Pennsylvania law enforcement experts say they are facing a historic shortage of police officers amid a rise in crime across the state.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro recently met with Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw and several area police chiefs to discuss short- and long-term solutions to the recruitment and retention crisis.
Currently, the state has 1,229 vacant law enforcement positions. Part of the reason, according to Shapiro, is that fewer people want to pursue careers in the profession.
“The fact is, and we see this, fewer young people are deciding to make law enforcement their career,” Shapiro said. “That’s a problem. And it’s going to lead to long-term negative consequences in our communities.”
Outlaw said the low staff numbers, coupled with rising crime rates, are exhausting resources.
“They’re all just bearing heavier caseloads, suffering from burnout and experiencing increased stress,” Outlaw told WHYY-PBS.
For comparison, in 2015, the Philadelphia Police Department had 6,600 sworn officers and 800 civilian personnel on staff. This year, the department has 5,900 sworn officers and 600 civilian personnel working full time.
To manage the staffing shortage, Outlaw has transferred officers from special units and administrative assignments to patrol high-crime areas in the city.
However, Outlaw said this strategy is not a sustainable solution.
“But the truth is these efforts are just pulling from the same diminishing pool of resources,” she said, explaining that the department urgently needs more detectives and patrol officers to investigate and prevent crimes.
“To put it plainly, we’re just robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Outlaw continued. “We know that rapidly increasing caseloads and reduced staffing equals lower case clearance rates, and lower clearance rates aren’t just about numbers or percentages. We’re talking about finding justice for victims and bringing closure to loved ones. It’s about healing our communities and about living freely without fear.”
Shapiro said that police are stressed by the situation and, as a result, struggling to meet their obligations to engage and build trust with the community.
“And that confidence really matters because having it leads to more tips from the public, more cooperation in solving crime, and it leads, importantly, to safer streets,” Shapiro said.
Shapiro cited low pay and morale as contributing factors to lack of applicants. To change this, he urged lawmakers to voice their support for law enforcement and increase funding.
“It’s not just pay or pay differences or the inability to pay a competitive wage,” Shapiro said. “Oftentimes, would-be applicants are choosing not to apply because police feel beaten down in our communities.”
He also called on lawmakers to incentivize officers with signing and retention bonuses. Shapiro hopes the potential changes they can bring to the table will help add more officers to the ranks.
“It’s time for Democrats and Republicans to come together and invest in policing here in Pennsylvania,” he said. “I want to hire 1,000 new police officers in the Commonwealth right away. We have the funds to do that. We have the leadership that wants to do it. It’s time for the politicians to act.”