'It's a Crisis': Historic Staffing Shortages Lead Police Departments Nationwide to Get Creative
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Recruiting and retention are two issues haunting police departments nationwide. Since 2020, a mass exodus of officers combined with record lows in new applicants has resulted in critical staffing shortages.
In Baltimore, Maryland, the Police Department lost nearly 300 officers in 2022 alone. Now, at unsustainable staffing levels, the city's police union warns their force is stretched too thin to keep the public safe.
Ranked one of the cities with the highest homicide rates, concerned citizens are urging officials to do something.
"Why do we keep losing kids? Why? We don't have enough police staff obviously, we heard this. We have a net loss. We don't have a community that wraps around," Blanca Topahuasco, a southeast Baltimore resident, told WJZ in a recent interview.
In a recent statement, Mike Mancuso, president of the Baltimore City Police Union, warned the department will only continue hemorrhaging officers if the city doesn't improve working conditions and drastically increase pay.
Baltimore isn't alone.
"We are at a point now where almost every large and mid-sized police department is having difficulty recruiting new police officers to the profession...it's a crisis because police officers are leaving their agencies in record numbers and we've got to replace those officers and it's getting more and more difficult to do so," National Police Association Spokesperson Sgt. Betsy Brantner Smith told CBN News.
In Seattle, fewer detectives are available to investigate sexual assault cases. Massachusetts State Police had to move troopers normally investigating homicides to street patrol and in Kansas City, vacancies are causing record-long wait times for 911 callers.
"I always wanted to be a cop. I always wanted to join the military. You have to be 21 to become a cop, so I just started out with the Army for five years and then...I just kind of had like a seamless transition right into the police academy, and then did that for six years," said former VA police officer Josh Blackford.
Now, the 32-year-old is walking away from what he once considered a dream job, determining the risk unworthy of the reward.
"I just got my W-2 in the mail the other day for last year. I worked the whole year, I quit January 4 of this year and my box one was $49,000 after being a cop for six years, and that was just, that alone, it 100 percent solidified my decision to leave," he told CBN News.
Low pay isn't the only reason behind this mass exodus. Cops leaving the force have cited burnout, low morale, and decreasing support from state and local leaders as deciding factors. Instances of excessive force cases, like in the recent death of Tyre Nichols, also continue to haunt departments.
"People are mad at you, your administration very often doesn't support you, you turn on the TV news and you hear that your profession is a bunch of racist jerks...then you're working 12, 14, 16 hours, six to seven days a week, seeing the most horrific things that society has to offer day, after day, after day," explained Brantner Smith.
She says departments are working to regain public trust through an increased focus on training and transparency.
"American law enforcement is always looking to improve and that's what we're seeing now," said Smith.
The Aurora Police Department in Colorado uses state-of-the-art technology to ensure transparency and accountability, making sure to inform the community about new developments in their policing through social media platforms.
"To build trust, people have to know what you're doing, why you do what you do, and sometimes we haven't historically been very good about offering those explanations," said APD Div. Chief Chris Juul.
As departments seek to win back the public and retain veteran officers, they're also getting creative to woo new recruits.
From catchy videos, to signing bonuses in the tens of thousands, departments are desperate to fill vacancies. The Virginia Beach Police Department deployed both of those strategies, along with streamlining the hiring process. That helped close the gap from 100 plus vacancies to just over 30.
"They wanted to serve their community, that was the biggest reason for the new class, the recruits entering into law enforcement. They really want to reach out to their community and be a positive change to that community," said MPO Stephen Policella, VBPD recruiting coordinator.
Aurora PD even took their recruiting efforts on the road, targeting locations with more diverse workforces. Their first stop: New York City.
"They're historically underpaid, you know, not a great work environment, commute times certainly long, so a lot of things that we can improve on if somebody made the decision to leave the station and come here," Chief Juul said.
That strategy paid off, with three former NYPD officers now preparing to start work out West.
"We've recently traveled to Atlanta, we've traveled to Albuquerque. So we're really looking at, you know, where can we target and offer a better quality of life," said Chief Juul.
In the past, departments saw lines of candidates stretching out the door. Now, many believe the focus on enhanced recruiting efforts is the new normal. Given that, the officers who spoke with CBN News reject the idea of any sort of lowered standards. They're proud of being able to streamline the hiring process and target a new generation of highly qualified candidates.
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