Editorial

What Happens When We Run out of Cops?

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What Happens When We Run Out of Cops?

I offered previous articles about cops leaving the job and the problem of recruiting more, and it seems that the problem continues unabated. There are endless articles from major news sources addressing the problem (see new examples below).

What happens when we run out of cops is a question worth asking.

We’re not just discussing economics; we are addressing your family’s safety.  There is recent data stating that crime is the most important topic for Americans, Crime in America, with 78 percent expressing concern. If Americans are consistently being told that people do not want to become police officers, or that cops are leaving, that percentage will climb. People understand that officers are their first line of defense.

Police recruitment and retention may be one of the most important problems facing the country.

Use of Force

Several lawmakers and the family of a 22-year-old unarmed black man who was fatally shot by police proposed Tuesday that California become the first state to significantly restrict when officers can open fire.

The legislation would change the standard from using “reasonable force” to “necessary force.”

de-escalation policies

That means officers would be allowed to shoot only if “there were no other reasonable alternatives to the use of deadly force” to prevent imminent serious injury or death, said an advocate for the American Civil Liberties Union.

Tinkering with legal protections for police could make it more difficult to hire officers and be dangerous because they may hesitate when confronting an armed suspect, threatening themselves and bystanders, a police spokesperson said, ABC News.

The History

We are all aware of the problems between cops and the communities they serve. We are all cognizant of the riots and protests in Baltimore and Ferguson and beyond. There is no group more concerned than police officers.

An estimated 40 million U.S. residents age 16 or older, or about 17 percent of the population, had a face-to-face contact with a police officer in one year. Among people who had face-to-face contact, about nine out of 10 residents felt the police were respectful or acted properly, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Having said this, it’s inevitable that out of 40 million yearly encounters, some will go bad. It’s a statistical reality.

When I was a cop, I almost shot a motorist one evening who was acting suspiciously. A gun appeared when he was reaching for his vehicle registration in his glove box. I pulled my firearm; I told him to freeze. He was startled by my announcement and his right hand moved in the direction of the gun. I felt the pressure of my trigger finger as I yelled for him to stop.

It was a starter pistol filled with blanks. I came close to killing a man. I would have been exonerated, but I would have had to live the rest of my life with the knowledge that I took someone’s life. Encounters like this are part of the day to day reality of police officers.

Ideological Lines

It’s abundantly apparent that many have drawn their ideological lines about cops and mistrust (dislike?) their opposition.

Many believe that officers have abused and disrespected the citizens they are supposed to serve. Officers are portrayed as thugs, racists, and other despicable terms by major media sources.

conversation

But when we examine the circumstances of riots in Ferguson and Baltimore, the media and critical narrative was almost completely wrong.

Of the six police officers charged with criminal violations and murder regarding the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, none were convicted and most survived administrative charges by the city police department. None were dismissed. The incident was examined from every possible angle by critics throughout the country yet all officers were completely exonerated.

It was the same for Ferguson and the narrative of, “hands up, don’t shoot.”  What propelled the nation into a frenzy of anti-cop sentiment turned out to be complete fiction.

Knowing this, why would anyone want to be a cop? Why would existing police officers stay on the job?

revisiting
(Photo courtesy Jersey City Police Department)

That’s not to suggest that there are not examples of police brutality and unjustifiable homicides; there are.

Recent controversies propelled police officers to one of the lowest points in Gallups surveys before bouncing back to one of America’s most trusted professions the year after, Crime in America-Public Opinion.

But regardless as to how some feel about police officers, one thing is clear; homicides and violent crime increased in most American cities in recent years. Baltimore, Chicago, and in cities throughout the country are profoundly affected.

Proactive Policing

People in high crime communities complain that police are overzealous regarding incessant stops. But proactive policing was debated and thoroughly examined by everyone including the media over the course of decades.

It’s not as if cops decided to do this on their own. Why would they? Every stop means greater danger and unwanted public entanglements. Why would anyone risk their lives or sanity needlessly?

Officers were ordered to do this by affected communities, mayors, city councils, and governors. It wasn’t a secret.

Vast crime reductions in New York City (referred to as the New York City miracle) and elsewhere were attributed to proactive law enforcement efforts. The media reported on the numbers of arrests and resulting jail overcrowding. Everyone knew what was going on and why.

