Law Enforcement Officers Getting Younger

CLEVELAND (AP) - An apparent trend in Ohio law enforcement is that officers on average are getting younger, and less experienced, according to a published report.

Veteran law-enforcement officers are leaving their jobs and placing public safety in the hands of increasingly younger, less experienced police departments, The Plain Dealer reported Monday.

At the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department, after 12 retirements last year and a wave of hirings after the Sept. 11 attacks, one in five deputies now has less than 21 months of experience.

The Cleveland Police Department, which has 1,900 officers, has been losing about 100 annually in recent years. Of the dozen who were commanders last year, one-third have retired. Forty percent of the street-patrol officers have less than five years' experience.

Statewide, an average of 500 officers retired each year in the 1990s. That's up 88 percent from 260 in the 1970s, according to the Ohio Police and Fire Pension Fund. During the 1980s, about 400 officers retired each year.

Those leaving are often the most seasoned officers -- those in their late 40s, who retire or take more lucrative jobs in the private sector that allow them to earn paychecks at the same time they're drawing pensions of 60 percent or more of their former police pay.

To fill the gap, police departments are hiring a wave of recruits, and the result is the emergence of forces with less collective time on the job.

Hubert Williams, president of the Police Foundation, a Washington-based nonprofit organization, said the decision to leave is often about the money.

For many, retirement means launching a second career in teaching, security or other areas. Coupled with their pensions, these opportunities at the end of a police career are financially more attractive.

One of the objectives of a new state law is to entice officers to stay well after the 25-year mark at which they become eligible for pensions.

With the backing of the Police and Fire Pension Fund and police unions, legislators approved the Deferred Retirement Option Plan, which will allow police officers and firefighters to increase benefits upon retirement in exchange for deferring retirement up to eight years.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)