By Cornelius FrolikDayton Daily News, Ohio
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DAYTON, Ohio —The Dayton Police Department should have 365 sworn officers — but doesn’t. It had 336 officers at the end of November.
That’s because the agency has struggled mightily with attrition and recruitment.
The police department started 2023 with the lowest staffing level in years, and that was before more than 50 officers retired or resigned.
Both this year and last, the department lost more than twice as many officers as it did just a few years ago.
The police department’s hiring efforts also haven’t gone as planned: Nearly half of the cadets in the most recent police recruit class dropped out before they could complete the academy.
“We would typically lose one to two — possibly three- recruits throughout the academy,” said Joe Parlette , Dayton’s deputy city manager. “To lose almost 50% of a class is really alarming.”
Police recruitment is a national challenge. The Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy licenses all law enforcement officers in Ohio and has for years had hundreds fewer new certifications than it used to. Through Nov. 14 of this year, it certified 1,138 new officers statewide. In 2018, it licensed 1,532.
But while law enforcement agencies across the state grapple with hiring and retaining officers, the union representing Dayton police say city leaders could do more to bolster DPD’s ranks.
City officials say they hope the police department will reach its staffing goals by the end of next year.
But the president of the Dayton police officer union says that’s unlikely to happen unless the city increases officer pay and improves work conditions and morale.
The Dayton Police Department’s goal is to have 365 sworn police officers.
City officials promised the city would add 20 officers — increasing its sworn police staffing to 365 from 345 personnel — as part of the push to pass an income tax hike in 2016.
But the department has fallen well short of this goal even though the city has provided funding for this level of personnel for years. The income tax hike expires at the end of next year, and the city plans to seek a renewal.
The police department started 2023 with 343 officers, which was the lowest staffing level to start any year since 2016, according to data from the agency.
And after that, the police department saw 52 police officers retire or quit, officials said.
Despite doing some hiring, the agency had 319 sworn officers at the end of October. After the latest recruit class graduated last month, staffing increased to 336 sworn officers.
Last year, the department lost 39 officers to retirements and resignations.
Between 2016 and 2020, the police department had fewer than 20 officers retire or resign each year.
The Dayton Police Department hasn’t just lost officers — the agency has struggled to replace cops when they leave.
The 114th Dayton Police Academy graduated 15 officers on Friday, Nov. 17 . But the recruit class started with 32 cadets. One recruit is still recovering after he was injured in a car crash that occurred during his training.
Deputy City Manager Parlette said the number of dropouts is very concerning and city staff will to try to figure out what happened.
“I assure you we’re digging into the root causes and making adjustments accordingly,” Parlette told city leaders earlier this year. “We can’t afford that.”
Parlette said the police department has been evaluating potential changes to the recruit training program.
Dayton police Chief Kamran Azal said he doesn’t know why so many recruits dropped out of the academy, but his staff will do an analysis to see if they can get some answers.
However, Afzal said law enforcement agencies across the nation are dealing with recruiting and staffing issues.
Record numbers of recruits have dropped out of police academies in other jurisdictions. A variety of law enforcement agencies have seen very high attrition rates among their police forces.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland last month said U.S. law enforcement agencies are facing a recruitment and retention crisis.
Many police agencies have increased hiring, but they are losing officers faster than they can bring on new ones, says a survey from the Police Executive Research Forum .
Pay, perception challenges
Afzal said some officers quit the Dayton Police Department so they can take jobs at police agencies that have smaller workloads and higher pay.
“Some of these places are paying $8 to $9 more an hour,” he told the Dayton Daily News .
Some officers, he said, are quitting because they feel burned out and believe there are easier and safer ways to make a living, oftentimes that pay more.
Policing is a unique profession where the actions of individuals hundreds or even thousands of miles away from Dayton can drastically impact the local community’s perceptions of law enforcement, Afzal said.
Police officials said support for Dayton police surged in 2019, after officers had to deal with the Oregon District mass shooting, the hate-group rally downtown, the Memorial Day tornadoes and the killing of police detective Jorge DelRio .
“You couldn’t find a corner that didn’t have a ‘Support Dayton Police’ sign,” said Dayton police Sgt. Kyle Thomas , who is president of the Dayton Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No . 44, the police union.
