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Police Departments Experiment Amid Serious Officer Shortage

Five years after Brian Spaulding’s parents found him fatally shot in the home he shared with roommates in Portland, Or., , his slaying remains a mystery that seems unlikely to be solved as the police department confronts a spike in killings and more than 100 officer vacancies. The detective assigned to the Spaulding case left in 2020 in a wave of retirements. The detective assigned to it now is swamped with cases after homicides surged 207 percent since 2019. “To us, it’s not a cold case,” said Spaulding's father, George. “We’re not dissatisfied with the Police Bureau ... they’re doing the best they can ... They are just overwhelmed. It’s insane.”

Officers worn out by the pandemic and disillusioned over the calls to divest from policing after George Floyd’s murder are quitting or retiring faster than they can be replaced, reports the Associated Press. Departments are scrambling to recruit in a tight labor market and rethinking what services they can provide and what role police should play. Many have shifted veteran officers to patrol, breaking up specialized teams built over decades in order to keep up with 911 calls. “We’re getting more calls for service and there are fewer people to answer them,” said Philadelphia Police spokesperson Eric Gripp, whose department has been rotating employees from specialty units for short assignments to increase patrols. Los Angeles, down more than 650 officers from its pre-pandemic staffing level, shuttered its animal cruelty unit and downsized its human trafficking, narcotics and gun details and reduced its homeless outreach teams by 80 percent. Seattle announced $2 million in hiring bonuses and benefits to lure recruits amid a critical officer shortage that has hampered the investigation of serious crimes. Some cities are experimenting to reduce strain on patrol officers. Portland added unarmed “public support specialists” to take reports on things like vehicle break-ins and bike thefts. In San Diego, licensed psychiatric clinicians go to mental health calls with officers.


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