Are police still struggling to recruit? | WORLD
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Are police still struggling to recruit?

BACKGROUNDER | Reports of longer response times are warning signs that staffing shortages are having an effect

Joshua Lott / AFP via Getty Images

Are police still struggling to recruit?
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DURING SPRING BREAK, it’s common to see Fort Lauderdale, Fla., police out in full force. But this year, officers weren’t on the beach just to make arrests. They were there to recruit. The action points to a staffing crisis that continues to plague law enforcement agencies throughout the country—and many are pursuing outside-the-box solutions. In Arkansas, representatives from several agencies traveled to Texas and California in March and April to find recruits, hoping to fill 45 empty positions. Washington, D.C., is short some 500 officers, and so is Austin, Texas: An entire sector of East Austin recently went for two hours without an assigned patrol officer.

What’s causing the shortages? Police have struggled to bounce back from the double trouble of 2020: COVID-19 and George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. Increased scrutiny and disrespect for police led to what has been described as an “exodus” of retirement and resignation. A 2021 survey from the Police Executive Research Forum showed a 45 percent increase in retirements and a nearly 20 percent spike in resignations in the year after Floyd’s death.

Have officer applications declined? Not so long ago, agencies often received as many as 100 applications for every open position. Now they offer hiring bonuses, student loan repayment, and clothing allowances to entice candidates. When they apply, millennials and Gen Zers often come to the table with a different take on work-life balance than their predecessors. Young applicants want flexible hours and guaranteed time off. They’re not so sure about the mandated overtime and missed holidays that usually come with police work.

How is public safety affected? Emergencies and 911 calls don’t stop when departments are understaffed, and the difference between a four-minute and seven-minute response time can mean life or death for crime victims. Reports of longer response times are warning signs that staffing shortages are having an effect: In 2022, as officers fled the New Orleans Police Department, the city’s average 911 response time was a shocking 2½ hours. But in some small towns in Maine, Texas, and Minnesota, leaders have disbanded their police departments altogether, turning over law enforcement to neighboring agencies. Besides the effect on response time, fewer badge wearers means fewer crimes solved and cleared.

What solutions might help? Many agencies are changing their hiring policies to widen their nets. For some, lower arm tattoos, certain felony convictions, past drug abuse, and a poor credit history are no longer disqualifiers. Retention efforts include incentives like allowing officers to take their patrol cars home, providing casual uniforms for appropriate activities, and offering innovative leave time programs.


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