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Pilot program to pair college students, law enforcement agencies in effort to broaden, diversify talent pool

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Posted at 10:09 AM, Jun 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-23 18:57:49-04

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Two state colleges will begin offering students in the fall the opportunity to be put onto a fast track for a career in law enforcement. State leaders, including Gov. Mike DeWine, hope the “college to law enforcement pathway” pilot program will not only broaden and diversify the talent pool of qualified candidates but also pair them with police departments across the state needing to fill its ranks.

Announced Wednesday morning, the pilot program is in response to conversations that he’s had with police chiefs across the state who have reported growing difficulties in recruiting interested and qualified candidates. Those difficulties are part of a larger trend across the country.

Both the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Police Executive Research Forum have both released reports over the past few years highlighting what both organizations have described as a “workforce crisis.” An IACP survey found that the difficulties that law enforcement agencies have encountered while recruiting are due to a myriad of issues, including social, political and economic forces that are simultaneously at play.

Finding qualified candidates to fill open positions is vitally important, officials said, because it helps to reduce the psychological and budgetary strain that short-staffing can have on a department. When open positions aren’t filled, officers are required to work more overtime, causing increased levels of burnout and rising overtime costs. Fairview Park Police Chief Paul Shepard said he became interested in the state’s pilot program after hearing about it last month. Although some of the “nuts and bolts” of the program still need to be worked out, Shepard said it appears to be a promising venture.

“Any business, any organization, the important thing is having good candidates to choose from because of the nature of the job. This program seems to give us the ability to find a diverse pool of men and women interested in law enforcement,” Shepard said. “The most difficult thing is finding that qualified candidate. There are a lot of people that want to be a police officer. It’s finding the person that is qualified to be a police officer. Want and being able to are obviously two different things.”

Chief Shepard said the department has had to work harder on its recruitment efforts in recent years but the department overall is fortunate to have tremendous support from city administrators and the community overall.

As part of the accelerated program unveiled on Wednesday, students seeking degrees in criminal justice at Cedarville University and Central State University, a historically black university, will be able to join the program in their junior or senior year. After meeting a stringent set of criteria and graduating from the program, the students will be guaranteed an entry-level job at a participating department. Some of the requirements of the program include a 3.0 grade point average and passing a physical fitness test. Once in the program, students will be connected with active law enforcement officers that will provide mentorship and practical training.

“It’s going to be a very extensive, rigorous process to get into this program. I think we’ll have a fairly high elimination rate but we are raising standards. We’re not lowing standards,” said Dr. Patrick Oliver, the director of Cedarville University’s department of criminal justice. “We’re going to take the very best students. We’re going to mentor them, train them and develop them… it’s a special opportunity.”

Oliver said students enrolled in the program will also be taught and educated on contemporary law enforcement issues, including the prevention of bias-based policing.

“They have to be students of high moral character,” Oliver said. Chief Shepard said one of the most important potential benefits of the program will be its ability to weed out any possible candidates that would have otherwise dropped out upon learning about the rigors and challenges of the job.

Additionally, Shepard said the program has the potential in creating well-rounded candidates.

“When we hire someone, we invest almost $50,000 in an officer before they make their first arrest. That can be training, uniforms, background checks, benefits and other hiring procedures. We make a big investment in our people. Why? Because it’s the nature of the job,” Shepard said. “Of course we want the most talented candidates, but we also want the most well-rounded individual. It’s one thing if they can run a 4.2 forty-yard-dash but can they talk to people? Do they have empathy? Are they able to do the right thing at the right time? It’s the complete package that we’re looking for.”

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