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Columbus Police See Drop In Applications, But Don't Expect Officer Shortages

The newest class of police recruits running through the police academy parking lot
Nick Evans/WOSU
Nick Evans/WOSU
The newest class of police recruits running through the police academy parking lot

The Columbus Division on Police on Saturday hosts a virtual recruiting event that comes amid a drop in applications and a wave of retirements by existing officers.

Sgt. Christopher Smith-Hughes from the division’s recruiting unit says while the number of applications has fallen, the division has been able to fill all 10 of its police academy classes over the past five years. Smith-Hughes says Columbus police academy classes typically have 45 to 50 cadets.

“I think nationwide (recruiting) has been a challenge,” Smith-Hughes says. “There is a 65 percent drop in applications across the country. Columbus has seen some drop, but at the same time we’re filling all of our classes.”

Columbus' latest police academy class graduates on Friday.

The rate of Columbus police retirements has been more pronounced that the drop in applicants. Division records show 80 officers retired in 2020. That’s almost double the average number of retirements in the previous five years. Seven months into 2021, the division has already seen another 71 retirements.

A police spokesman said many older officers have seen the division changing around them and are choosing to leave when in a different era they may have continued working for a few more years.

“Well clearly it’s significant, but it’s not unlike what we’re seeing in cities across the country,” Mayor Andrew Ginther said at a police recruiting event last month when asked about the increased departures.

Police departments in Columbus and around the country have seen a wave of retirements in the wake of last year’s Black Lives Matter protests and the police response that many called heavy-handed and aggressive. In Columbus, three officers have pleaded not guilty to charges including assault and dereliction of duty for their alleged actions during protests.

Smith-Hughes says even with the retirements and the drop in applications, there are no looming personnel shortages in the division.

“No crisis, no shortage, none of that,” Smith-Hughes says.

Smith-Hughes, a Black man, says “it’s not a matter of convincing” other people of color to join the division.

“It’s a matter of doing what you feel is right,” Smith-Hughes says. "Being that person that wants to make that change, stepping into that place where you’re going to be the one making that decision, you’re going to be the one to do whatever that use of force or not use of force is."

Police officers in Columbus start at an hourly rate of $28.34 an hour, or about $59,000 a year before overtime and special duty opportunities. After 48 months officers make about $90,000 a year.