ELYRIA — Giving flexibility to the city’s Civil Service Commission potentially could save the Elyria Police Department thousands of dollars while also getting new recruits on the road faster.
Two proposed changes to the city charter, which will appear on the November ballot as Issues 57 and 58, will need to be passed by voters before the changes can take affect. They are among eight charter amendments voters will see and would directly affect the Police Department’s hiring practices.
Police Chief Duane Whitely said those who want to work for the Elyria Police Department need only be U.S. citizens, have a high school diploma or GED, be at least 21 years old but not yet 35 years old, and have an Ohio driver’s license. Those basic qualifications can allow a person the opportunity to take the civil service exam, which is the first step toward employment.
But the city hopes to give the commission the power to craft its own rules, which paves the way for changing the basic qualifications so any potential hire would already have to have peace officer certification, which is only obtained after successful completion of a state-certified police academy.
Those candidates still would need to take the civil service test, but hiring them would mean the city would not have to pay salary and benefits for four months while they are full-time students.
“It cost $30,000 to $37,000 per person to send a person to the academy,” Whitely said. “But it’s not the tuition that is the bulk of that figure. It’s paying full-time salary and benefits for a person that is in school. So, if we eliminate this it could potentially save the city a lot of money.”
Whitely said he does not see the change affecting the city’s ability to attract candidates because a lot of people who wish to be police officers go through the academy independently in hopes of it making them hotter prospects for departments. This year, the city hired four new police officers — two who went through the academy prior to coming to Elyria and two who did not.
“Those two recruits are already on the road and working with their training officers,” he said.
Mike Mahony, 23, of Amherst, said he worked part-time jobs in a warehouse and did landscaping to save the needed $6,000 to pay for his tuition and uniform when he decided to apply to the Lorain County Community College Police Training Academy earlier this year. He didn’t have a job with a police department lined up when he did.
“Right now, it’s hard to get a job as a police officer,” he said. “I saw going to school on my own as the best way to make myself more marketable around the state.”
After four months in school, he graduated in May. By August, he was on the road in Elyria working alongside a training officer. But it was not a straight shot to employment. He said he filled out between 85 and 90 applications, and noticed that at least a third of those departments wanted candidates to have their training and certification.
“I remember growing up I thought all the cool guys were police officers. My dad was a police officer so I grew up always wanting to be an officer,” he said. “I put all of my time and money into getting into the academy and it was money well spent.”
Whitely said the change is similar to certain jobs requiring college degrees from their applicants.
It is not unusual for students to come to LCCC on their own, said Commander Paul Graupmann, a retired police officer and agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation who heads the program.
“Two-thirds of the people we see do not have a job,” Graupmann said. “They sit right next to the sworn officers in the program and must pass the same tests.”
In this semester’s fall program, Graupmann said six students are sworn officers and 13 are putting themselves through the program. The trend has been consistent throughout the 10-year history of the academy.
But whether independent students have an advantage is really up to the department, Graupmann said.
“Smaller departments will sometimes demand applicants have their OPOTC (Ohio Peace Officer Training Commission) certification. That way the department does not have to pay for them to go to school or take the risk of them not passing the test,” he said. “The only downside is you may be eliminating some very qualified candidates who don’t have the certification.”
Civil Service Commission Chairman Dan Reaser said the three-member board is in favor of the changes because, while they can set their own rules, there are certain aspects of safety force hiring that are spelled out in the charter and are non-negotiable. Better yet, the language in the charter change will allow the commission to eliminate the certification requirement if it no longer works for the city without forcing another change of the charter.
“If we can hire a person who has their certification or maybe even has some experience in another city or municipality, it would save us so much time and money on training and certification,” Reaser said. “It will allow us to give credit for experience.”
Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or email@example.com.