LORAIN — The city of Lorain needs more police officers, and Mayor Chase Ritenauer unveiled his plan to keep and increase the number of officers at the Finance and Budgeting Committee meeting Monday.
Ritenauer introduced a plan to help keep officer retention and a more ambitious plan to increase the hiring of officers. Because Lorain is a statutory city, Ritenauer explained its laws are set by the state government.
Most cities are charter cities, which have more independence to set their own local laws and guidelines. One of these is the ability to hire police officers from another police department through what is called a lateral transfer. A lateral transfer is the process of moving a police officer from one department with all the necessary training and experience to another with no problem. Unfortunately it is something statutory cities like Lorain can’t do in Ohio.
Normally, the Lorain Police Department adds new officers through choosing from the civil service list. The list, which currently has about 27 applicants, will have only two to three officers that make it through both the civil service evaluation test and more than half a year of processing and training before they start to work for the department. Meanwhile, Lorain police are losing more officers every year. In the past year, Ritenauer said they lost about six officers who either transferred or retired, and about nine more officers are expected to retire within the next five years, according to Kyle Gelenius, president of the Fraternal Order of the Police.
The city currently has about 100 officers budgeted through October, but the problem isn’t financial, it’s about keeping them and hiring more.
“I think we have to look at retention … and from an attraction standpoint, we have to figure out a way to allow for lateral transfers into the city of Lorain if we want to get trained officers on the road immediately,” Ritenauer said.
Gelenius spoke at the meeting, saying that the organization also is behind the plan for the police department. In a discussion he and Ritenauer had before the meeting Monday, Gelenius said the No. 1 priority is keeping and increasing the number of officers due to gang and gun violence in the city remaining an issue.
“Officers are being burnt out, so it’s imperative that everyone work together to tackle this issue in the name of public safety,” he said.
In order to change this downward spiral, Ritenauer said the city could put together a case to use “exceptional appointing.” According to the Ohio Revised Code, this process in which a city’s “appointing authority” (for Lorain it would be Safety/Service Director Dan Given, whose appointments would need to be approved by the Civil Service Commission) selects a person for a position based on “examination of the qualifications of the proposed appointee to determine that qualifications for the position are met.” This is a way he said Lorain would be able to bypass being a statutory city by using the appointments as an alternative of lateral transfers. The appointees will need to be seen as “exceptional” in their ability for the position, which Ritenauer said would be for officers in other departments to have about 5 to 10 years of law enforcement experience. The city still is open to hiring from the civil service list, but Ritenauer said they need more officers sooner rather than later.
Another plan to help with officer employment is eliminating probationary pay rates, rolling bonuses into the base wage to increase overall pay for officers. Ritenauer said the city needs to make a greater effort to keep the officers they already have by improving pay rates.
Mary Springowski, Councilwoman at large, said she also agreed with the goal of increasing the manpower of the local law enforcement.
“I have always said that my ultimate dream for the city is to see a police officer in every single (one of wards), not only for the safety of the residents but the safety for the officers as well,” she said. “I’m in support of anything we have to do to get around being handcuffed by ridiculous laws that compromise the safety of our safety forces and our residents.”
The goal for now is to discuss the plan at the next City Council meeting May 6 for improving pay for officers and advertising for the appointment. The city also will need to start searching for expert opinions on exceptional appointment to look into what qualifies as exceptional experience to qualify for the appointment. In the long term Ritenauer wants to push to change state law in order to get rid of what he sees as a logistical handicap for statutory cities.