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In effort to reform, Ohio starts police recruitment program

June 23, 2021 GMT
FILE - In this Nov. 18, 2020 file photo, Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine talks about data on Ohio's coronavirus cases during a news briefing in Columbus, Ohio. DeWine made good on his promise Wednesday, June 23, 2021, to professionalize policing in the state by introducing a college to law enforcement pathway program. (AP Photo/Andrew Welsh-Huggins, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 18, 2020 file photo, Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine talks about data on Ohio's coronavirus cases during a news briefing in Columbus, Ohio. DeWine made good on his promise Wednesday, June 23, 2021, to professionalize policing in the state by introducing a college to law enforcement pathway program. (AP Photo/Andrew Welsh-Huggins, File)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine made good on his promise Wednesday to treat policing like a profession in the state by introducing a college-to-law enforcement pathway program.

The pilot program under the new state Office of Law Enforcement Recruitment is an effort by the Republican governor to both recruit more law enforcement officers as departures engulf agencies across the state and make sure the candidates who do apply are qualified.

“This is not an easy time to be in law enforcement,” DeWine said at a briefing, surrounded by police chiefs, deputies and rank-and-file officers from across Ohio. “Failure to keep the ranks of law enforcement full has the potential to create a public safety crisis.”

“During a time where we are seeing more violence, that is an additional challenge,” he added.

The new program, DeWine says, will connect criminal justice programs from colleges and universities in Ohio to law enforcement agencies in the state, effectively creating a pipeline for college students to become officers.

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The announcement of the initiative comes as the reckoning over racial injustice that began after George Floyd’s killing last summer shifted the public perception of police and their roles in the community.

The result of that is low morale among rank-and-file officers, leading to more officers retiring and fewer people coming forward to serve, DeWine said.

In Columbus, one of the state’s largest police forces, 80 officers retired last year, making that nearly double the average number of retirements in the previous five years, according to the local NPR affiliate WOSU.

In the past six months, Columbus police has already seen another 71 retirements.

The pilot program will start with pairing students at Cedarville University and Central State University with officers at 11 agencies across the state, including the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office and the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

“The two biggest problems in law enforcement right now are that we cannot get enough qualified candidates through the process and we can’t get enough qualified minorities or women through the process,” Patrick Oliver, the director of the criminal justice program at Cedarville University, said of the unprecedented program.

DeWine introduced the idea of professionalizing the state’s police force last June as part of a series of reforms he and state Attorney General Dave Yost put forward to address police brutality in Ohio.

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“We must begin treating our law enforcement officers like we treat those in other professions,” DeWine said at the time. “Doctors, dentists, lawyers, barbers — those and many other occupations are held to high professional standards, often with a code of ethics.”

“It is time to treat a peace officer certificate more like a professional license,” he added.

A number of those reforms introduced last year, including establishing a state oversight board for officers and securing funding for use-of-force training, have either died or been stalled in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

“We can’t wait on bills. We can’t wait on a massive change,” Sarah Shendy, law enforcement officer and the administrator for the Office of Law Enforcement Recruitment, said. “Reform is a personal responsibility and we have to reform after every single encounter.”

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Farnoush Amiri is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.