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US police departments work to overcome persistent staffing shortages

Agencies are losing officers faster than they can hire new recruits.
US police departments work to overcome persistent staffing shortages
Posted at 9:25 AM, May 30, 2023

As cities across the nation continue to grapple with how to fight violent crime, police departments are working to overcome critical staffing shortages.

According to data from the Major Cities Chiefs Association, Atlanta, Baltimore, New Orleans, Dallas, Phoenix, Denver and Washington, D.C., all reported more murders in 2022 than the previous year.

New York City ended 2022 with a 21% rise in aggravated assaults and a 39% rise in robberies.

All of this with fewer men and women signing up to protect and serve.

The Police Executive Research Forum found agencies are losing officers faster than they can hire new recruits.

The group found nearly 50% more resignations were reported in 2022 compared to 2019, and the rate of retirement increased by 20% during the same period.

David Zack, chief of police in Asheville, North Carolina, said more than 140 officers have walked away from his department since June 2020.

"Here in Asheville, the crisis is a little bit more intense than maybe in some other cities across America," Zack said. "Some are leaving the profession entirely; some are leaving for other agencies." 

Some of the nationwide exodus can be chalked up to fallout from the pandemic, intense scrutiny, and calls for reform and defunding the police, particularly after the police killing of George Floyd in 2020.

SEE MORE: 3 years after George Floyd's death, where does police reform stand?

Zack said while some Asheville officers have been replaced, on any given day the police department is still down by about 40% of staff. 

"And those who do show up are becoming burned out," Zack said.

In Asheville, Zack said compensation is a big reason for the hemorrhaging of officers from the department.

"We’re not competitive in the marketplace," he said.

Forbes reports that the national average salary for a police officer is about $67,000 a year.

In Asheville, a city with one of the highest costs of living in the state of North Carolina, the starting salary for a trainee is $42,548 annually, with a base salary of around $46,000 annually, according to department data.

In Omaha, Nebraska, Sgt. Anthony Connor, president of the Omaha Police Officers Association, said the department is currently down more than 100 officers and agrees that one way to attract new applicants is by offering a competitive salary from the beginning.

"On a national level, we’re all competing for the same pool of applicants," he said. Because of that, we need to make sure we are competitive with our starting pay and with our top pay so that we can retain officers."

To attract more applicants in Philadelphia and Phoenix, departments are offering signing bonuses.

In Austin, Texas, after defunding the department, the Austin City Council approved a 4% increase in pay for all officers and cadets.

"To solve this problem on a national level, you need to make sure your current officers are happy," said Connor. "You have to try and build morale."

SEE MORE: Amid soaring crime, Memphis Police lowered the bar for hiring

The New York Times reported that 2022 saw the highest number of New York Police Department officers resigning in two decades.

Connor said officers in big departments, such as the NYPD, are leaving for departments in smaller cities.

"If those officers are sick of their city that attacks them, criticizes them, cuts their budget — that does not happen in Omaha; we’ll take them all."

Zack said while some of the criticism placed on law enforcement is warranted, he hopes it won’t deter good applicants from joining the profession.

"You look at what happened in Memphis [with Tyre Nichols] and the horrible response in Uvalde," he said. "But then you’ve got the guys in Nashville [during the Covenant School shooting] who ran into the school and changed the narrative once again."

The Citizen Times reports that in January 2023, the first official "civility training" class sponsored by the City of Asheville and supported by Asheville Police Department launched.

Officials said the goal of the program is for "community members and law enforcement officers to come together and talk through solutions so that everyone can go home safely at the end of the day."

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