CIRCLEVILLE — Concerns from members of the Circleville Police and Fire departments about staffing and overtime issues were at the forefront of Circleville City Council’s Safety Committee meeting Tuesday.
Perhaps the most direct plea for the city to do something about the amount of overtime came from Bradley Rankin, a captain with the fire department. Rankin has been with the department for 23 years.
“What you need is to look at the actual people that are doing this job,” he said. “We have a lack of manpower. You need to get us that manpower. You just don’t understand how exhausting it is to work 24 hours and then know you’re going to work 12 then you’re going to get a little time off then you’re going to do 24 hours and then 12 and then get a little time off.”
Rankin said one member of the department worked three days straight on shift and highlighted how they are severely understaffed.
“We’re at an efficiency rating that’s not acceptable for the citizen’s of Circleville,” he said. “When we get on an EMS vehicle we have two people when we should have three.”
The topic of a proposed safety levy was once again brought up at the meeting, that measure was withdrawn due to council not wanting to incur the cost of a special election and consider it again for the general election in November or the primary next May.
Rankin said putting together a plan to make manpower the number one issue. He said that the department has a 70 percent turnover rate and called it unsafe.
“It shouldn’t be anything else,” he said. “If you want to do something for the citizens do that. Since I’ve been here, we’ve had a 70 percent turnover rate. In our profession 20 percent is considered ridiculous. That’s not retirement, that’s people leaving to go somewhere else.”
Rankin said those people left because of pay and unsafe working conditions.
“You can take care of one of those things with a safety levy and get conditions that are safer,” he said. “I’m sure the police are having people leave at the same rate as well.
Council member Barry Keller said the departments would need to support the levy if council decides that’s the best route forward.
“The last levy was passed in 1980 something and that was totally supported by the police union, the fire union and the volunteer EMS,” he said. “That will need to happen again.”
Rankin responded by saying that would totally happen, which was met with nods by many of the first responders, both fire and police personnel, who attended the meeting.
Police Chief Shawn Baer presented a picture of his department’s situation with the current levels of staffing.
“I can tell you one of the main reasons the guys are wanting to leave is fatigue,” he said. “The overtime is incredible. Sixteen-hour shifts are nothing for us. If you were driving a semi you wouldn’t be allowed to work a 16-hour shift but you can carry a gun and have people’s lives in your hands, drive home and everything else, and be off eight and then back to do another 16.”
Baer said an example in the radio room was they’ve had a couple dispatchers working 12-hour days for nine days straight.
“When you wonder why they’re leaving, if your employer did that to you would you think they cared about you?” Baer said. “The money is good but a lot of them would just like to be home with their newborn kid.”
Baer said they often loose officers to other surrounding areas that offer better pay, but they try to keep people by treating them right, which isn’t happening.
“If we’re not treating them like they’re cared for, what is their reason to stay here,” Baer said. “In all reality nobody wants to stay where they’re not appreciated and I think that’s a key factor in all of this.”
Baer said this problem is not new to Circleville. He said in 2017 he wrote a letter on the topic and has seen similar letters throughout the department’s history from previous chiefs of police.
“I was able to pull a letter from Chief [Wayne] Gray, from Chief [Bob] Temple, from Chief [Smallwood], all saying the same thing,” he said.
Baer called for action, much like Rankin.
“We need to do something, we need to quit talking about it and to quit planning for it and just do something,” Baer said. “We need to not have analysis paralysis. We’re asking for help from council because we need it. We’re asking the officers to go do things all the time. We need to share the load.”
The entire discussion was brought on after Joe Hegedus, an attorney with the Ohio Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the union to which Circleville police officers belong, spoke about the situation at last weeks meeting and members of council wanted to figure out a way to maybe cut overtime costs and use that money to hire more full time officers. The city spent $260,000 on overtime for uniformed police officers in 2018.
Tony Chamberlin, HR Director for the city, said it wasn’t as simple of a solution as just hiring however many officers and then getting rid of overtime due to the nature of how police officers are trained and how much it costs to outfit them.
“It’s not a plug and play,” he said. “You can’t hire someone and say we’ve saved x amount of hours yearly of overtime…nobody likes to hear this but you have to spend money to save money. You have to still pay that rate and hire new people and train those new people before you can lower overtime.”
Chamberlain said he did believe hiring more officers would help with the overtime problem.
“It won’t save it immediately, but it will most definitely save money once we get up to full staff and can retain those people,” he said.