As the Journal’s Stacey Sheridan reported last week, Oak Park’s police department is down by 15 sworn positions. Thirteen openings are for patrol positions. Two commander slots are also open.
The vacancies have been fueled by a wave of resignations, several retirements, and one officer fired. Oak Park is certainly not alone in losing police officers. In a too rare interview with the local paper, Chief LaDon Reynolds pointed to multiple factors leading to the mass of vacancies. Rethinking of policing, its reform, and deserved criticism of some aspects of how we are policed in America have some officer rethinking if they want to continue in the profession, and more locally if they want to continue policing in Oak Park. COVID has made all professions harder, certainly policing high among them.
But the vacancy level locally is astounding. And for the reasons some officers are leaving, fewer young people are eager to sign on. That leaves the new phenomenon of “lateral hires” as one avenue to fill open positions. Can Oak Park find officers departing another force who want to join up here? The village’s police and fire board is currently working to craft a policy on such hires. There are pros and cons and complications involved.
We’d argue policing needs more new blood and new thinking. Shuffling officers among departments brings in more veteran officers, which is potentially a mixed bag. And at what pay grade do you hire a veteran?
Finally, we’d note that recruiting officers for a department in which it is uncertain if the chief is staying or going doesn’t help. Reynolds has been nominated to be the U.S. Marshal for Northern Illinois. If, in broken Washington D.C., that nomination ever comes to a vote in the Senate it’s a crap shoot.