NKY police departments offer staffing shortage suggestions

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As industries across the country are feeling the effects of staffing shortages, a group of Northern Kentucky police departments are offering suggestions for how to combat the issue within their ranks.

“The total number of police applications are down and there is a lack of police officers in general wanting to remain in the policing profession,” Fort Mitchell Police Chief Rob Nader said. “This causes staffing issues for area police departments.”

Fort Mitchell is currently accepting applications for a full-time, experienced police officer.

Maj. Philip Ridgell, the public information officer for the Boone County Sheriff’s Office, told LINK nky that while they’re in good shape staffing-wise currently, they are staying aware and vigilant on the front of recruitment and retention.

“We can staff all divisions with no impact on the services provided to the community or schools that we serve,” Ridgell said. “However, we may contend with retirements, promotions or reassignments that can impact staffing within divisions.”

Boone County has 180 sworn deputies and no postings for police positions on its website. 

Chief Ed Butler of the Fort Wright Police Department and president of the Kenton County Chiefs Association also acknowledged a decrease in the overall number of applications for police officer positions in Fort Wright, Kenton County, and nationally.

“There has been a change in society,” Butler said. “[Police] type jobs are not as sought after. Local, small police departments have some difficulties staffing because we can’t offer salaries or opportunities [competitive with those] that larger departments can.”

Butler went on to explain that upcoming retirements could have a further effect on police staffing, especially with the way Kentucky’s police pension system has been set up. 

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Kentucky police officers who began their employment before Sept. 1, 2008, are in the tier one pension plan. 

According to the Kentucky Association of Counties, those with tier one pensions are able to “retire with full benefits after 20 years or at age 55 with 5 years of service.” 

Butler explained that coming up, there is a large cohort of officers who will be able to retire under that system. 

“I imagine some will take advantage of this,” Butler said. 

While he said that this won’t have a large effect on Fort Wright Police in the next 2-5 years, it is a subject of concern throughout the state and region. 

With recruitment and retention threatened, some local government officials are looking within Kentucky for mitigating solutions. Mayor Dave Hatter of Fort Wright is one of those interested in internal systemic change. 

Hatter is specifically concerned with the amount of time it takes to get a new police recruit hired, enrolled in the state’s police academy, through the training program, and finally on the streets. In Fort Wright, this process can take a year to a year and a half, Hatter said.

The Boone County Police Department spoke to LINK nky about similar struggles. 

“Once we get our applicants through the background investigation and upon their successful completion of this process, we must then wait upwards of six to 10 months before they are able to report to basic training,” Ridgell said. “This creates personnel problems given that it takes approximately one year to complete basic training and our Field Training Program. From start to finish this process could take nearly two years.”

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Currently, the only Kentucky cities with their own dedicated police academies are Bowling Green, Lexington, and Louisville. Every other police department in the state has to go through the Richmond police academy. This has created relatively long wait times for a spot in the academy to open up. 

Hatter is one of the government officials interested in seeing this change. 

He says that the combination of long wait times and the fact that police departments, not the individual, pay for their academy education can be a huge burden on smaller local police departments like Fort Wright.

Hatter said when a police department hires a new recruit, they are investing a year’s worth of salary and benefits in addition to the cost of education and their hotel stay in Richmond in someone who may decide not to stay on as a police officer. 

He calls this an “extremely expensive and time-consuming operation” that can put more burden on the taxpayers. 

Fortunately for Fort Wright, Hatter said, the last few officers they’ve sent through the academy have been fantastic. But there’s always concern that the next person they send could “wash out” or simply find that policing isn’t a good career fit for them. 

Hatter said he sees the merit of intensive training and isn’t suggesting that training be cut or simplified in any way. 

“Kentucky [police] officers are as well, if not better trained, than any other officers in the country,” said Fort Wright’s Butler. “Police training requires a lot of time and it should.” 

But Hatter is proposing that the state establish more police academies. Specifically, he suggests establishing one serving Northern Kentucky police departments.

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“This wouldn’t resolve the recruiting issue, but it would cut costs and speed up the process to get recruits through the training system,” Hatter said. 

Not everyone in Northern Kentucky supports the idea of having a dedicated police academy in this region, but others offer ideas for how training could be modified to get officers in the program faster. 

“From our standpoint, we would love to see a shorter training curve for officers. Whether that means increasing [academy] class sizes, having more classes, or adding online components,” Butler said.

Kelly Foreman with the Kentucky Department of Criminal Justice Training said existing levels and facilities are designed to support the 20-week academy on a non-stop rotation of four simultaneously operating classes of 30 recruits per class.

“On Aug. 31, DOCJT graduated 26 new law enforcement officers,” Foreman said. “Since Dec. 2019, 1,252 Kentuckians have completed their basic training.”

As far as the Kentucky Department of Criminal Justice Training is concerned, an additional police academy location is not a necessity, or in the cards right now.

Hatter still hopes for change and keeps the Kentucky state representatives who cover Fort Wright aware of his thoughts on the issue. 

“We’ve raised hell, but there never seems to be any movement on this,” Hatter said, and asked citizens, if they support the idea, to reach out to their state representatives. 

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