With police departments struggling to hire and retain officers, the Justice Department issued a new report on Tuesday with strategies and takeaways aimed at helping law enforcement agencies grow their forces.
"Recruiting and retaining qualified law enforcement officers in the 21st century requires executives and hiring professionals to modernize policing from the ground up," says the report, titled the "Recruitment and Retention for the Modern Law Enforcement Agency." "[A]gencies must reevaluate their eligibility requirements, hiring processes, academy structures, and training to accurately reflect policing today."
Police departments are unable to hire new officers at a rate that keeps up with their staffing losses each year, which results in a continued decline in sworn officers, found an April 2023 study from the Police Executive Research Forum, CBS News reports.
The group asked law enforcement agencies to report their staffing levels in January 2023 and found a steady 4.8% decline in force numbers compared to three years ago.
The problem is not just with hiring practices but keeping officers on the job. The year 2022 saw 35% more sworn officers hired than in 2020 and 5.6% more than 2019, but staffing levels continue to decline as more law enforcement officers resigned. Forty-seven percent more officers resigned in 2022 than in 2019.
The number of retirements reached its peak in 2020 and 2021. They have slightly abated since, but remain at higher rates in 2022 than 2019 and 2020.
"The recruitment and retention crisis is the number one issue I hear about from our state, Tribal, and local law enforcement partners across the country," said Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta.
The new report attributed the staffing issues in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, a changing labor market, office safety concerns and community frustration toward police.
DOJ suggests that police leaders should work to understand the needs of the communities they serve while modernizing and streamlining hiring practices.
The report was the result of an April 2023 meeting of policing leaders, which found that the "often negative public perception of policing" has affected morale and led to higher burnout. Focusing on law enforcement's image and underscoring the virtues of the job, the group found, will likely be key to improving hiring rates.
The report was prepared by the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Assistance and Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.
The report highlighted concerns among police forces about work-life balance and wellness, particularly relating to child care and mental health.
"Unfortunately, there is still a stigma among the law enforcement community toward seeking mental health support. Meeting attendees agreed that top-down change is required to allow officers to feel safe and supported in seeking help," the report said.