In the wake of George Floyd’s death while in police custody last year, law enforcement agencies report a spike in retirements and resignations far above those seen in 2019.
But many of these same jurisdictions report difficulty in recruiting qualified candidates to replace them. The result is that some departments are understaffed — even dangerously so.
The Washington-based Police Executive Research Forum conducted a study of 200 law enforcement agencies and found that retirements had reached 45 percent in some departments while hiring was down 5 percent. It’s clear from the numbers that the prospect of “defunding the police” and other reforms has severely damaged morale and left many officers feeling abandoned.
But the climate today, coupled with increases in crime in some cities, is creating what Chuck Wexler, the head of the Police Executive Research Forum, called a “combustible mixture.”
It’s creating “a crisis on the horizon for police chiefs when they look at the resources they need, especially during a period when we’re seeing an increase in murders and shootings,” Wexler said. “It’s a wake-up call.”
Indeed, while community-based reforms may improve the relations between cops and some neighborhoods for routine policing, when dealing with the problems of guns and gangs, it has yet to be seen if any of these same approaches can make those same neighborhoods any safer.
Researchers heard from 194 police departments last month about their hires, resignations and retirements between April 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021, and the same categories from April 1, 2019, to March 31, 2020.
By comparison, the changing public attitude on policing is well documented. In the past year, as many as half of American adults believed police violence against the public is a “very” or “extremely” serious problem, according to one poll conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
“It’s hard to recruit the very people who see police as an opposition,” said Lynda R. Williams, president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, who previously worked on recruitment efforts for the Secret Service.
Law enforcement has always been more of a calling than a job, but many police officers can take only so much before throwing in the towel.
“Some are angry. Some are fearful. Some are confused on what we do in this space. Some may feel a bit abandoned,” Said Rodney Bryant, Atlanta’s police chief. Bryant knows something about the crisis in policing. Just a few weeks after George Floyd died, Officer Garrett Rolfe shot and killed a black man in the parking lot of a local Wendy’s. Rolfe was immediately fired by the panicked mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, and has since been reinstated because a review board said the decision “seemed rushed and sufficient time was not provided for the Appellant (Rolfe) to submit a response.” Rolfe still faces five felony counts from the incident.
But officers took notice that politicians rushed to condemn an officer before all the facts were in. That feeling has been repeated across the country as mayors and police chiefs refuse to stand up to the mob to defend accused officers in questionable — and even righteous — shoots.
New hires are going to be a different breed of police officer. Whether they look like the members of the community they will be serving has become very important to the mob. All the community wants to know is if they can do the job of being there when the shooting starts.