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Lessons in Combatting Police Staffing Crunch

News that the Philadelphia Police Department is down 1,300 officers with another 800 expected to retire over the next four years prompted the Philadelphia Citizen to outline what the department could learn from other cities facing similar police-staffing shortages. As defunding police sentiment waned with the surge in gun violence nationwide, Philadelphia is putting more money into increased recruitment and eased a residency requirement. But there is more it could do, based on what seems to work in other cities.

First, the city should fix the department's recruiting website, which produces a number of dead ends for people browsing the site. Chattanooga, Tn., for example, leaves its application portal open year-round, which speeds up recruiting and has increased applications, according to Bloomberg Philanthropies, which funded several recruitment experiments around the country in 2018. Several cities offer substantial signing bonuses. Los Angeles worked with Behavioral Insights Team to help applicants navigate the many steps they have to pass, including a 24-hour automated chatbot to answer questions and a mentoring program pairing current officers with recruits. Baltimore has been a leader in recruiting civilians to investigate lower-level crimes, freeing officers to working on violent crime cases and increasing patrols. Philadelphia's police-officer shortage coincides with the city's all-time high in gun violence. Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said the shortage hurts the department's ability to discourage violence through visibility on the streets. "We will never, ever be able to truly quantify how much violence would never occur if prospective offenders see police in the area before they act," Outlaw said.


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