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Survey: Police Chiefs Feel 'Understaff and Beleaguered'

A team of researchers just released a first look at their survey of how policing has changed since the murder of George Floyd. “Nobody seems to have systematically asked United States chiefs of police about these changes, so we surveyed a randomized national sample of them,” writes Brandon del Pozo, an assistant professor at Brown University who is lead author of the pre-print.

The title, “Understaffed and beleaguered,” sums up the team’s findings, del Pozo said, in a thread written on X, formerly Twitter.

Chiefs reported that finding qualified recruits was harder, that suspects were now more likely to disobey lawful orders from officers in some cities, and that the risks of proactive police work encouraged “inaction.” The results varied by region and by experience – chiefs with more years on the job were less likely to perceive the current situation as dire. By region, chiefs in the Northeast perceived more recruiting-morale challenges than those in the South, where morale was perceived as significantly high, with less trouble recruiting.

Floyd’s death at the hands of police officers spurred a historic period of national activism and protest, generating calls to substantially reduce law-enforcement budgets and to reallocate the money to alternative policing. The echoes of that are still being felt by police three years later, the survey found, though only 13.5% had faced an attempt to de-fund their department – of those roughly half had met with some success.

Results also showed that “despite widely portrayed vitriol toward police in the form of slogans such as “All Cops Are Bastards,” 90% of chiefs found that community support for their work had either stayed the same or increased since Floyd’s murder. The research teams concluded that “significantly more research, especially qualitative work, is needed to understand the causes of recruitment challenges in policing.”

The survey randomly selected 1,200 chiefs of agencies with more than five officers; they got responses from 276 from nearly every state.

As del Pozo emphasized, the survey results “are perceptions reported by chiefs, not empirical facts.” “But, as people who wield influence and have a consequential role in communities, it is important to know where their thinking is at,” del Pozo wrote.

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