Since the death of George Floyd and the chaotic year of protests and riots that followed, law enforcement across the country has had a tough time recruiting new members to the force and retaining current officers.
Mass protests, defunding police budgets,and increased threats to personal safety, especially during the pandemic, have contributed to low officer morale.
According to the AP, some departments have experienced a 45% increase in retirements this year compared to the year before. Research conducted by the Police Executive Research Forum found that hiring slowed by 5% in the group.
Recruiting standards in policing are also changing. Recruiters say they are actively looking for those with intelligence and the ability to represent the community, rather than focusing on physical strength.
Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant said that it’s more important these days to be able to relate to the community than to be physically strong. “Days of old, you wanted someone who actually had the strength to be more physical,” Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant said. “Today’s police officers, that’s not what we’re looking for. We’re looking for someone who can actually relate to the community but also think like the community thinks.”
With the struggle to fill positions ongoing, shrinking police budgets and an increase in overall crime, the head of the Police Executive Research Forum Chuck Wexler said a crisis is looming on the horizon.
“It’s creating a crisis on the horizon for police chiefs when they look at the resources they need, especially during a period when we’re seeing an increase in murders and shootings,” Wexler said. “It’s a wake-up call.”
The difficulty in recruiting officers who represent their community is largely due to the negative perception towards law enforcement that exists in those communities.
“It’s hard to recruit the very people who see police as an opposition,” said Lynda R. Williams, president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.
“Some are angry. Some are fearful. Some are confused on what we do in this space. Some may feel a bit abandoned,” Bryant said last summer in an interview about officers’ reactions to the anti-police climate.
In Philadelphia and many other cities, departments are spending more time analyzing a candidate’s social media to look for possible “biases” that may be a liability. The AP did not specify what these biases were.
Other departments in cities like Dallas are struggling with pay disparities that make it difficult to attract potential officers and retain newly-trained recruits.
Dallas city leaders spent much of the last decade struggling to attract candidates and prevent the outflow of officers frustrated by low pay and the collapse of their pension fund.
The Dallas Police Department currently has 3,100 officers — down from more than 3,300 in 2015. Simultaneously, the city’s population has grown to more than 1.3 million.
Mike Mata, president of the Dallas Police Association, said the political climate and local pay and pension issues have made it a difficult time to bring in new blood.
Capt. Aaron McCraney, head of the Recruitment and Employment Division of the LAPD, along with Chief Michel Moore addressed several pressing issues facing the 48 new recruits, such as a pandemic, civil unrest and economic uncertainty.
“Even though these are tough times, these are difficult times, these are interesting times,” McCraney said, “these times will pass, and we’ll get on to things better.”