Lakeside Park-Crestview Hills Police Chief Chris Schutte spoke to Lakeside Park City Council Monday night about the challenge of finding new police recruits.
“It’s getting rough,” Schutte admitted. “When we hired six years ago we had 90 people apply, and when we went through this process we had nine people. It is not just our department, it’s everywhere, and the fire department is facing the same issue. … Northern Kentucky is going to be facing a crisis in the next five to ten years, with a bunch of officers, firefighters and paramedics retiring, and there is no way of replacing them. I don’t have the solution.”
Schutte also said the department has an internship program that college juniors are able to take advantage of, noting they had a female student do the program this summer, riding along with the officers, and assisting with paperwork and phone calls.
Since the student is not yet 21, she can’t be hired as an officer, Schutte said. They can only hope students who are involved in criminal justice programs will follow through and continue to want to become police officers.
Chief Schutte and Assistant Chief Brad Degenhardt said they are doing whatever they can to attract new law enforcement.
“I think we have a very good relationship with our community,” said Degenhardt. “Sometimes feelings ebb and flow, but overall I think there is a positive opinion of the police.”
When asked whether the dwindling supply of recruits had to do with a negative view of police, Degenhardt didn’t think that was at play in Northern Kentucky’s potential shortage.
“A lot of factors go into this,” he said. “One big thing is the changes to the retirement system that made the retirement equivalent to a private 401(k). It is now a defined benefit plan, a simple 401(k). Plus, the salaries in the private sector are rising. The disparity between police salaries and retirement and the private sector is increasing.”
The state police academy, operated by the Department of Criminal Justice Training on the campus of Eastern Kentucky University, continues to see its classes full, though the pandemic impacted some of its efforts.
A candidate without training who is hired by most police agencies in the state to become a police officer can expect a multi-month wait to attend the police academy, which is then tacked on to the 20-week training course, accumulating to almost a year wait for a department to have that officer out on the street.
“The Department of Criminal Justice Training has not experienced a reduction in basic training occupancy, which remains around 28 to 30 recruits per class,” said Critley King Smith, public information officer for the Department of Criminal Justice Training. “This number has remained steady for the last several years.”
Independence Police Chief Tony Lucas agrees about the retirement system changes, saying officers don’t have defined benefits like they did before.
“I think policing itself has changed,” said Lucas. “I’ve just hired nine new police officers who are between the ages of 21 and 25, so there is some interest among young people. It took me almost a year to get these applicants to come. But I agree about the shortage. Any department in this area that can say they have a full staff is blessed.”
Lucas said he still needs to hire four more officers, bringing the department to 41 officers, including five school resource officers.
He agreed that there is a significant wait time for new recruits to go through the Police Academy at Eastern Kentucky University. Lucas said five of the new recruits are in the 20-week training academy now, and four will go in October.
“Since we have to wait on sending the recruits to the academy, we decided to do some reverse training here in the city,” Lucas explained. “We are giving them training in firearms, use of deadly force, the laws of arrest, basic field training. It has paid off. When they get to the academy, they say they feel more confident, because they have seen some stuff firsthand.”
Overall, Lucas is worried about the future of police.
“The chief concern for every department right now is recruitment and retention,” he stated. “We probably need to find a new way to market the police career.”
Lakeside Park-Crestview Hills Assistant Chief Degenhardt agrees.
“Being a police officer, or any emergency responder, is a calling, a vocation,” he said. “It is important to show students what is involved with the job and see if anything sparks that calling. It’s not just a job.”