ROSS TWP., Ohio -- Hoping to halt the revolving door at the Ross Township Police Department, the majority of township trustees voted to ask taxpayers for more money in November, to hire three full-time police officers and bring a detective on full-time.
But Police Chief Darryl Haussler is finding the silver lining.
"We've lost a lot of good officers," Haussler said. That's because his part-time officers are being recruited for full-time positions in other jurisdictions.
"It's a reflection on our process as being successful, it's showing it is successful. You know, if I'm going to lose people, I'd rather lose them that way," he said.
Even so, it's leaving his department in the lurch.
That's why trustees approved a ballot question last week -- by a vote of 2 to 1 -- that if successful, will bring in a total $782,882 for the additional full-time hires. The levy request is for a replacement of the existing levy -- to capture current property values -- and an additional 1-mill.
It's a weird feeling for Haussler
Capt. Jack Tremain, who has been running the department while Haussler has been on medical leave, said the main reason they need to add full-time staff is there is a dearth of candidates in the whole region for full- or part-time public safety jobs. He said full-and-part-time departments alike are experiencing trouble finding qualified candidates.
"Finding qualified personnel is a more difficult task each day," he said. "You can ask any agency or any chief that’s trying to run a department and he’ll tell you you’re just not going to get them. That’s the problem we’re looking at and the calls for service are going up dramatically as the township grows, as we expand. It’s become a hard nut to crack here recently."
Ross Township is not alone. The Ohio Peace Officers Training Academy reported 1,917 people enrolled in the required basic training course in 2016, down nearly 500 people from two years earlier. With recent high profile police shooting incidents locally and across the country, Jeff Travers, director of public safety programs at Butler Tech, said the decline is no surprise.
"Back in the day, they might hire one officer and 400-500 may apply," Travers said. "Now we hear from agencies from northern Ohio coming down here to recruit and saying they have 25 people for 5 openings."
Travers pointed to the public trial of former University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing, after he shot and killed Sam DuBose during a 2015 traffic stop.
“Part of it is you look at the Ray Tensing thing, good, bad or ugly, whatever happens, happens,” said Travers. Authorities charged Tensing with murder and voluntary manslaughter in DuBose’s death. Two juries, however, were unable to reach a unanimous verdict, prompting a judge to declare two mistrials in the case before the charges were ultimately dropped.
“A lot of kids today are like ‘I don’t want to do that.’ You’re scrutinized for everything,” Travers said.
Tremain is the only full-time person on the 24/7 police force and with added full-timers he said they can put more patrols on the street during peak times on the weekend -- Friday and Saturday nights -- and add a second school resource officer.
Ross Township Administrator Bob Bass said the problem becomes even more troubling when you are running a part-time-only operation, because they train the part-timers and then those recruits are snapped up by full-time departments with benefits.
"So effectively we’re caught in a process where we’re essentially hiring and training what turns out to be somebody else’s full-time employee," Bass said.
The trustees have been mulling when and how much of a levy to ask voters to approve for about a year now. Newcomer Keith Ballauer, who was elected earlier this month, said he voted against the more expensive measure primarily because he heard people -- perhaps 25 or fewer residents -- worried about tax increases on the campaign trail.
He said he fully supported a renewal but “everybody is always concerned about their tax rate on their property.”
He also said he doesn’t see the need to beef up the full-time staff because part-timers are just as dedicated.
"In all honesty with this — and it’s not much, it’s one mill — we’re not promising the residents of Ross Twp. very much more than they are already receiving," he said. "I hate to sound like the bad guy but it’s what I see."
If voters turn down this levy request there will be no more dedicated funds for police services because the existing levy expires at the end of the year. Tremain said they haven’t made any decisions if that happenstance comes true. The Butler County Sheriff’s Department could take over with a "skeleton crew" but with the township growing "we need more than that here."
Bass said dipping into the general fund for police operations isn’t the answer.
"You could use it, but we have always at Ross Twp. tried to run the departments self-sufficiently," Bass said. "Because general fund money can only be used in and for any department and for emergencies, using it for day-to-day operations is a dangerous precedent to set."
Trustee Ellen Yordy said she believes township residents will support the levy and she and her fellow trustees and staff are always available to answer questions. They also plan to hold several meetings to discuss the levy.
"We need to protect the people and I think they expect that from us," she said. "I don’t know if they realize what we do, but we do a lot. I think we’ve got one of the best police departments in the area."
Julie Joyce-Smith, manager of the Butler County Auditor’s Real Estate Division, said because the levy request hasn’t been certified yet they can’t estimate what the increase might be, but the average homeowner in the township, with a home valued at $194,090, currently pays $166 for police services.