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Police Struggle To Recruit; 'The Game Has Clearly Changed'

As police departments face an exodus of disgruntled officers and a decline in applications, they are trying to woo recruits with tactics a football coach might use to land a prized quarterback, the New York Times reports. Fairfax County, Va., brings future officers to a “signing day” where they formally accept job offers.

Out-of-state residents who want to join the Louisville, Ky., police force are flown in to take entrance tests, put up in a hotel and paired with an officer for a ride-along. Some West Coast agencies offer bonuses of tens of thousands of dollars to lure officers from other departments.

The economics of law enforcement were long tilted in favor of police departments, which had far more qualified applicants than job openings. Now, a steep drop in the number of people wanting to become police officers since the start of the pandemic and the unrest of 2020 have given extraordinary leverage to job seekers, forcing departments to market themselves.

“The game has clearly changed,” said Montgomery County, Md., Police Chief Marcus Jones, who said another department was using location-based digital advertising to target the area around his police stations with job postings.

At a Washington, D.C., conference held by the Police Executive Research Forum, police departments said they were struggling. They said they were not finding enough people willing and able to fight crime, staff unfilled shifts and build residents’ trust in the police.

“I need an officer that’s literally going to be the community outreach officer, but also can respond to that active shooter,” said Seattle Chief Adrian Diaz. His department lost hundreds of officers after the unrest of 2020, which in his city included a so-called autonomous zone and a police station that the department vacated for weeks.

Some of the departing officers accepted signing bonuses to join departments in the suburbs; others fled the profession entirely. Though Seattle now offers a $30,000 bonus for officers serving elsewhere who transfer to the city, as well as a $7,500 signing bonus for new recruits, Diaz said recruiting is still proving difficult. New police officers in Seattle earn about $83,000 annually once they graduate from the academy, while experienced officers transferring earn more than $90,000 a year to start.

“It wasn’t just what happened in Minneapolis — it was felt nationally in a way it never has been,” said PERF's Chuck Wexler. “I think that’s taken its toll, either on prospective candidates or existing cops rethinking what it means to be a cop in America today.”

A PERF survey of 184 police departments found that resignations were 43 percent higher in 2021 than in 2019, and that retirements were 24 percent higher. Hiring was down significantly in those departments over the same two-year span, though there were more new recruits in 2021 than in 2020.


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