Police departments face serious problems retaining and recruiting officers, according to new data describing the constant exodus from an occupation that was the target of protests last year after several high-profile police assassinations.
“We have lost about a third of our staff to resignation and retirement,” said Chief David Zack of the Asheville North Carolina Police Department – over 80 officers out of a full complement of 238. “Certainly with the way the police have been portrayed and vilified in some cases, they have decided that this is not the life for them.
These cuts in Ashville echo a national trend. A survey of around 200 police departments indicates that retirements increased by 45% and resignations by 18% between April 2020 and April 2021, compared to the previous 12 months. The percentage of officers who left tended to be larger for departments in large and medium-sized cities, according to the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington political institute that will release full data next week.
“This is an evolving crisis,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the organization.
Last year’s departures came amid protests that erupted nationwide when George Floyd was assassinated by a Minneapolis cop, as well as the police murders of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky., and Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta. The aggressive tactics that some officers used against protesters often compounded the vitriol against the police.
The future of the police has been called into question, with requests for funding from departments or for assigning some of their tasks to civilian agencies. The coronavirus pandemic has also taken its toll, with cities cutting budgets and some officers deciding that risking their health through potential exposure to the virus puts their families at risk. The pandemic has also led to an increase in the most violent crimes.
“It is an extremely difficult time to be a police officer,” said Maria Haberfeld, a political science professor who trains police officers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
Cities where protests were rife last year have seen substantial departures of their police forces.
In New York, 2,600 officers retired in 2020, according to police statistics, after 1,509 retirements the previous year. In Portland, Oregon, 69 officers resigned and 75 retired from April 2020 to April 2021, up from 27 and 14 the year before. In Seattle, resignations fell from 34 to 123 and retirements to 96 to 43.
Seattle was left with 150 fewer patrollers than expected, and for months just over half of the highest-priority 911 calls were answered within the targeted seven-minute timeframe, according to police statistics. .
Many cities are also having a harder time attracting recruits, with the number of new hires in Portland dropping from 69 to 30 and Seattle to 44 from 119.
After skipping all police training last year for budget reasons, St. Paul, Minn., Received 178 requests this year, down about half from the 366 received in 2016, said Sgt. Natalie Davis, police spokesperson.
While the city is allowed to have 620 police officers, it currently has around 580 police officers. This means that the ministry has transferred officers to patrol duties from specialized units such as those that track drugs, gangs and guns. , said Sergeant Davis.
There is a broad consensus that another reason why detention has suffered is that the police are being asked too much to do so. In addition to dealing with crime, they also take care of mental health issues, addiction and homelessness, as well as the occasional lost dog. Passers-by’s body cameras and cell phones, which increase the likelihood of officers being held responsible for misconduct, put them under close surveillance.
“We’ve asked too much of the police, and they’ve caught up with us nationwide,” Chief Zack said in Asheville.
He and others noted that the police had already gone through similar periods of crisis and low morale, but that the challenges of the past year had been more severe.
Some police departments are responding by trying to expand the pool of candidates, in some cases using federal bailout dollars to back up their efforts.
The New York Police Department recently waived its $ 40 registration fee for people who want to take the police test, officials said. In April, applications jumped by about a quarter, with 14,502 people registered.
Some cities have reduced the number of recruits needed for college education, while Allentown, Pa. Proposed that the ban on recruits who had used marijuana up to three years previously be reduced to one year.
Police officials and experts said the changes could provide ministries with an opportunity to focus on the type of men and women who are becoming officers at a time when the public broadly supports the change.
“It’s not necessarily a bad thing to have to rethink who you want to be a police officer,” said Philip M. Stinson, a former officer who is now a professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.