Ohio township considers ending civil service testing for prospective police officers
Officials say that civil service testing has become a hindrance in attempts to recruit and hire officers in a timely manner
By Bill DeBus
WILLOUGHBY, Ohio — Madison Township is looking at abolishing civil service testing as a requirement for police-officer applicants.
Township government officials noted that civil service testing has become a hindrance in attempts to recruit and hire officers in a timely manner, when openings arise at the community's Police Department.
"It's just putting us in the position where it's making it so difficult to hire," Police Chief Matthew Byers said.
Byers has asked that township trustees approve a resolution eliminating civil service testing as a mandate for employment as an officer. The chief issued that request during the township trustees board meeting on Oct. 25.
"I think that, unfortunately, (civil service testing as a requirement for officers to be hired) has outlived its usefulness with our current situation," Byers said.
Madison Township has been using civil service tests in the hiring process for new police officers since around 1980, said Trustee Kenneth Gauntner Jr.
The township's police chief at that time, Patrick Walsh, was the one who convinced trustees to implement civil service testing for prospective police officers, Gauntner noted.
Gauntner, who was appointed as Madison Township administrator in February of 1982, said he had discussions with Walsh about why the chief was a proponent of civil service testing.
"It was a growing police department then, and (Walsh) was trying to professionalize the department," Gauntner said. "The hiring wasn't quite the way it ought to be. I think there was a lot of pressure being put on the police chief at the time to hire this friend or that friend and what have you.
"So civil service made a whole lot of sense back in 1980, when they did it."
Back in the 1980s, Gauntner said it was common to have 40 to 60 people sign up to take the civil service test to become a township officer. In recent years, however, the number of people taking the test has dwindled, Gauntner added.
Byers, offering a specific example, said the department's last civil service exam was taken by 11 people.
After background checks were completed, the list of prospective police officers dropped to eight.
"I could hire any one of the top six," Byers said.
Under civil service rules, Byers said those six people were the only people he could choose from, during a one-year period, to employ as new police officers. Within that same span, Byers would not be permitted to hire other qualified candidates, since their names weren't on the civil service eligibility list.
"So it's really handcuffing us," Byers said. "It's making an already truly difficult job, to keep our numbers up, more difficult."
Gauntner added that the department is competing "on an unfair playing field" against other area law-enforcement agencies that can recruit and hire new officers without the constraints of civil service testing and regulations.
If township trustees do approve a resolution to end civil-service testing for police-officer applicants, the board also would abolish the township Civil Service Commission, Gauntner said.
Evan Francis, who serves as chairman of the township Civil Service Commission, also attended the Oct. 25 meeting. Francis said he agrees with Byers' recommendation to end the use of civil service testing for prospective new officers.
" Chief Byers is doing an outstanding job, but he's basically hamstrung right now when it comes to hiring people on short notice," he said.
In today's society, becoming a police officer is not exactly a popular career choice, Francis added.
"So when we have police officer candidates coming along who desire to serve the Madison community, I think we need to (expedite) the hiring process, trust the chief's knowledge of the community, and his experience as a police academy instructor and graduate of the FBI National Academy," he said. "This change away from the Civil Service Commission makes all the sense in the world to me at this time."
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