COLUMBUS, Ohio — At roughly five months into 2021, the Columbus Division of Police has seen nearly as many officers retire from the department as were reported for the entire year of 2019.
The rate that officers are leaving has some concerned about how it will impact the community.
Paul Ohl was a Columbus police officer for more than 31 years. The last nine, he was the lieutenant over the SWAT team.
“SWAT was great. SWAT was one of those units where the caliber of people you are working with is very high,” said Ohl.
He retired six weeks ago.
“It's kind of like reaching Mt. Everest, even though I've never climbed Mt. Everest. It was kind of like relief, yet accomplishment,” Ohl explained.
While he did not retire early, Ohl says he's seeing many of his colleagues leave the department who aren't close to retirement age.
“The shocking thing is, there are people who, they don't have enough time on to retire, and they are punching out. They are like, I've had it with this, I'm out, I'm either going to another agency, or I'm looking for something else to do,” Ohl said.
Through the middle of April this year, about the same number of Columbus police officers retired as did the whole year in 2019. It's typical for about 45 officers to retire a year.
Last year, there were 80. There are also a number of officers who are leaving, either to another department, or getting into a different profession.
“Sometimes you'll have someone who will retire a little early, they didn't stay a few extra years. We are seeing people who are in the middle of their career just saying, 'I'm leaving,'” said Fraternal Order of Police President Keith Ferrell.
Suburban police departments say they have seen an increase in Columbus Police officers applying for their open positions.
“I think with Columbus city leadership is not just not supportive, but actually making decisions intentionally that are not consistent with being supportive, that are actually detrimental to being a police officer,” Ohl explained.
Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther explains he has talked with mayors across the country, and other major cities are also seeing officers leave departments.
He argues that is why he pushed so hard to keep the June recruit class, where 45 recruits will hopefully become Columbus police officers.
“I think there is a concern, but there also may be a blessing in disguise. That will create more opportunities to bring in new blood, who may be more in line with our vision of becoming a 21st century community policing organization,” Ginther said.
Ohl says his concern about the number of officers who are leaving the department is for the citizens and their safety.
“They are going to have to stop sending the police on certain calls. They are going to have to prioritize, especially when the predominant problem you have is violent crime,” Ohl said.
“The scary part is that if we lose too many, we're not able to give the citizens the services that they need in the city,” said Ferrell.
There is another recruit class set to graduate in July that would add 41 officers to the Columbus Division of Police. Even so, numbers show those recruits would still not be enough to keep up with the current attrition rate.