, while police department brass select experienced Cincinnati police officers, which already know the city’s streets, to fill a new gang unit. This isn’t the first time the city has called for lateral transfers. In 2004, the city hired 12 laid-off cops from Cleveland. Three remain in the department, said Executive Assistant Police Chief Paul Humphries.
Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell said police will be stepping up their drug trafficking and street-crime enforcement that feed violence, following the double homicide in Avondale on Jan. 9. Plans were already in motion to overhaul investigative units stationed at each of the city's five districts and for the implementation of a gang unit.
The "lateral transfer" policy would allow Cincinnati police recruiters to do more in-depth looking at potential candidates, some of whom have years of personnel evaluations. Candidates still would have to pass a background check and a physical exam.
“I can imagine where an agency could hire someone with bad habits, if you’re not careful,” Wiesman said. “There’s always that possibility when you hire someone that’s been a cop somewhere and they do something a certain way and you can’t break that habit.”
The police department is modeling their lateral transfer procedures after the Raleigh, N.C. Police Department, which started its transfer recruitment in 2008. Those who become Cincinnati police officers after training will earn a starting annual base salary of approximately $53,000.
"Training for the lateral transfer class would be about eight weeks long, plus eight weeks of field training," Wiesman said. In 2004, it was 10 weeks long, but Wiesman said “we’re trying to shave off a little of the fluff.”
“We’re not hiring brand new people (to law enforcement), we’re hoping to hire people with some experience,” Wiesman said. “The learning curve to become a solo patrol officer on the street is much quicker in this situation.”
Civilian-to-officer recruit classes usually last 26 weeks, with an additional 12 weeks of field training, Wiesman said. During the eight-week abbreviated training, police officials said that while the candidates would be Ohio Peace Officer certified, they need to be trained to become “Cincinnati police officers,” Humphries said.
Cincinnati police operate under a federal court order requiring the department to train all officers in Justice Department-approved use of force techniques. The order took effect in 2001 after the riots.
“If the Department of Justice determines that the failure to maintain the required staffing levels violates the grant and makes the City non-compliant, the City of Cincinnati could be required to repay some or all of the grant money,” Stiles wrote in the memo.
Police officials are still building a curriculum for lateral transfers because it’s been nearly 10 years since they’ve conducted one.
“It’s having them come here and giving them eight weeks of orientation about what are our policies and procedures are for some critical situations,” Wiesman said. “Perhaps our trainers we will see some bad habits because they haven’t received the level of training we get here in Cincinnati.”
Training includes understanding of Cincinnati police engagement and reporting policies, as well as firearm training with the standard-issued Smith & Wesson 9mm military police handgun.
“They’re learning our culture,” Weisman said. “We have a lot of resources a lot of jurisdictions don’t have, so we want to make sure, as law enforcement officers, they know we have specialized units to assist them.”
Police Chief Blackwell and the department’s assistant chiefs have appeared before City Council's Law and Public Safety Committee three times since the new council took office in December, most recently on Monday. At the first two hearings, officials testified to the need for a new recruit class.
On Monday, Dec. 9, Blackwell
told Councilmember Christopher Smitherman, chair of the law and public safety committee, the police department has put together figures on the cost of a new 40- to 60-member recruit class, but is waiting for council to appropriate funds.
“I’ve instructed our background investigations to get everyone ready and processed up until the point where we need a go-ahead from council to pay for the finalization of the class,” Blackwell said in council chambers. “We can’t proceed until we get the go-ahead.”
At the second meeting on Monday, Jan. 6, Blackwell said “we are desperately short of officers.”
While they wait, police department brass is turning some sworn officer jobs into civilian work, as well as looking for other cost-trimming approaches. In the works is an online reporting system for the public to file police reports not requiring police response, such as lost property, certain theft reports and criminal damaging. The web-based reporting system, COPLOGIC, is expected to debut online this month.
Streamlining operations will provide more trained officers to perform duties consistent with Blackwell's initiatives.