ELYRIA — Kristen Fortune lowered her hand to about her knee to illustrate her point.
“I’ve wanted to be a cop since I was this high,” said the 22-year-old Geneva woman.
In a time when cities are hiring fewer officers due to budget concerns, Fortune said she has done everything she can to fulfill her lifelong dream — putting herself through the Kent State University police academy, working part time at three different police departments, and even working for six months for free as an auxiliary officer. All the while, she was interviewing and hoping to get a full-time job as a police officer.
Monday, her hard work paid off. Fortune and three others were sworn in as the newest Elyria police officers.
“This has just always been what I wanted to do and I know some people have their opinions about female officers, but I believe I have great assets to bring to Elyria and am happy to be here,” she said. “I am going to be busy. I can’t tell you what one thing I hope to learn because I want to learn it all.”
Fortune’s enthusiasm and previous law enforcement experience were reasons why she was one of a select few to take the oath of service, administered by Mayor Holly Brinda, at Elyria City Hall.
This is the first time the department has hired through a process called lateral transfers. The idea, which needed a change of the city charter to pull off, is to hire officers who are academy-trained and certified in an effort to save time and money on training and get officers out on the streets.
Police Chief Duane Whitely said hiring officers who have already worked at smaller law enforcement agencies or have passed the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy exam is beneficial because it cuts four to five months off the new-hire program, saving the city almost $35,000 per recruit.
“We started this process with 52 applicants and 43 ended up on a hiring list, meaning more than 80 percent of those who applied met all the criteria to be hired as Elyria police officers,” he said. “We had such a broad selection of high-quality candidates.”
The hires raise the number of officers on the force to 80.
Experience aside, each of the four new officers will enter the department’s 19-week training program in which they are paired with a veteran officer who will teach them Elyria policy and procedures. Whitely calls it intense training that gets the new officers ready for road patrol.
Gabriel Carrasquillo, 33, of Cleveland, comes to Elyria after working more than four years in the Cleveland Metropolitan Schools Police Department. He calls himself a “fair and firm” officer and looks forward to the opportunities in Elyria.
“This program is a win-win for new recruits as well as the city,” he said. “The city gets to save money, the department gets a well-trained officer, and an officer with experience has a little advantage to get hired.”
Ben Harris, 22, of Akron, said working for the Highland Hills Police Department was not all traffic duty — even though that was a heavy part of his job. The village is in Cuyahoga County southeast of Cleveland. Coming to Elyria furthers his goals of working for a bigger department.
The fourth officer also has experience. Matthew Ehmer worked for the Lodi Police Department before getting the call to join Elyria’s force.
“There is a lot of opportunity to be a police officer in Elyria,” said Ehmer, 25, of Westlake. “I’m not sure what my niche will be, but I look forward finding out.”