Law enforcement leaders are sounding the alarm on critical staffing shortages affecting police departments in 11 cities across the country.
National Police Association spokesperson retired Sergeant Betsy Branter-Smith recently announced that small and large departments in New York City; Chicago; Los Angeles; Philadelphia; Seattle; St. Louis; Louisville, Kentucky; Austin and San Antonio, Texas; and Phoenix and Tuscon, Arizona, have experienced low staffing levels following the killing of George Floyd in 2020 and subsequent anti-police rhetoric and defunding movement.
“I think this could be a generational problem,” Branter-Smith said. “This could go on for years. Even if, let’s say, I could flip a magic switch tomorrow, and everyone loved the police and every kid in America wanted to be a cop … it takes nine months to a year from the date of hire for a person to become a police officer. So, there’s one problem. Even if we could fix this tomorrow, it’ll be a year before any of those staffing issues are addressed.”
According to Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrel, the Seattle Police Department lost 400 officers between 2020 and 2022, and the number of deployable officers dropped to 954 this year, resulting in the lowest number of police officers in 30 years. In addition, the department has seen a 40% drop in detectives, which has increased both the time needed for investigative work and overtime expenses.
“When you add to the realization that Washington state already ranks at the bottom of police officers per thousand residents in this country, you can see why crime rates have skyrocketed. Homicide rates are at their highest rates in recorded history in many cities,” Washington State Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) President Marco Monteblanco said, adding that 86% of Washington agencies are “ experiencing some sort of staffing shortage.”
“Experts will debate the root cause of this, but the [FOP] has stated before how the demonization of our profession by some politicians has negatively affected the rank-and-file officers throughout this country, and the failure to hold career criminals accountable for their actions has frustrated our officers who sacrifice their lives every day to protect the citizens they serve,” Monteblanco continued.
The New York Police Department said that 4,000 officers are set to leave by the end of 2022.
“We keep ringing the alarm bell louder and louder, and every month the numbers get worse. We have gone from a staffing problem to a staffing crisis and, now, to a full-blown staffing emergency,” NYC Police Benevolent Association (PBA) President Patrick Lynch said in a statement. “The city must immediately address the low pay and punishing work schedules that are driving cops out.”
In Chicago, the number of active-duty personnel has been on a steady decline since 2017. The Louisville Police Department is 300 officers short of its authorized level, and 100 officers will be eligible for retirement by the end of the year. In Phoenix, the department is more than 500 officers short.
Branter-Smith said that in St. Louis, politicians who supported the defunding movement are to blame for low staffing levels, despite police acting heroically in the face of increasing danger.
“We had a big school shooting here in St. Louis. And what did the St. Louis Police Department — who is horrifically short-staffed and one of the most vilified police departments in the country — what did they do? Ran toward the shots, got up to the third floor, killed the shooter, took care of business, rescued all these kids. Their response was just textbook,” Branter-Smith said.
“That has to stop,” she continued, commenting on the demonization of law enforcement. “Every single jurisdiction from the tiniest town or county to the biggest of cities is going to have to basically start a marketing campaign to get police officers. They’re going to have to stop anti-cop rhetoric. They’re going to have to stop the anti-cop actions.”
Branter-Smith, who has worked in law enforcement for the past 29 years, called it “the best job on the planet,” and urged communities and politicians to support local police. She also called for more funding, financial and hiring incentives, effective training and strong leadership to counter the staffing crisis.
“Officers who do not feel supported are not going to stay,” and agencies “will not get anyone to take this job regardless of the benefits,” Monteblanco noted.
“What we can do is make sure that our officers are paid accordingly, have proper time off to reenergize, the ability to have proper training and address long-term benefits with our pensions,” he continued. “Most importantly, a general change in the climate toward us in the media and with many of our politicians would make the most impact on overall morale.”