• Wed. May 31st, 2023

Cincinnati police chief among opponents to lowering police recruits minimum age

By Susan Tebben  

Ohio Capital Journal

The leader of one of Ohio’s largest police forces does not support a bill that could bring younger officers to her department by lowering the minimum age from 21 to 18.

Cincinnati Police Chief Teresa Theetge recently spoke against House Bill 84, saying law enforcement agencies need resources for career pathways, not younger officers on patrol.

“I do not think an 18-year-old has the emotional or mental capacity to make the critical, split-second, life-or-death decisions that officers must make during the course of carrying out their duties,” Theetge said.

House Bill 84 would reduce the age requirement from 21 to 18 in Ohio law, making it permissible for the various departments across the state to hire younger cadets. Sponsors of the bill pushed for it to help with shortages of officers statewide.

CPD is actively hiring officers and recognizes the need for more, Theetge said, but as a woman who entered the police academy at 29, she recognizes the impact age can play in her profession.

“The experience, my life experiences – I was married, had four children – all of that came into play,” Theetge said.

She also knows that things have changed for law enforcement over the years. While she thinks training “is lightyears ahead of what it used to be,” there is no longer a separation between one police force’s actions and another’s.

“What happens in law enforcement no longer happens in a vacuum,” Theetge told the Ohio House Homeland Security Committee. “In 2020, I never would have thought what happened to George Floyd would affect Cincinnati residents, Cincinnati Police.”

But with ripple effects present, she sees the impact one small township’s choice of an officer has on her own department.

“Because if something goes awry with that employee, I may also be dealing with the consequences of that,” she said.

Civilians who said they have experience of police interactions gone awry also spoke against the bill. Members of Ohio Families Unite for Political Action and Change, including some who said they have lost family members to police incidents, said creating (or returning to) a culture where police officers were seen as community-oriented helpers rather than an entity to be feared should be more important than lowering the age of those police officers.

“When you create that culture where it’s really the neighborhood building safety together, I think that changes those interactions,” said Emily Cole, leader of OFUPAC.

Cole and attorney Spencer Cahoon pointed to academic studies on the formation of adult brains to argue that 18-year-old brains just aren’t ready for certain aspects of police work. That’s why police cadet programs exist to teach those aspects, often without firearms, as the individuals grow to the current age limit of 21, according to Cahoon.

“As we move forward changing the laws to set new policy, we should learn from our increasing knowledge and experience to avoid making decisions that, while addressing one problem, inadvertently create another,” Cahoon told the committee.

The bill also has opposition from the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio. Mike Weinman, government affairs director for the FOP of Ohio, said the 23,000-member group feared “these (18-year-old) officers, who can’t purchase a beer, will be left to fend for themselves to handle challenging calls that could expose them to second-guessing and trauma.”

Theetge said her department is working on improving the resources for officers, to attract those who are already old enough. That includes signing on to an initiative striving to recruit, retain and promote more women to the ranks, and allow them to have the work-life balance needed to raise a family.

She also pointed to an internal advisory board, made up only of non-supervisor police officers, who she said give feedback on how officers can do better.