LAKE COUNTY, Ohio — Friday marks one month since a gunman opened fire in Uvalde, Texas. He killed 19 children and 2 teachers. As the nation copes with the tragedy, there’s been outrage over police response. Investigators discovered that it took more than an hour for officers to enter the classroom and stopped the gunman, while children called 911, begging for help.
But local law enforcement worries about the impact this case, as well as other national cases where certain officers showed a lack of judgment or wrongdoing, has on their own ability to fight crime and recruit, desperately needed, new officers.
Lake County Sheriff Frank Leonbruno said in his 33 years in law enforcement, that recruitment issues and labor shortages have never been this severe.
“These are critical positions that make a difference in the community and if you have no one on the other end of the 911 call, how is that making our community safer?” he asked.
He said in Lake County, alone, there are 10 openings in the corrections division, and several other openings in areas like patrol, court, and dispatch.
“Those are great positions and they have great benefits. It’s a career. It’s a future, but we have no applicants,” he said. “When I started in this career if, for instance, the city of Mentor had two openings in their police department, there would be 200 to 300 people, who already had police certification, who were standing in line to apply for the jobs.”
It’s why he penned an emotional post on the Lake County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page.
In it, he asked people to stop painting all police with a broad brush when they hear stories of police brutality or improper actions of certain officers, like what’s unfolding in Uvalde.
“When you look at how many police officers exist in the country and the number of police officers who have done terrible things and they should be held accountable. They should be brought to justice. They should be incarcerated if they commit criminal crimes. They should be held accountable but that is such a small percentage of law enforcement, yet we are painting all of law enforcement with a broad brush and saying they’re all terrible people, they all do crime. That is so wrong and it’s so detrimental to the safety of our country,” said Leonbruno.
He asked people to remember that the majority of law enforcement officers are people who want to do good and keep their communities safe.
“It’s like, well everyone is a drunk driver because one person is a drunk driver,” he said.
Leonbruno said the poor perception of police is having a direct effect on low recruitment numbers.
“They don’t need to be ridiculed. They don’t need to be demonized, and when that happens they leave the force,” he said.
Gary Wolske is the president of the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police. He said every department he represents is facing a shortage.
“It’s sad because most people get into law enforcement to help their communities,” said Wolske.
Wolske said departments are working to increase pay, add signing bonuses, getting out into the community to increase trust, and trying to get creative with recruitment, but thinks it boils down to police perception.
“It’s an extremely feel-good profession. When you go home at the end of the day and, you know, you help somebody or even, hey, I drove around my neighborhood in the inner city and nobody’s house got broken into today, that's a win, but we don't tell people that. We need to, you know, get more positive things out there. We try to, but we don't have the avenue to do that.”
If you are interested in learning more about the open positions at Lake County Sheriff’s Office, just click here.