NC attorney general proposes bonuses for hiring out-of-state officers to address shrinking police forces
Searching For ‘the Next Generation of Cops
The New Orleans police department is hiring civilians to help its officer shortage
SDPD Staffing Crisis Expected to Continue for Years
Faced with shrinking ranks, LAPD looks to rehire retired officers
Over the last couple of years we have seen articles and publications, one right after the other, chronicling the shortage of law enforcement candidates and the mass exodus from the ranks of policing across the United States. The scholarly articles in legacy police leadership publications spend a great deal of time brainstorming creative and innovative ways to recruit and retain officers often reverting to old, tired methods. The opinion pieces in newspapers and the pundits on television are focusing upon the desire to supplant police officers with civilians and divert funding towards social programs to make criminals into better citizens. As we approach the third anniversary of the death of George Floyd, it is becoming evident that the “defund the police” movement has been a success, but not in the way we thought. The municipalities who employ police officers did not need to divert and/or eliminate any funds, although some did. The law enforcement profession is imploding itself, and the situation is dire.
Between the lines
The basic underlying job description of a police officer has not changed much over the years. The preservation of peace, apprehension of criminals, protection of society, etc. remain the primary objectives. The inherent risks of injury, death, psychological trauma and physical stress-related disorders remain the hallmark of a law enforcement career. Up until now, people accepted these inherent risks in exchange for the reward of being a public servant despite disparate under-compensation. What has changed in recent years is the overall desirability of policing as a career. So what are the reasons for this shift? Why are people leaving the profession early? Why are there so many vacancies? Quite honestly, the profession has become so undesirable and thankless that few want to sign up, and larger numbers of existing officers are entering into other occupations and/or seeking employment elsewhere in departments with a more supportive geo-political landscape. How can we blame them?
Think about what a true and accurate police officer job description looks like today:
- Risk of job loss at any moment with the prospect of civil and criminal prosecution
- Risk of harm to immediate family subsequent to a controversial community incident due to widespread exposure and release of names
- Lack of support from politicians, civic leaders and the general public
- Constant 24/7/365 video monitoring and documentation of every single encounter shared publicly on social media and the internet for the world to see
- Inability to defend against attack and make arrests as force options diminish (see last month’s BTL Article entitled The police reform goal: use of force without options )
I’m sorry folks but unless something dramatically changes, these huge vacancies are not going to get filled anytime soon and officers are going to continue to flee the profession. By the way, increasing the compensation with hiring/retention bonuses, pay incentives and other perks isn’t going to be enough to entice more applications and stave off departures. In the short term, it will perhaps make one agency more attractive than another, but it isn’t going to result in a groundswell of interest from the shrinking candidate pool. Some departments are going so far as to ask recently-retired officers to return to the profession for an increase in pay and benefits. Ask the officers who are departing early from the profession whether pay and benefits are the main factors in their decision to leave prematurely. I can assure you they are not.
Tangentially, there is a big elephant in the room. That elephant is the temptation to lower hiring standards in order to expand the candidate pools. History tells us this is a recipe for disaster. Departments who have reduced standards to meet hiring quotas in the past always end up with a significantly higher number of problem officers in the ranks. The recent Memphis PD Tyree Nichols death is a prime example. To wit: these are just short-term remedies with long term negative consequences.
Here is the worst part. Lowering standards equates to future headlines and viral videos about bad cops that will only serve to feed and fuel the ongoing narrative from the public and the anti-police factions regarding systemic abuses and police corruption. In other words, putting unsuitable candidates into the policing profession isn’t going to improve the already dire situation; it will make it much worse.
I wish I had the magic pill remedy to fix this problem, but it doesn’t exist. I’m afraid the policing profession will have to reach rock bottom before the public, politicians and leaders realize that the constant demonization is the root cause of extremely dangerously low staffing levels and the degradation of public safety. If or when that occurs, perhaps support will return and policing can flourish once again as a desirable vocation. But as long as support wanes, I foresee the exodus and vacancies continuing into the foreseeable future. In the meantime, police leaders and their advocacy organizations should work harder to negate the negativity and showcase the positive aspects of the policing profession. Additionally, every law enforcement leader should work harder to preserve the hiring standards and not permit any further erosion of morale by acquiescence to demands from the detractors.
All the staffing money in the world is worthless if the vacancies can’t get filled. Police critics who undermine the efforts of law enforcement and push for more restrictive limits are not going to be the ones responding to the 911 calls for help. Without a seismic shift in desirability, the profession will continue to defund itself. This is the unspoken truth.