December 20, 2014

Elyria
Cloudy
30°F
test

Elyria police looking for a few good officers

ELYRIA — Retirements, military deployments and resignations have pushed manpower numbers to a lower-than-comfortable level in the Elyria Police Department, making the upcoming civil service test that much more important.

“Right now, we are at 80 officers,” Police Chief Duane Whitely said. “But of that 80, two are deployed and two are in training.”

Having 76 officers handle all of the calls in Elyria, a city with an authorized strength of 102 officers, is not easy. Overtime is up in the department as every available resource is being used to keep up with the work.

As police Capt. Chris Costantino put it earlier this week when discussing the amount of work officers put into investigating two homicides that took place over the course of four days, some officers ended up sleeping less than six hours a night.

“Two major crimes in such a short period of time is a lot of work, but from the beginning my officers have promised justice to the families of our victims, and if that means sleepless nights than so be it,” he said.

Elyria Police Patrolmen Association President Tom Baracskai said he didn’t need a piece of paper to tell him officers are working longer, harder days. Yet, the state’s performance audit of Elyria put the manpower numbers in a different perspective when compared to peer cities.

Looking at numbers from 2011 when the Police Department had more than 85 officers, Elyria had 1.5 officers per 1,000 citizens. Those officers handled 42,140 calls in total and an average of 514 calls each. It equated to more total calls than departments in Cuyahoga Falls, Fairfield, Lorain and Mansfield.

The report said Elyria had roughly one officer for every 4 miles of city.

“Basically it says there are fewer of us answering more calls and covering more area,” he said.

Whitley said the year started with 86 officers, but since then, three retirements and three resignations occurred in quick succession. He hopes to infuse new officers into the department by the end of this year. Hiring is a long process that first starts with administering the civil service test.

“I don’t know how many we will be able to hire,” he said. “A lot of it depends on money. We have a budget this year for 85, so that means at least five new officers and maybe more if we have to replace any other retirements.”

Within the next couple of years, several more officers will be eligible for retirement, Whitely said.

The civil service test does not guarantee employment, but no one can be hired in Elyria without first taking the exam as it establishes a list of eligible candidates to consider.

Safety Service Director Mary Siwierka said the date of the next test hasn’t been determined. That will be up to the Civil Service Commission, which is set to meet later this month.

The commission not only sets the test dates, but also determines the rules for who can take the test.

In the November 2012 election, voters OK’ed a charter change that would allow the commission to institute rules designed to widen the applicant pool. For example, the commission now can issue extra credit to those test takers who are certified peace officers in the state or who have completely the Ohio Peace Officer Training Program.

“They want to cast a wide net to encourage as many people as possible,” she said. “The wider the net is, the boarder the scope is, and the deeper the pool is the better chance we would get really great candidates.”

Siwierka estimates the next test won’t be administered until at least August or September.

She said the city is getting ready to interview the last people on the current list, which was certified a year ago in May.

Whitely said he is not surprised the current list has been nearly exhausted.

Ten years ago, between 500 and 700 people on average would show up to take the Elyria test. In recent years, the test has garnered only around 250 to 300 people.

“It doesn’t make sense to me with unemployment being high,” he said. “You would think that more people would want to take the test, but maybe it’s the physical fitness portion that is holding people back. You don’t just take a written test, but have to be physically capable of doing the job.”

Whitely said the ideal candidate is between 21 and 35 years of age, has a high school diploma or GED, Ohio driver’s license, can read and write the English language, and can pass a criminal background check.

“We are looking for people of high moral character who want to help and serve people,” he said.

In recent years, the department has hired people who both completed the academy before taking the civil service test and those who were sent to the academy by the city after being hired. Whitely said having the academy completion under one’s belt doesn’t hurt.

“It’s like the private industry. If you have a degree, you have a leg up,” he said.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.