Philadelphia’s police force is shrinking as crime in the city is on the rise.
The reasons for the shortage are a lack of recruits and a surge in retirements. A Philadelphia Inquirer report detailed the crisis that law enforcement in Philadelphia and across the country find themselves in.
Mike Neilon, spokesperson for the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police said of the situation, “It’s the perfect storm. We are anticipating that the department is going to be understaffed by several hundred members, because hundreds of guys are either retiring or taking other jobs and leaving the department.”
Philadelphia’s police department currently has 6,100 officers, 300 less than what they are budgeted to have. However, if the trend of more officers leaving the force each year continues, that number may dip below 6,000.
With less officers on the force, law enforcement becomes less effective and crime naturally rises. Maria Haberfeld, a police science professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice said, “Less officers translate into a less effective response time.”
She also mentioned the effect that overtime has on efficacy. “If you are in your 13th, 14th, 15th hour of overtime, your effectiveness obviously goes down,” she said.
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw also expressed her fears: “If we don’t start paying attention to this now, later on down the road, months, years from now or at least a year from now, I think we’ll be at a point of criticality,” she said.
The department is struggling to find new recruits during the pandemic, and at a time when the law enforcement profession is dealing with constant negative press.
“Every action has a reaction. When you vilify every police officer for every bad police officer’s decision, [people] don’t want to take this job anymore,” said Pat Colligan, president of the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association. “It’s been a very trying and difficult time to put on the badge every day. There’s a recruiting crisis,” he explained.
According to NBC 10, hundreds of recruits’ applications have been put on a hold and the academy has paused processing new recruits in the city. The last graduating class of recruits in Philadelphia was in March 2020.
Jack Rinchich, president of the 4,000-member National Association of Chiefs of Police, said that officers are demoralized due to the anti-law enforcement climate.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that what’s transpiring in our nation today is contributing to the lack of retention and the difficulty in hiring new officers. A lot of cops right now in view of the environment are saying, ‘Hey, I’ve gone 20, 30 years without being sued, shot, or divorced. I’m going to get out while I have an opportunity,’” Rinchich said.
In addition to bad press, law enforcement agencies throughout the country are being forced to eliminate special units like SWAT and K-9 teams due to budget cuts.
Haverford Township Police Chief John Viola explained, “It’s something that all departments have recognized as something that’s getting harder and harder. People don’t want to be police anymore. It’s a good job, and good-paying job, but when you look at national news every day, people just don’t want to be officers.”