City faces challenges in filling openings on police department

It will be no surprise if the cap of 400 applicants for testing for jobs on the Youngstown Police Department is reached well before the Nov. 8 deadline to sign up for the Nov. 17 civil service test.

The job of a police officer in any community, but certainly in a urban department such as Youngstown’s, can be physically and mentally demanding, not to mention dangerous. The hours can be bad, the work often more tedious than one would image from watching cop shows on TV, and the result at the end of the day is often not what the officer envisioned.

But the job of protecting and serving has rewards of its own. And while it is a difficult job, it is one that pays a living wage, continues to offer a benefit package that exceeds most of those in private employment and traditionally provides job security for the successful applicant.

And so there will be hundreds of applicants looking to take the test and get their names on the next eligibility list.

Reflecting the community

But the Youngstown Police Department, like almost every department in the nation, is looking for applicants who not only meet all of the mental and physical requirements — which should necessarily be stringent — but that allow the police department to reflect the diversity of the community it serves.

There is no question that meeting that goal is difficult at a time when academic achievement of students in city schools lags behind that of peers in other school districts — even other urban school districts in the state of Ohio.

For that reason we have long advocated that civic and church leaders in the city reach out to young men and women at an early age stressing the career potential that is available in the city’s safety forces.

Part of that effort involves adults maintaining an attitude of respect toward police officers that is inculcated in the younger generation from an early age. Much of it involves placing the same demands on students at almost every stage of their academic development that apply to preparation for any other profession. Academic discipline is the key to a student’s growing into an adult who can pursue a range of career options, including the safety forces.

In the immediate future, Youngstown may find that the present pipeline contains enough high-quality applicants for the jobs that are going to have to be filled.

One thing that will help is the number of relatively young military veterans who are being assimilated into the work force. Veterans receive bonus points in the civil service rankings and the city has a federal grant that will pay the salaries of three “vets to cops” for three years.

Looking to the future

But as the last of the baby boomers reach retirement age — which isn’t that many years in the future — Youngstown, like other cities, will face new challenges in filling those openings.

Putting up signs to encourage potential applicants and expecting to have hundreds show up on testing day may work this time, but that’s not a recipe for future success.

A good police officer is a complicated mix of talents and aptitudes. The short list of what the job demands includes intelligence, resourcefulness, an ability to follow orders, and yet a potential to evolve into the leader who gives orders. Courage is a given.

Parents, teachers, ministers and present members of the police department should be on the constant lookout for young men and women who might someday be able and willing to fill the job.

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