But confidence in law enforcement in communities across the nation eroded after George Floyd was murdered by police in Minnesota in 2020.
Floyd’s murder sparked social justice protests in Dayton , which led to local leaders to launch police reform efforts to change department policies and practices.
FOP prez: More pay, support needed
Staffing shortages mean that officers often don’t get breaks or downtime between calls, said Thomas.
As a result, he said, officers do not have time for paperwork or to decompress, and they often are expected to work extended shifts and overtime because there’s not enough personnel available.
Low staffing makes it hard for police to engage in proactive types of policing, like traffic enforcement and drug stings and operations, which improve public safety and help prevent serious crimes before they happen, Thomas said.
Thomas said the police department’s recruitment and retention problems won’t be solved until the city increases officer compensation and improves work conditions.
After graduating the police academy, officers earn about $61,320. They can earn $74,600 if they reach step 8 (after 78 months on the job).
The police department’s starting pay is OK, but its top pay is much lower than other police agencies, Thomas said, adding that Dayton officers in recent years received smaller raises than officers with other local departments.
“Right now we’re 9% behind the ( Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office )” in compensation, he said. “That’s significant.”
The city and police union currently are in contract negotiations.
He said negative national news stories about law enforcement are shading people’s views of the Dayton Police Department because local leaders aren’t talking about the good things the department is doing.
“If (we) had leadership that said, ‘We support our police, they are great police and we recognize our police,’ then it changes the sentiment in the community,” he said.
Thomas said no elected city leaders attended the 114th police recruit graduation on Nov. 17 . He said the recruit class graduations used to be treated as a big deal.
“Everybody was there,” he said. “It was a packed house. Now we had zero elected city leaders.”
City expresses support for police
Dayton is doing its best to average 365 officers, and the city hopes to get there by 2025 with two recruit classes next year and lateral transfers, said Abbie Patel-Jones , Dayton’s acting director of budget, management and procurement.
Dayton police received a federal COVID relief grant from the state of Ohio that pays for 26 police officers in 2023 and 2024, Patel-Jones said.
The police department has been authorized for a class of 32 cadets in March and it plans a second class in October.
Dayton Mayor Jeffrey Mims Jr . said urban communities across the nation face hiring and retention struggles, but he hopes the city will reach its goal of employing 365 officers next year.
The mayor said the city and police department are doing a lot of community outreach to raise awareness of job opportunities with the agency.
He point to a program with the Dayton Public Schools that seeks to get young people interested in law enforcement.
Community members can’t become Dayton police officers until they are 21, but the city is looking at allowing young people to hold some kind of police job until they are old enough to join the force, Mims said.
Mims also said city leadership strongly supports police officers but he’s very open to trying new find ways to show appreciation for what they do.
“Policing right now across this nation is very challenging,” he said. “We need to do everything we can to keep the police officers we have and let them know that they’re appreciated.”
Doing things differently
The Dayton Police Department has started providing some services in different ways, and some changes are meant to give officers more time to focus on more serious public safety concerns, said Chief Afzal .
Earlier this year, the city commission approved an agreement with LexisNexis for an enhanced online reporting system that allows community members to submit reports electronically, officials said.
This user-friendly platform, which is meant for reporting minor traffic crashes and crimes, enhances efficiency and also provides police with analytics that can offer valuable insights, officials said.
The police department also encourages people to report minor incidents over the phone to a non-emergency number.
The police department earlier this year stopped taking reports for minor, non-injury automobile crashes, with the goal to free up officers and reduce busywork.
Afzal said he’d like to get to see about one-third of calls for service being handled through online and telephone reporting. He said many calls for service are not emergencies and do not need an officer to respond.
The city now has a mediation response team and a crisis response team to handle calls involving minor and non-violent disputes, people struggling with mental illness and addiction, homeless individuals and other kinds of issues.
The police department also is looking at launching a new wellness program and mobile app for officers that officials hope will help improve their lives and morale.
“The goal of the wellness program and the wellness application is to give police employees some tools to evaluate their overall wellness and take control of things that may need attention,” said Dayton police Major James Mullins . “Employees who are well in their lives have a better outlook and can be happier and more productive in all facets of their lives, including on the job.”
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