by Alex Boesch, Student Public Relations Writer
A one-of-a-kind program is vetting college students for careers in law enforcement, and Cedarville University criminal justice majors are taking full advantage.
The state of Ohio’s College to Law Enforcement Pathway Program (CLEPP), introduced by Gov. Mike DeWine in 2020, identifies high-performing college students interested in having a career in criminal justice. The pilot program, directed by Dr. Patrick Oliver, director of Cedarville University’s criminal justice program and former chief of the Cleveland Metroparks Police Department and chief of police in the cities of Cleveland, Grandview Heights, and Fairborn, Ohio, is currently underway at Cedarville University and Central State University.
The program started at a time when police departments were having difficulty hiring and retaining qualified police officers. According to the Police Executive Research Forum, police hirings are down 3.9% since 2019. And complicating matters is that departments are seeing 23.6% more officer retirements and 42.7% additional resignations.
That’s when Gov. DeWine established the Office of Law Enforcement Recruitment and appointed Oliver to serve as lead consultant and director of the CLEPP program. Oliver’s task is to help Ohio police departments find quality officers with an emphasis on female and minority candidates.
“We wanted to help state and local law enforcement agencies find qualified applicants,” said Oliver. “A top concern is that many police departments can’t find quality applicants. It’s even more difficult to find qualified minorities and women to serve.”
Students who graduate from the rigorous program are guaranteed a position as a law enforcement officer with any participating law enforcement agency that has a current vacancy. There are 10 law enforcement agencies in Ohio participating in the program, including Fairfield Township Police Department, Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks, Dublin Police Department, Hilliard Police Department, Lebanon Police Department, Delaware County Sheriff’s Office, Union County Sheriff’s Office, Ohio State University Police Department, and the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
Three students from Cedarville University are in the program, while three of Cedarville’s recent graduates in 2022 have been placed in jobs.
Taylor Smart and Connor Swayne both graduated from the program in 2022. Smart is now a police officer in training with the Beavercreek (Ohio) Police Department, and Swayne is currently participating in a 14-week officer’s field training program with the Union County Sheriff’s Department. He recently completed basic training with the Ohio State Highway Patrol Academy in Columbus.
“I had always been interested in something to do with criminal justice,” said Smart. “As a Christian, I want to help bring justice into the world. I probably envisioned myself in a crime lab examining evidence, but prayer and this program opened the door to law enforcement, and I haven’t looked back.”
In less than a year after graduation, Smart has trained to become a quality addition to Beavercreek's police force.
“I’m already the one who drives the police vehicle and makes calls,” said Smart. “In a few weeks, I will be out of training and operating solo. I have really enjoyed interacting with so many diverse groups of people and building trust with those who have never interacted with police before. I’ll look forward to continuing that after I complete my training.”
A rigorous three-day-a-week workout program and comprehensive content offerings prepared Smart for her current role.
“The CLEPP program was really good preparation for the police academy,” said Smart. “I appreciated that the program didn’t shy away from hard topics, such as mental health for police officers. It was good that they exposed us to that stuff so we could be ready. The workout requirements were helpful as well. You never know when the effort you put into being physically capable can make a difference in this job.”
The CLEPP program allowed Smart, and all other officer candidates, to complete several screening requirements early, as opposed to after graduation like most law enforcement candidates. This includes an interview, background check, polygraph, psychological examination and more. As a result, Smart was able to breeze through Beavercreek Police Department’s hiring process in less than a month instead of the typical 12 weeks.
“She’s fitting in and acclimating very well,” said Jeff Fiorita, chief of police in Beavercreek, Ohio. “We felt early that we wanted to partner with this program to find good female and minority police candidates. Taylor Smart is the very first intern that came to us, and we are looking forward to more candidates this year. I am sure this program will be a huge benefit to law enforcement.”
Senior Will Geist from Springfield, Ohio, is among the next wave of students enrolled in the program with plans to join a local law enforcement agency this summer.
Geist credits his criminal justice studies at Cedarville for preparing him to serve local communities as a police officer.
“My major has given me vital skills in writing competency, verbal communication proficiency, teamwork skills, and a broad and deep knowledge base,” said Geist. “The best part about my studies is the chance to learn from professionals who have vast experience in the field of criminal justice and hear their stories. They provide important insight into what actually happens in law enforcement.”
To qualify for the College to Law Enforcement Pathway program, students must hold a 3.0 GPA or higher and embody five characteristics: integrity, service, good human relations, teamwork and being performance-driven. After an intense interview process, successful candidates are selected, placed in the program, and vetted to determine if they would be quality officers. “This program is the only one of its kind in the country,” said Oliver. “I hope it will provide quality police officers who can reduce police misconduct and promote justice across the state.”
Located in southwest Ohio, Cedarville University is an accredited, Christ-centered, Baptist institution with an enrollment of 5,082 undergraduate, graduate, and dual-enrolled high school students in more than 175 areas of study. Founded in 1887, Cedarville is one of the largest private universities in Ohio, recognized nationally for its authentic Christian community, rigorous academic programs, high graduation and retention rates, accredited professional and health science offerings, and the #4 national ranking by the Wall Street Journal for student engagement. For more information about the University, visit cedarville.edu.