Ohio's small towns face police staffing problems

(DAYTON, Ohio) -- As people start putting up Christmas lights, several area village law enforcement agencies are hanging out "Help Wanted" signs.

With little pay and a big qualification requirement list, small-town police forces in the Miami Valley face a foreboding future. Police departments in Bradford, Pleasant Hill, Potsdam and Laura in Miami County, New Lebanon in Montgomery County, Spring Valley in Greene County, and Port Jefferson in Shelby County are struggling with staffing. For many, failed levies wiped out police pay and village councils cannot dip into coffers, making it hard for villages to attract policemen to protect them.

Auxiliary police, traditionally volunteer or $1-per year positions, are probably the hardest to fill.

"People don't want to put their lives to the line for a dollar a year," said New Lebanon Police Chief Ron Carbaugh. "We can't get people interested in these positions."

Pleasant Hill Mayor Gary Johnston said village council will consider rerunning a 3-mill police levy at a Dec. 4 meeting. Failure of the levy could reduce police coverage for the village of 1,066 residents.

"If the levy is not re-run, we will be $39,000 short in paying for the police department," Johnston said.

Seventy percent of all police departments in the nation have 10 or fewer officers, according to the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Median pay for a full-time officer is $36,000.

The village of Laura, population 525, is down to seven volunteers on staff, plus salaried Chief Steve Terrill, the only paid member, said Laura Mayor Jane Brame.

"We try to keep the roster of officers up to about 10," Brame said. The lure of a bigger paycheck elsewhere can hinder full staffing of small departments, she said.

Compounding small-town retention woes, the new generation of recruits is more likely to job-hop than their elders, said Elaine Deck, Community Policing Consortium Project coordinator of the police chiefs association.

"Generation Xers...look at their work a great deal differently than Baby Boomers," Deck said. "They want as much as they can get from the very beginning. It's not that they are self-centered, it's that they realize there is no safety net. They don't anticipate staying in the same job 25 years and retiring with a benefits package."

Spring Valley police officers cut corners by paying for their uniforms and equipment, village Mayor Bill Denlinger said. Chief Tim Allen is refusing his monthly $275 stipend.

Spring Valley residents voted down Issue 4, a 2.5-mill police levy that would have generated $10,500 more for the part-time department in the village of 500. The current levy, which dates to 1984, draws $7,000 yearly for a part-time police chief and sergeant and 13 to 15 auxiliaries.

Lack of support from the Potsdam village council, financial and otherwise, led to the collapse of its police force in February. Accusations of wrongful termination, defamation of character, misappropriation of funds, missing police logs, budget imbalances, and filing of million-dollar lawsuits flew between village council members and the police chief.

The issues remain unresolved. The Miami County Sheriff's Office now polices the village of less than 300 people.

(iSyndicate; Dayton Daily News; Nov. 26, 2000) Terms and Conditions: Copyright(c) 2000 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.

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