The Fairfax County, Va., police force and George Mason University are collaborating in a first-of-its-kind study that will seek over 20 years the assess the challenges police agencies face in recruitment and retention. Police departments say they cannot hire officers fast enough to replace those retiring or resigning. An annual survey of nearly 200 agencies by the Police Executive Research Forum shows that resignations increased by 47 percent from 2019 to 2022. Fairfax County reflects the trend. Police Chief Kevin Davis said the police force is more than 200 officers short of the 1,484 officers it is authorized to employ, though a larger-than-normal academy class of 58 will soon fill some of the gap, the Associated Press reports. Davis said the study will help agencies understand what police need to do to attract the best recruits and keep them on the force.
The study will not only follow officers throughout their careers but also will look at applicants who decide for whatever reason against becoming officers. Criminologist Cynthia Lum of GMU’s Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy said that while recruitment and retention are key issues in the policing profession, there’s a lack of academic studies assessing the reasons. “These are questions that have existed for decades about why people join the police department, why they leave,” she said. “And I feel like we’re just still guessing. And we’re guessing because we don’t have these types of studies.” The National Policing Institute is providing initial funding. Its president, Jim Burch, said the lessons learned in Fairfax will be relevant across the U.S. For a profession that faces accusations of racism, Burch said it will be important for the study to address applicants’ and officers’ views on race. Lum emphasized that the study will be independent and officers will have the ability to speak freely and at times anonymously about their views.