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Police Departments Struggle to Fill Their Ranks Amid Departures

Rookie St. Paul police officer Blake Steffen stood on a busy corner listening to a woman on a bench complain about being harassed by vampires, when someone in a passing truck yelled, “Leave the [woman] alone, you pigs!”

Steffen, 24, and a fellow officer, responding to a report of someone in crisis, could have arrested the woman on outstanding warrants for theft. Instead, “We offered her a ride” to somewhere she could get a shower and a bed for the night, he said.

Police departments are struggling to find capable recruits amid a rash of departures after the unrest prompted by the 2020 murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. Few young people like the idea of a career in a dangerous profession at a time of rising concerns about crime, reports the Wall Street Journal. Fewer still are interested in the kind of blowback police have been receiving. Gone are the days when young people saw policing jobs as plum public positions offering good pay and generous pensions, said Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF). “Being a cop in America is not what it used to be,” he said. Police resignations were 42.7 percent higher in 2021 than 2019, found a PERF survey of 184 police departments in the U.S. and Canada. While hiring largely bounced back in 2021 from a 20.5 percent drop in 2020, last year’s hirings were 3.9 percent below 2019 levels.

Los Angeles police ranks have fallen to around 9,300 from more than 10,000 in 2019, said Capt. Aaron McCraney, head of recruitment and employment. In the year ended June 30, the department hired 574 officers, above the average of 500 in recent years. That followed a class with just 174 recruits because money for new hires was diverted to anti-gang programs and other areas.

The city council in Phoenix, facing a shortage of officers, recently approved a $20,000 pay bump for new recruits, bringing their salaries to more than $68,000. The Chicago Police Department is down 1,300 officers from full staffing of around 12,500, said Yolanda Talley, chief of the office of internal affairs and head of recruiting. The department did almost no hiring or recruiting during much of the pandemic and experienced an increase in retirements. Now, the city’s police academy is graduating about 100 officers a month by beefing up outreach.


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