Since 2020, police chiefs have been leaving their positions in major departments at an alarming rate.
According to the Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCCA), over the last two years, 39 police chiefs out of the organization’s 79 members have left their roles, whether by resignation, termination or retirement.
MCCA Executive Director Laura Cooper said she expects more will leave this year.
“We do expect a couple more by the end of the year. Even more have indicated that they have every intention of retiring in early 2022,” Cooper said. “It’s definitely an issue that we’re seeing because we’re talking about nearly half of our membership.”
Police chiefs quit this year from cities like Portland, Oregon, Dallas, Louisville, Miami, Boston and Detroit. Meanwhile, chiefs in Sacramento and Long Beach, California, are set to retire in December.
So, what is the reason for the high turnover rate of police chiefs? According to Cooper, it’s due to mounting political pressure or high-profile police killings.
Departments in larger cities have faced greater political pressure for reform from politicians and the community after the death of George Floyd last year, and the protests that over police brutality and racial injustice that followed. Experts say the political and cultural pressure is a key driver behind the exodus of police chiefs.
“Being a police chief in America today is maybe one of the most daunting jobs there is,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF). “You have a lot of competing challenges — funding issues, violent crime issues, implementing de-escalation, and community trust issues.”
PERF, a nonprofit police research and policy organization, is hired by agencies to facilitate the process of selecting potential police chiefs.
Wexler said that the average yearly turnover rate for police chiefs is around 25%, and that this year’s increase is representative of the political shift and the “enormous pressure for change.”
As many chiefs leave, there is a vacuum of opportunity for new chiefs who can implement the reforms so desperately sought after by the federal government and attorney generals, who are working with courts to try to impose stricter use of force rules and stronger civilian oversight.
According to a CNN report, attorney generals in California, Illinois and Colorado announced pattern-and-practice investigations into city agencies.
“We’re at a turning point in American policing where the next generation of police leaders has an opportunity to step up,” Wexler said. “So while there are challenges, there are great opportunities because policing is going to change but it’s going to be a function of this next generation.”
Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn, the city’s first Black police chief, said he plans to retire after four years, citing the stress endured over the last two years. Hahn said he received “legitimate death threats” from people threatening to go to his home during the protests following Floyd’s death. He told CNN that he had to have police officers guard his family in his home.
“So that adds to the challenges and, at some point, you have to ask yourself how long do you want to put your family through this?” said Hahn, who has two teenage daughters.
Hahn added that during the protests, Black police officers were “disowned” by their own community.
But it’s not just police chiefs who are retiring. Officers are also leaving at a higher rate.
A May survey conducted by PERF found a 45% increase in officer retirements and a roughly 20% increase in resignations compared to last year.