Most years, Riverside Police Chief Tom Weitzel fields an average of 200 applicants seeking to join his small department serving the suburb a few miles outside of Chicago. Typically, 30 to 40 candidates make it through the application process and are considered for hiring. But 2020 was not most years, and now he faces the possibility of not recruiting enough officers to replace personnel who plan to retire.
Not only are fewer people signing up to enter the talent pipeline, but there’s also anecdotal evidence that candidates are pulling out along the way. Weitzel told the Chicago Sun-Times he’s seen recruits who passed the written exam and secured interviews withdraw from the process. One individual even explained in a letter to the chief that “law enforcement wasn’t for them anymore.”
Police chiefs in neighboring Indiana report similar situations.
“It’s very difficult for us to find and recruit, especially minority candidates, but anybody. Our last hiring process, we got zero qualified candidates,” West Lafayette Police Chief Troy Harris told WLFI.
The news station added that his department registered a 75% drop in applicants last year.
In fact, small and mid-sized police agencies across the country are reporting difficulties filling the need for the next generation of cops.
“Right now, we’re between 40 and 50 people short, that’s for our jail and patrol division,” said Sergeant Ashley Henson of the Paulding County Sheriff’s Office in Georgia.
The situation has prompted organizations to get creative and pull together to tackle the common conundrum. Henson, for example, joined recruiters from approximately 50 other law enforcement agencies at the Georgia Police Jobs Fair in January, where they could meet individuals seriously considering law enforcement careers.
“People are still wanting to make a difference,” said Officer April Van Alstine from Holly Springs Police Department, per Fox 5 in Atlanta. “They’re still wanting to help the communities they’re in.”