The Springfield Police Department has been understaffed for months. But thanks to a temporary tax hike approved by voters earlier this year, the department is again accepting applications. Police officials say the new officers will go a long way toward responding to the city’s ongoing overdose crisis.
Springfield voters approved the temporary tax increase in May.
Some of the nearly half-percent bump will pay for six new police officers to launch a “Safe Streets Task Force” on violent crime and drug activity in the city.
At Springfield Police Headquarters, Captain Lee Graf says the added officers will take some of the pressure off the department. Opioid overdose calls into the city’s 911 switchboard are up dramatically.
“I file all the reports every month. I’ve had to double the room in my file cabinet because of these overdoses," he says. "I’m talking an inch and a half stack, almost an inch of which is opioid addiction.”
Responding to such high numbers of overdose calls can be emotionally taxing for police and other first responders.
Meredith Freeman, Springfield's Opioid Diversion Officer, says the hardest part of responding to an overdose is when children are involved.
“Any call that I’ve been on here lately with overdoses, and the person that calls is the child, and knowing that our dispatchers are trying to talk a small child through, “well, is your mommy or daddy breathing?,” whatever the situation may be. And the first thing you want to do when you go in the house is you want to render aid to the person who’s possibly overdosed," she says, "but then you look over and you see this kid just standing there as we’re all running around.”
Freeman says she knows her work is making a difference. Still, it’s hard to see her hometown struggling with drugs and drug-related crime.
“Everyday you come out and you fight and you fight and sometimes you cannot make a difference. But then it turns around to that being the best thing, because the few times that you do make a difference in this city — it just takes you back to one step closer to getting this city to where it was when I grew up, and how I would like my kids to see this city how I saw it growing up," she says.
Those improvements will take more police officers. But even with the additional tax revenue approved by voters this spring and funding help from the Attorney General’s Office, the department won’t have enough officers anytime soon.
The Springfield city charter requires the department to have 124 officers. The department currently has just 113. And Graf says he expects the department to lose three more officers by January.
“I liken running a police department and looking at personnel as kind of running from the well with a leaking bucket because you’re continually losing people to retirement, and now we’re seeing some cross-hiring and all that. And you’re continually filling the bucket, but you’re always losing a little bit,” he says.
Recruiting new officers is also expensive and they don’t start overnight.
It’s a long process: officers must complete a civil service text, polygraph, a psych exam, extensive background check, an interview and a physical. Then, once hired, cadets start getting paid, but they’re still not quite ready for the job.
They need 711 hours of police academy training, six to eight weeks of in-service training, and 13 weeks of field training.
“Then,” Graf says, “finally, after all that time, they’re released on the street to work on their own, but that process can take up to a year and of course with all the training, it’s a substantial investment.”
Attracting officers is already a challenge for the city.
One reason is pay. In Springfield, officer pay starts out at just under $43,000 a year. Wealthier cities pay a lot more. Centerville starts at just over $57,000. Kettering starting pay is over $60,000.
With the number of overdoses in Springfield continuing to climb, Graf says it’s critical that the department find a way to attract more officers.
He’s not waiting for potential police cadets to come to him. Graf has spent much of the fall visiting Miami Valley colleges and police academies and reaching out to community organizations, such as the NAACP.
Freeman says she’s hoping any potential recruits will see that police work is about more than money.
“If you are in this job for strictly the money this probably isn’t the place for you, but if you’re in the job because you want to do real police work and get into a lot of diverse calls – drugs, domestic violence, traffic – it’s a great department for that. There’s a lot of opportunity here,” she says.
Freeman knows being a Springfield police officer isn’t for everyone, but she says the job does give applicants a chance to have a real and positive impact on the community.
The Springfield police department is accepting applications until 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 17. More information can be found at https://springfieldohio.gov/police-officer/