Kent council approves lateral hiring and retention bonus grant for police

Natalie Wolford/The Portager

The City of Kent will initiate a “lateral transfer” hiring program for employees after city council unanimously approved the measure on Aug. 3.

Kent Police Chief Nick Shearer championed the program, arguing that it would help his department become more competitive in recruiting experienced officers.

“Chief Shearer sort of spearheaded this because he saw the challenges in testing for police positions,” City Manager Dave Ruller said. “It’s true of all our positions but certainly police, in terms of attracting as many good candidates as we can.”

Lateral transfer hiring is the practice of hiring employees to a level that matches their current position with another organization, without requiring applicants to undergo the testing process a department uses for new hires.

Shearer spoke about how the practice has become increasingly commonplace in the hiring of police officers. He said Kent police lost an officer because of a lateral promotion to the Hudson Police Department recently.

“One of the major advantages to this is when you have an experienced police officer who sees an entry-level hiring process, they lose interest immediately; they don’t want to jump through all the hoops,” Shearer said. “There really isn’t a huge difference in the process. … It’s kind of a status thing. If you see a lateral process, generally speaking that’s what experienced officers are looking for.”

Shearer said the program would give all city departments more control over their hiring process and more ability to reach out and find candidates. But the program is critical in the law enforcement field, he said.

“The job market for police right now is probably more dire than most industries in this country, and we see what the job market right now is in terms of seeking candidates,” Shearer said. “We, as a police department, I think, are irresponsible if we don’t do everything in our power to find the best possible candidates we can to staff our ranks.”

The program was proposed by Shearer and supported by Christine Klein and Marilyn Sessions of Kent’s Civil Service Commission, which recommends rules for personnel changes in the city government. 

Civil Service Coordinator John Seidel said allowing departments to waive testing for qualified candidates would attract those who did not want to undergo the testing process, while saving the city time and money in hiring. Testing processes cost a minimum of $700, he said.

City council also voted to approve Shearer to accept money from the American Rescue Plan Law Enforcement Violence Reduction and Staffing Grant. Shearer applied for the grant to provide retention bonuses to the department’s employees.

“As much as I would have loved to apply for money for violence reduction, I am happy to say we did not qualify for that money because our violent crime rate is down,” Shearer said.

Instead the grant will be used to provide a 10% bonus, awarded in two installments, to all the department’s officers and dispatchers.

“It was mentioned earlier, we have somewhat recently lost an officer to a lateral transfer process to Hudson police, and [there is] the potential for that to continue,” Shearer said.

Retention bonuses could serve as a means to entice current officers to remain with the Kent Police Department, keeping staffing high alongside adopting the lateral transfer program to attract additional officers.

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Owen MacMillan is a reporter with the Collaborative News Lab @ Kent State University, producing local news coverage in partnership with The Portager.

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