Police in Cincinnati and West Chester are struggling to find new recruits, law enforcement leaders in both cities said Thursday night.
The Cincinnati Police Department is understaffed by about 74 officers, according to Fraternal Order of Police president Sgt. Dan Hils. Its far smaller West Chester counterpart will be missing nine by June 1.
“I’ve been very worried, very concerned, not only for my fellow police officers and their safety, but naturally for the citizens,” said Hils. “There’s no doubt it affects the safety (of the city). It affects when you call 911. It also affects the follow-up things: The investigators, neighborhood units, the things that follow up.”
Hils, who said he’s the only member of his own academy class still with CPD, believes the stress of police work deters some would-be applicants and pushes older officers toward retirement or career changes. That stress can become more pronounced in situations when police feel the public doesn’t have patience or empathy for them, he added.
“If more people accepted that there’s no way you can do the job perfectly, I think some of the critiques of the police officers go down and (we’ll) see more people qualified become interested in the job,” he said.
West Chester police Chief Joel Herzog has tried to do more with fewer officers by switching them to 12-hour shifts, but that practice will end in July.
As in any other job, being asked to consistently work overtime can be damaging to the officers’ mental and physical health. Like Hils, Herzog said he’s observed more early retirements and more officers leaving the law enforcement field entirely due to the pressure.
“The negativity and stress level on police officers is pushing people out the door and not getting people in the door,” he said.
Both men acknowledged this has happened before — in both communities. Recruitment ebbs and flows. Herzog referred to it as a pendulum and hopes for it to swing the other way soon.
“The pendulum swings here and there,” he said. “This is the farthest I’ve ever seen it. … It will come back. It’s a matter of keeping people on track, stay involved, keep their head up and fight for what you believe in.”