2018 has been a challenging year for the police department. We started the year with the very continued existence of the police department in question. This had a highly detrimental impact on officer morale, a problem that continues, to some degree, even now.
The labor market for police officers is tight. The labor market for good police officers is even tighter.
A police department with a publicly uncertain future makes it difficult to retain quality officers and to recruit new ones. We have seen a substantial decline in the number of applications for employment received over the past 12 months, despite our best efforts at recruitment.
Violence against police officers is on the increase across the nation, and we were no exception to this trend in 2018. During 2018 there were 22 incidents in which our officers attempted to make an arrest and the suspect physically resisted those efforts. Five of those incidents resulted in physical injury to a Blanchester police officer.
While I will be the first to admit that we do not have the call load to justify having two officers on duty 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, there are times of the day and night when single-officer staffing is not adequate. I believe that lone officers are much more likely to encounter resistance to their authority, and are much more likely to be injured in their duties, than are officers working shifts staffed with two officers.
During 2018 we called upon the Clinton County Sheriff’s Office several times for back-up due to running shifts “short staffed.” We greatly appreciate their assistance, but the average response time for back-up from the Sheriff’s Office is around 8 minutes. Several times this year the Sheriff’s Office had no one available to respond to assist due to their own workload.
Our staffing level is limited by our budget. In 2006 we had 7 full-time and 4 part-time police officers. We now employ 7 full-time and 1 part-time police officer.
Under the best of circumstances, we field one lone officer for an average 72 working hours each week. The last few months of 2018 were not “the best of circumstances” — with one officer on maternity leave and another off due to an injury — over the past several months we have been fielding one lone officer an average of 104 hours each week.
For the first time since 2007, we operated with “brown outs” on several occasions, meaning we did not field any police officers during a period of 1 to 3 hours. This was a difficult move to make, but I was faced with the decision to either work a lone officer on a Friday or Saturday night in order to cover all shifts, or to adequately staff a Friday or Saturday night followed by a few hours of “brown-out” during the week.
While the use and sale of heroin was on the decrease in 2018, we saw an increase in the use and sale of methamphetamine in Blanchester. When we are struggling to staff patrol shifts, we certainly do not have the time or personnel available to undertake any long-term narcotics investigations. Long-term narcotics investigations are what remove drug dealers from our community.
Calls for service
Overall calls for police service were down in 2018 vs. 2017. In 2017 we answered 2,099 calls for service. In 2018 that number was 1,973. This number includes only radio calls: it does not include the hundreds of phone calls and “walk-ins” coming into the police station, which average 150 each month.
Despite the challenges we faced in 2018, we were still able to undertake a few community outreach efforts during the year: we held our second annual youth soap box derby, continued to provide active shooter training in our schools, and provided active shooter training to the staff at American Showa.
I am proud of our police department and the men and women who work here. They are committed to the peace and well-being of our community. It is important that they feel that those in the community are committed to them as well.
I’m not sure that is the overarching feeling of our staff at present. Regardless, we continue to operate under the golden rule: “police others as you would have others police you.”
I believe our staff demonstrates this approach daily.