The size of the Washington, D.C., police force has shrunk to a half-century low as officers leave faster than they can be replaced, forcing the department to spend millions on overtime while it struggles to combat gun violence and carjackings. Despite some hiring in the past year, the force had just over 3,350 sworn officers at the end of March, a net loss of about 450 over three years. Police Chief Robert Contee expects the size of the force could fall to about 3,130 by the end of fiscal year 2024, the Washington Post reports. Mayor Muriel Bowser wants the department to have 4,000 officers by 2031, though Contee testified at a D.C. Council hearing that given the city’s budget restrictions — along with a dearth of people applying for police jobs across the U.S. — that goal is probably unattainable, Contee said. “Absent significant shifts in national employment levels, the environment for law enforcement, or the interest of younger generations in long-term government careers, [D.C.] staffing may not recover for more than a decade.”
Police departments are struggling to hire and retain officers, competing with one another to offer financial and other incentives in hopes of swelling their ranks. Fewer people want to work as police officers because of fatigue over crime and civil unrest, heightened scrutiny, low pay, and a lack of interest in government service. In D.C., discussions about the size of the police force are coinciding with federal lawmakers’ taking an interest in crime in the nation’s capital. Last month, Congress voted to block a controversial overhaul of the city’s criminal code, in part because it would have lowered the statutory maximum penalty for certain crimes, including carjacking. Republicans in Congress are now targeting a separate bill to overhaul policing that was passed by the D.C. Council, though President Biden has said he plans to veto any effort to block the measure from becoming law.