Media accounts of police officers leaving the job and the impact it’s having on cities are endless yet that narrative interferes with advocates who purposely downplay the number of officers quitting.
From a previous article from The Marshall Project:
“Officer Snowflake. Reporters are enabling a false narrative about demoralized cops fleeing their departments in the face of criticism for their misconduct.”
From The New Republic:
“The Damning Truth Behind Cop “Walkout” Stories-The New York Times and other news media are laundering an exaggerated narrative about besieged officers—one that’s meant to threaten anyone who questions police power.”
The article states that stories on cops leaving are:
“part of a consistent, fairly exaggerated narrative emerging in response to ongoing efforts to end police violence: that such calls and protests have demoralized police to the extent that officers are fleeing the force and that a spike in crime is the inevitable price we will pay,” Officers Leaving.
New Article From The Marshall Project (direct quotes)
Since last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, there’s a popular refrain echoing through urban police precincts, rural sheriff’s offices and city halls everywhere in between: Officers are fleeing America’s police forces in big numbers, officials say.
And the timing couldn’t be worse, amid a rise in murders and shootings. Many argue cities must hire more police, but against the backdrop of nationwide scrutiny of police killings, morale has dropped to the point that few people want to be officers.
This article was published in partnership with TIME.
According to federal data, those worries are unfounded. Last year, as the overall U.S. economy shed 6% of workers, local police departments lost just under 1% of employees after a decade of steady expansion, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
That’s about 4,000 people out of nearly half a million employees in municipal police departments and sheriff’s offices nationwide.
The Numbers from The Marshall Project And Time Are Misleading
I posted the numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics below. Note that there are approximately 700,000 sworn police officers with approximately 300,000 civilians in support. The chart below provides information on local law enforcement and excludes state and federal agencies.
The Marshall Project states that local police agencies lost about 4,000 employees per annual number comparing 2019-2021.
However, if you look at the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the country lost 11,009 police officers from March of 2020 to March of 2021. The preliminary numbers are annual, not just for the month of March.
State and Federal Data
The article from The Marshall Project and Time states:
Losing 4,000 police officers per the Marshall Project is a stunning number when considering that we have a problem of rising violent crime and serious violent crime since 2015, US Crime Rates.
Data from the FBI and Gallup also indicate increased violence. Fear of crime is at an all-time high.
Local police officers are our front-line protectors so any decrease in their numbers is concerning.
Additional factors include the numbers in the process of leaving that will not show up in Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers. Many officers with intentions of leaving may stay longer to accumulate time for retirement or medical benefits before switching jobs.
But The Marshall Project leaves out preliminary data comparing 2020-2021 numbers showing a huge decrease in police officers of 11,009.
Yes, The Marshall Project uses preliminary numbers all the time from the federal government, specifically the FBI, so it can’t say that the numbers are invalid because they fit a “preliminary” status.
If we have a trend line of 4,000 officers leaving for one year and a preliminary yearly number of 11,009 for one month of 2021 (representing yearly data), that indicates that we may have a bigger problem with officers leaving than we originally thought.
See note below from the Bureau Of Labor Statistics. The numbers cited by The Marshall Project, Time and this article may not be all officers but total (i.e., civilian) police employees.
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Is There A False Narrative?
Is there a false narrative regarding police officers leaving the profession and the impact on crime?
Is rising violence more of a discussion as to police officers’ reluctance to be proactive?
Are there budget issues for law enforcement?
Much of the data below is from the Police Executive Research Forum, a respected data collection agency using both private and federal funding. Other sources are offered.
Police Executive Research Forum-Changes in Hiring, Resignation, and Retirement Rates
For the April 2019-March 2020 period, responding agencies on average hired 8.67 officers per 100 current officers.
During the same period a year later, agencies hired only 8.21 new officers per 100 current officers.
That is a 5% decrease in the hiring rate.
For the 2019-20 period, responding agencies reported 4.15 resignations per 100 officers.
During the same period a year later, 4.91 officers resigned per 100 officers.
That is an 18% increase in the resignation rate.
For the 2019-20 period, agencies reported 2.85 retirements per 100 officers.
During the same period a year later, 4.14 officers retired per 100 officers.
That is a 45% increase in the retirement rate.
