HAMILTON — While police department across the country and Greater Cincinnati are experiencing an officer shortage, one department is an outlier. Hamilton Police Department has mostly avoided a concerning deficit, most recently hiring five officers who can start this weekend.
Departments say reasons behind hiring struggles vary from risk and pay to public scrutiny. Now, there’s a new factor taking the spotlight: trauma. Crime victims attorney and former Clermont County Assistant Prosecutor Scott O’Reilly is studying that aspect.
“If you ask an officer, tell me the cases that stand out, the ones that they tell you are always the worst of the worst,” O’Reilly said. “I can remember the one telling me that they were in an accident [scene].
It was a mom and a dad, and they thought they were the only two in the car. When they finally cleared the scene, and they moved the bodies, they found kids underneath.”
O’Reilly hosted a mental health seminar for first responders this year alongside mental health experts who provided some tactics to help.
“That’s one of the silver linings I think that came out of that discussion is that for the first time in a long time I think that law enforcement community is actually beginning to understand that they’re experiencing all this trauma,” O’Reilly said.
O'Reilly said he often heard officers anxious to retire or leave the force early.
“They may go from a tragic car accident to a domestic violence situation to a drug overdose, and that might be one day,” O’Reilly said.
Hamilton Police Sgt. Brian Gleason said they have been able to avoid the concerning shortage by staying ahead of the retirements.
“It’s just a constant process,” Gleason said.
At the same time, Gleason said hiring can be tough competition. Recruit classes are smaller. In the past, it was normal to see 100 people take an exam. Now, it’s closer to 40. Gleason said Hamilton uses the smaller community as a selling point.
“It's small enough to where it's still a community," Gleason said. "You can actually see the impact your making every day. You'll see the same faces and talk to the same people."
The Cincinnati Police Department is still short more than 100 officers, while the Covington Police Department said Wednesday it is short seven officers.
“Seven down doesn’t sound like a lot, however we have six recruits that just started a 20-week academy," Lt. Col. Justin Wietholter said.
Wietholter said by the time they complete the academy, they must finish field training. By the time those two trainings are complete, they will not count as usable personnel toward staffing until the last quarter of 2022.
O’Reilly predicts the shortage will provoke needed change.
“You know, for a long time it was, ‘Hey! This is how it is. Just be quiet and deal with it,'" O'Reilly said. "And then you see the ramifications of that with maybe higher alcoholism, higher suicide rates. I think there is now an understanding, and a lot of departments are starting to tie in with mental health provides to say we got to get our people help."