Police Chief Bill Schueller in Redding, Ca., increased signing bonuses to $7,500 from $5,000 to attract new recruits. It didn’t work, so this year he raised the offer to $40,000, more than half of an entire year’s starting salary.
Schueller said the bonus was necessary to recruit experienced officers in a line of work that has lost its popularity. After nationwide protests over the 2020 murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, Schueller said, “the negative attention brought to law enforcement really started people thinking that maybe this isn’t the job for me. ” Law-enforcement agencies across the U.S. have said they are facing staffing shortages as resignations and retirements rise. The tight labor market is compounding what chiefs describe as waning interest from job seekers amid heightened scrutiny of officers’ actions, a less favorable view of the profession by the public and a surge in violent crime, reports the Wall Street Journal.
Departments have been bumping up bonuses. The small city of Warner Robins, Ga., offered $4,000 retention and recruitment bonuses this year. Ithaca, N.Y., gives $20,000 bonuses to hires from other agencies. Seattle approved $30,000 bonuses for lateral hires and $7,500 for new recruits.
“You’re hard-pressed to think of a time when police departments had to incentivize hiring with bonuses and pay officers to stay on the force,” said Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum. “I haven’t seen that ever.”
The average salary for police officers was $70,740 in 2021 compared with $58,260 for all occupations, says the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The number of police officers nationally dropped in 2020 after rising over the previous decade. Last year, the level was returning to what it was before the pandemic.
Cities are eager to replenish their ranks amid the rise in shootings and homicides. Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell said the departure of more than 460 officers over the past 2½ years has slowed response times and affected investigations.
Philip Stinson, a professor at Bowling Green State University who studies police misconduct, said loosening hiring requirements makes it more likely that an officer will have problems down the road. “The ultimate danger is you’re hiring people who are just not suited for police work,” he said.