Agencies With 250 Or More Sworn Personnel Saw The Biggest Decreases.
There was a 29% reduction in the hiring rate for agencies with 250-499 officers.
There was a 36% reduction in the hiring rate for agencies with 500 or more officers.
A 63 Percent Reduction in Hiring Police Officers
Agencies participating in the survey reported that there has been a 63% decrease in applying to become a police officer. Departments are also having trouble hiring non-white/minority applicants the most, followed by female officers, according to the survey (based on data from the Police Executive Research Forum)
Rate of Officers Decreased By 11 Percent
As of June 30, 2016, the 15,322 general-purpose law enforcement agencies in the United States employed an estimated 701,000 full-time sworn officers.
From 1997 to 2016, the number of full-time sworn officers in general-purpose law enforcement agencies increased by about 52,500 (up 8%). During the same period, the total U.S. population increased by about 56 million (up 21%).
As a result, the number of full-time sworn officers per 1,000 residents decreased, from 2.42 in 1997 to 2.17 in 2016 (down 11%).
The 2016 rate of full-time sworn officers per 1,000 residents was also lower than the rates in 2000 (down 7%), 2003 (down 8%), and 2007 (down 7%).
Police Officers Peaked in 2008
In 2019, there were 697,195 full-time law enforcement officers employed in the United States. The number of full-time law enforcement officers reached a peak in 2008 with 708,569 officers, and hit a low in 2013 with 626,942 officers. The chart shows growth since 2013, with approximately the same numbers as in 2011.
Police officers in cities are no longer being appropriately proactive (per endless news reports) and proactivity is probably the only modality with a research base as to reducing crime, Proactive Policing.
Proactive policing prompts officers to take action (i.e., a person with a history of violence suspected of carrying a gun) when they have a legal right to investigate.
But proactivity requires enormous risks and is the center of endless complaints against law enforcement. Many if not most big-city cops don’t want to end up on the front cover of the local newspaper if proactivity goes wrong. Proactivity required tremendous risk.
Data states that (72%) of officers are now less willing to stop and question suspicious persons, Pew.
But Wait-There’s More
There is additional information from the Bureau of Justice Statistics of the US Department of Justice regarding fewer officers using 2016 data. Updated figures for 2018 will be offered this year.
Research on budget cuts for law enforcement agencies is also available from the Police Executive Research Forum and Crime in America.Net, Officers Leaving
The data from The Marshall Project and Time are simply misleading.
Going from 4,000 to 11,000 officers leaving is a significant and distressing trend that needs additional examination via Bureau of Labor statistics.
It’s safe to say that there are fewer police officers due to hiring, resignations and retirement issues. The question is whether or not decreasing numbers or budgets have an impact on violence or the provision of police services.
The evidence indicates that in some cities, they reduced both budgets and numbers of officers via problems with recruitment and retention. Data indicate that resulting increases in violence are most impactful in cities.
The data also indicates flattening or decreased police budgets regardless of discussions as to defunding the police.
The best research-based plan at the moment to reduce violent crime is proactive policing; the modality that led us to numerous charges of excessive force and over-policing.
Under these circumstances, why would police officers willingly stay or engage in proactivity? If you ask them, they will tell you that they are doing exactly what protestors and citizens demanded.
Violence reduction depends on sufficient numbers of well-trained proactive police officers with supportive communities. Although there was a consensus in most cities during past periods of high crime, it doesn’t exist now.
When citizens believe that there is a breakdown in the ability of government to protect them, they purchase firearms, which is happening at alarming and record numbers per the FBI and industry sources.
The New Republic states:
“Reporters are enabling a false narrative about demoralized cops fleeing their departments in the face of criticism for their misconduct…”
Based on the data, it’s my opinion that it’s the New Republic and similar publications that are creating a false narrative.
Comments From The Bureau of Labor Statistics, Time and The Marshall Project:
Bureau of Labor Statistics: Please note that these data are for the police protection industry and not specifically for police officers. It’s possible that people working in this industry are not police officers.
Yes, those calculations (editor’s note-my numbers) are accurate. The annual data are an average of monthly employment for the entire calendar year. So the change from 2019 to 2020 is a comparison of Jan-Dec 2019 employment compared to Jan-Dec 2020 employment.