New York County Sheriff

“As the Chicago Tribune reported this morning, University of Utah Economics Professor Richard Fowles and I have just completed an important article on the 2016 Chicago homicide spike. Through multiple regression analysis and other tools, we conclude that an ACLU consent decree trigged a sharp reduction in stop and frisks by the Chicago Police Department, which in turn caused homicides to spike. Sadly, what Chicago police officers dubbed the “ACLU effect” was real—and more homicides and shootings were the consequence,” Reason.Com.

I Could be Charged With Murder

Aggressive policing created community resentment. It had a role to play in disturbances.

But cops in Baltimore and throughout the nation said to themselves, “Wait a minute, those officers were just charged with murder for doing something I do every day. If they can do it to them, they can do it to me,” Crime in America-Baltimore.

I believe that potential police recruits understand this and decline to pursue jobs in law enforcement. I believe that many existing officers are not being proactive or are looking for a way out.

The Increase in Violent Crime

Many of us from the former director of the FBI to data from Pew to research institutions to national law enforcement organizations believe that the vast increase in violent crime is because cops are holding back, they are not being proactive, Crime in America-Cops.

Some officers are so impacted by the criticism that they are sitting back and not taking aggressive actions. Yes, they are responding to calls for service. Yes, they are doing routine patrols. But many are doing little else.

Proactive policing (cops doing more to control crime) has the backing of research as to lowering violent crime, Crime in America-Proactive Policing.

If cops are not being proactive or aggressive enough, and if its possible that this lack of action is contributing to increasing violent crime (homicides had the highest percentage increase since the 1960’s), is it time to consider that our approach to law enforcement has been dysfunctional? Have cops lost faith in the system?

federal judge rules

Per Pew, 72% say officers in their department are now less willing to stop and question suspicious persons. Overall, more than eight-in-ten (86%) say police work is harder today as a result of high-profile, negative incidents.

About nine-in-ten officers (93%) say their colleagues worry more about their personal safety – a level of concern recorded even before a total of eight officers died in separate ambush-style attacks in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Crime in America.

How Cops Feel

There are some in law enforcement who are convinced that there is a literal, “war on cops” based on the increasing number of officers murdered or assaulted, Cops Worry About Safety. Many believe that there’s a culture war.

I’m aware of family members telling their loved one’s to get out of policing and to get out now. They are also being told to stop being proactive as an act of self-preservation.

Many others are contemplating retirement, and jurisdictions are considering major pay subsidies to keep them on the job.

Those of us who have been police officers or existed in a law enforcement culture believe that the vast majority of cops are respectable, dedicated, even-tempered people who are just trying to do a demanding job with as little difficulty as possible.

The public is justifiably questioning the legitimacy of some police shootings and use of force. There ARE bad cops (the same as bad reporters, stockbrokers, and any other profession), and I dislike them intensely.

I believe that potential police recruits understand all of this. They talk to existing officers about their roles. Where I urged young people to enter law enforcement in the past, I’m suggesting that they use caution now.

I believe that every police family is having a conversation with their loved one’s as to staying on a job where they are not supported or appreciated by the larger society, or segments of society.

NBC News

Numerous police departments around the country are desperately losing manpower with decreasing numbers of officers and recruits. Law enforcement is becoming less of a desirable career choice due to diminishing pay, high risk, and of course a recent bad rap — a trend that could put public safety at risk, say policing experts.

The current shortage afflicts police forces from large metropolitan hubs to rural towns.

“Departments are struggling to find not only interested, but interested and qualified, candidates to join the force,” said Jim Burch, vice president of the Police Foundation. “With everything happening around policing from salary to criticism, the question many people are asking is ‘is it worth it?’”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the growth rate for “Police and Detectives” as “slower than average” at 4 percent with the average growth rate at 7 percent for other professions. The bottom tenth-percentile for an officer’s salary is $33,430, according to 2015 federal data.

“Forty-two percent of officers reported that ‘they nearly always or often have serious concerns about their safety,’” regardless of what level of danger an officer has come across in their career, according to the Pew Research Center.

NBC News

USA Today

Police departments around the United States have reported shortages in the past five years — including major cities, such as Washington, D.C.BaltimoreLos AngelesHouston and Palo Alto, Calif. However, tracking national data on police officer recruitment is a challenge, said Jim Bueermann, president of the Police Foundation, a D.C.-based non-profit that seeks to support police forces nationwide through its research. To get 20 good applicants, it could take 200.

