Amid growing calls for police reform and national debate over the deadly use of force, police departments are struggling to retain and attract officers, law enforcement officials say.
Across the nation, police officials and union leaders described the state of recruiting as in “crisis” mode.
“It’s the perfect storm. We are anticipating that the department is going to be understaffed by several hundred members, because hundreds of guys are either retiring or taking other jobs and leaving the department,” said Mike Neilon, spokesperson for the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 5, the union that represents city police officers.
Law enforcement officials attributed the decline in interest in police jobs to a confluence of events, from the national outcry over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the murder trial of his convicted killer, former Officer Derek Chauvin, to the general mistrust of police authority.
“Every action has a reaction. When you vilify every police officer for every bad police officer’s decision, (people) don’t want to take this job anymore,” said Pat Colligan, president of the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association, the state’s largest police union
“It’s been a very trying and difficult time to put on the badge every day,” he added. “There’s a recruiting crisis.”
Departments across the country are grappling with the fallout of Floyd’s murder, said Jack Rinchich, president of the 4,000-member National Association of Chiefs of Police.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that what’s transpiring in our nation today is contributing to the lack of retention and the difficulty in hiring new officers. A lot of cops right now in view of the environment are saying, ‘Hey, I’ve gone 20, 30 years without being sued, shot or divorced. I’m going to get out while I have an opportunity,’ ” Rinchich said.
Officers are demoralized, he said, by some departments’ decisions to eliminate specialized units, such as SWAT and K-9 teams, and from local officials freezing and cutting police budgets and debating whether to strip officers of qualified immunity, which shields them from being sued in most cases.
“People don’t want to be police anymore. It’s a good job, and good-paying job, but when you look at national news every day, people just don’t want to be officers,” said John Viola, police chief of Haverford Township outside of Philadelphia.
His own department, in previous years, would get applicant pools of 200 or 300. So far during the current open call for applicants, which ends April 30, only 72 people have applied, he said.
In New Jersey, Col. Patrick Callahan, the acting superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, said the state’s largest police agency is facing a “historically low” applicant pool this year.
There are some departments that have yet to experience recruitment declines.
”From our perspective, the Pennsylvania State Police have never had a problem attracting applicants. Part of that has to do with the very attractive pay and benefits we offer our recruits, and the breadth and depth of opportunity that the department provides people to take on many roles and advance their career” said Ryan Tarkowski, state police spokesperson.
The starting salary, he said, is $63,364. “We have far more applications coming in than we have spots available,” he said.