When Michael Lappe, vice president of the board of trustees for the Policemen’s Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago, registered the retirements of nearly 60 Chicago officers in August, then another 50-plus in September, he was shocked at the numbers.
“That’s unheard of,” he explained to the Chicago Sun-Times. “We’re seeing double the average number of retirees each month. The average is about 24 a month.”
Chicago is not alone. A 2019 survey conducted by the Police Executive Research Forum of more than 400 law enforcement agencies discovered 41% admitted staffing shortages, and approximately half reported decreasing career tenures.
Indeed, the profession is undergoing an aging crisis. The 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act pledged to dispatch 100,000 new police officers by 2000 and established the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office in the U.S. Department of Justice, which dispensed billions in grants to departments to help cover hiring costs. More than 25 years later, many of the people hired now are playing the retirement card. It’s a trend affecting agencies of all sizes.
The Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training reports that approximately one-third of the state’s 10,961 sworn peace officers will be age 50 or older. In Duluth, the police department employs fewer than 160 officers, but according to Chief Mike Tusken, more than 20% will retire in the next three years.
“We’re about to lose hundreds of years of experience. That’s scary,” he said to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “But at the same time, it’s an opportunity for people to come in with new ideas and perspectives that haven’t been institutionalized in the police culture.”
The Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C., addressed its aging workforce a few years ago by inviting back retired officers for an additional five years. They’re eligible to collect a salary on top of their pensions. However, that program is approaching its end date soon and has yet to be renewed.
A bigger concern for the agency policing the nation’s capital is the attrition of younger officers. The Washington Post reports resignations at the agency have remained steady or increased each year for the past five years, with a high of 143 in 2019. Chief Peter Newsham told the newspaper that individuals are mostly likely to leave the force within the first five years. Some seek positions with other departments or federal law enforcement agencies, oftentimes for more money. Some just leave the profession.
Of course, morale plays a factor. Several law enforcement organizations reported a surge of resignations last year after protests and calls for defunding.
During the presidential campaign, President-elect Joe Biden promised to revitalize the COPS Office, which lost a percentage of funding since its inception, with a $300 million investment.