At least five area police departments are recruiting this winter, with deadlines fast approaching for those seeking full-time jobs with their departments.

The cities of Hudson, Macedonia, Stow and Twinsburg are all now accepting applications for civil service examinations for prospective candidates, and Cuyahoga Falls is looking for officers from other departments, referred to as “lateral transfers.”

Cuyahoga Falls Police Chief Jack Davis said such candidates typically are part-time officers looking for full-time jobs, corrections officers or police with smaller departments.

While Cuyahoga Falls is looking to fill three positions immediately and one in upcoming months, Macedonia presently has three vacancies, Hudson and Stow will have two positions available due to retirements and Twinsburg expects to hire at least one officer.

Several area departments report it’s getting tougher to fill positions, citing various reasons.

Hudson Police Chief Perry Tabak said a rising economy is one factor.

“We’re all fighting for the best candidates,” he said, noting fewer applicants are showing up to take examinations than in years past.

“The job market is stronger,” he said. “For years, we’ve had a pretty good economy. You’ve got people who would go in, that maybe have some options. They’re considering law enforcement, but maybe they’re able to go in a different direction and they’re able to find something else that fills their needs.”

Another factor is the nature of the work.

“When I took the test here, I tested with over 200 people,” said Macedonia Police Lt. Vince Yakopovich. “Now we’ll see 30, because the public sentiment right now for police officers, and how the world has changed — it’s a tough job. We’re definitely not seeing the candidates ... the pool is a lot smaller. It’s tough.”

In contrast, Cuyahoga Falls, the second-largest department in the county with 72 officers, gets more than 100 applicants for tests.

“We don’t get the numbers we used to applying, but we still get a pretty good turnout for the area,” said Davis.

Davis said the problem with finding good candidates is nationwide, based on his experience last year at a school he attended with 50 other police chiefs from around the country.

“I don’t known anybody in that room that hasn’t seen a problem in recruiting and retention,” he said.

Recent years have seen a change to an “open academy” system of training, whereby most police officers now pay their own pay through the police academy to obtain their Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy Certificate.

In decades past, police training operated under what is known as the “closed academy” system, where one could be hired and training would be paid for. 

“It used to be you got hired by a police department,” said Davis. “Unless you were sponsored by a department, that’s the only way you went to a police academy.”

Back in the 1990s, when police departments generally paid for training, hundreds of applicants would show up to apply for police jobs. Today, many departments require certification to be eligible for employment or offer extra credit on the test. Some will still train those they deem worthy — even though the training takes months and there’s no guarantee the rookie will graduate.

Stow Police Chief Jeff Film said those who take the civil service exam now are applying at multiple departments.

“It’s not uncommon for our candidates to say ‘I’m on five different lists,’ or ‘I’m on 10 different lists,’” Film said.

And though it’s getting harder for departments to get the best qualified applicants, there are still plenty of young people interested in police work.

Film and Tabak both serve as commanders at the Kent State University Police Academy, one of several in the region. They said academies average around 25 or 30 students for the program that lasts just over a semester.

Even with multiple academies graduating dozens of students each year, they say the pool of applicants remains lower than they would expect.

“That’s something that we’ve talked about, ‘Where are these people going?” Tabak said, noting the various standards, including fitness, background checks and other requirements tend to knock down the number of qualified applicants.

And despite the fight for top candidates, freshly minted police officers are not likely to get full-time jobs right off the bat.

“I tell the recruits or cadets that dream job may be five years from now,” Film said. “Kids getting out of college — everyone wants that dream job. I tell them you might have to work for a while.”

Smaller area departments, such as Northfield Village, may not have formal civil service examinations. Northfield Police Chief John Zolgus said he’s hoping to add two part-time positions this year.

Even so, Zolgus said he has seen a decrease in interest. As of the beginning of the year, the department had a list of six potential applicants, where in recent years it had received “a couple a month.”

Applicants should contact the chief and “we’ll take the best qualified from there,” he said.

Eric Marotta can be reached at 330-541-9433, or emarotta@recordpub.com