The following article was originally published in the Ohio Capital Journal and published on News5Cleveland.com under a content-sharing agreement.
The Ohio House version of a bill to lower the age to become a police officer across the state was introduced last week with equal parts support and scrutiny.
House Bill 84’s co-sponsors, state Reps. Steve Demetriou, R-Bainbridge Twp., and Josh Williams, R-Oregon, said the bill is aimed at hampering a shortage of law enforcement staff and also bringing up morale, which they say have been brought down not by misconduct or criminal cases brought against fellow officers in the state or by a lack of funding, but by “a social movement” in the state and country against police.
“We need to give every opportunity for departments to find those candidates that can step up and protect their community,” Williams told the House Homeland Security Committee.
To help that, the GOP sponsors said the state need only change one word in Ohio Revised Code: the minimum appointment age for a police officer from 21 years old to 18.
In current law, 18-year-olds can join law enforcement, but only in a “cadet” program. Becoming a full officer can’t occur until 21.
“While House Bill 84 is not the end-all to the human resource challenges our police departments face, it does give police chiefs of departments big and small another option to utilize when considering candidates to fill vacant rolls in their respective forces,” Demetriou said.
Members of the committee supported the idea of increasing numbers on police forces in Ohio, but two criticisms came up about the bill: trusting 18-year-olds as police officers and saving pensions for retiring officers.
State Rep. Phil Plummer, R-Dayton, formerly Montgomery County sheriff he supported the idea of lowering the minimum age, but perhaps to age 20 instead of 18 to benefit from life experience not achieved by that age.
“The 18-year-olds just aren’t ready,” Plummer said.
Ohio State Highway Patrol Officer, state Rep. Kevin Miller, R-Newark, also said dropping the age to 20 rather than 18 would make him more comfortable with the bill.
“There is a big difference between someone who’s just come out of high school to someone who’s maybe been in the military,” Miller said.
Some committee members also expressed concern about adding that many more people into the pension system as the state struggles to sustain it already.
“To add young people … I would imagine it’s going to put a massive strain on that pension,” said state Rep. Cindy Abrams, R-Harrison, and former Cincinnati police officer.
The bill is a companion to Senate Bill 53, brought to that chamber last week by sponsors state Sen. Michele Reynolds, R-Canal Winchester, and Sen. Kristina Roegner, R-Hudson.
That bill received the support of the Ohio Municipal League and the Ohio Township Association this week.
“By permissively lowering the age someone can become a police officer to the age of 18, Ohio municipalities will have the option to recruit and hire these newly qualified young adults, strengthening their police force while still allowing them with flexibility at the local lebel to determine how to best develop their new officers,” Kent Scarrett, executive director of the Ohio Municipal League told the Senate Government Oversight Committee.