Chief Jeff Hadley of Chatham County Police Department is trying to build his police department from scratch.

After sharing a force for more than 10 years, Georgia’s Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department split back into two departments. Hadley’s challenge has been finding recruits for patrol duty. Starting salary for a new recruit is roughly $35,000.

In some cases, candidates aren’t qualified due to past felony convictions or drug use. Some flunk polygraph tests. Others don’t complete the lengthy background check.

The entire process can take three to six months, which weeds out people who need a job immediately, said Hadley, who also recruited officers when he was head of the public safety department in Kalamazoo, Mich.

In a 2017 Pew survey of nearly 8,000 officers, 86% said high-profile fatal incidents between black citizens and police officers have made their jobs more challenging, and 93% said the incidents have increased their concerns about their own safety.

USA Today

Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. – Thirty-five years of speaking for national and state criminal justice agencies. Interviewed multiple times by every national news outlet. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information Services, National Crime Prevention Council. Post-Masters’ Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins University. You can contact me at [email protected].

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Leonard Sipes

Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. - Thirty-five years of speaking for national and state criminal justice agencies. Interviewed multiple times by every national news outlet. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information Services, National Crime Prevention Council. Post-Masters’ Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins University.

Ive been a cop a long time. Its no fun anymore because the cities have so many policies now that protect their luabity, our hands are tied there is an internal affairs investigation for every little thing now. If we do our job, we get in trouble. I beleiVe the city doesnt want us to do our job. They are scared to death of getting sued. We cant pursue anymore. Even on felonies. If we even grab someones arm, we have to write a use of force report and Justify it.
We arent allowed to be police anymore.
All of these rules and policies make us not want to do anything anymore.
We are loaded down with policies now, there is no way we can memorize them.
Its rediculous !!!!!!
The bad guy has all the rights. We are wrong till we prove we are right.
One of our officers recently made a traffic stop, gave the guy a warning and sent him down the road. The guy complained the officer was rude to him. The department did an internal investigation on this !!!!!

Hi JD: Similar sentiments are expressed by officers throughout the country. No one is opposed to accountability, but most tell me that it’s getting more difficult than ever to do the basics of policing, which is why good people are leaving, and getting quality recruits is harder than ever. Best, Len.

As a Veteran Officer of 36 years and already retired from one large agency. I honestly can no longer recommend any young person to become a law enforcement officer. I take great pride in what i accomplished and currently am accomplishing but the dynamics of the job and the environment have so drastically changed that any young person would be foolish to even consider it as a career. Especially if it was in a state or a city that is primarily ran by democrats or certain demographics. I know that may not be politically correct but Just being honest.

Hi William: I agree that urging Young people to become police officers is problematic advice. Yep, we need good people to become cops, but who in this environment is willing to take on the endless problems associated with law enforcement? WE obviously need accountability, no one is questioning that. but law enforcement involves risk and endless judgement decisions that can go wrong in a heartbeat. when things go south, we want society to provide the benefit of doubt. if the automatic assumption is guilt, then officers withdrawl in multiple ways. it’s time to reaccess policing and what it means to be a cop. Best, Len.

The whole ARTICLE is accurate but most of us that have a good AMOUNT of time in but not enough to get out where do we go on the outside when all you ever known was how To be a cop?

Hi Chris: Then you hunker down and do the best you can or transfer to another agency. We despertly need good officers and, per Gallup, you represent a profession that is greatly admired by the vast majority of Americans. Thank you for being a cop!!! best, Len.

People are finding it much safer to go into the criminal lifestyle these days.And it pays much better.

Hi Bill: never saw a criminal offender who lived well; their money is goen in a heartbeat. Agree? Best, Len.

These cities, counties, and states are not keeping pace with salaries that are competitive with the private sector. Agencies doing more with less is the new way of doing things. Retirement is going away and city councils, and public safety department heads are cutting back on benefits. People want police officers but do not want to pay for them. The only way to recruit and retain officers is to raise salaries where people want to be police officers. No one can raise a family on any salary that starts in the 30k a year or less.

Hi Jon: Agree. The average salary for a police officer should be no less than $60,000 a year with great benefits. best, Len.

After 41 years I had enough. I retired right after “FERguson”. I pray for the men and women going into that life now. If you Google Darren Wilson, Google brings up “The shooting of Michael Brown”. Read the wikipedia account! I still don’t think they have that right, Where is Darren Wilson now? still in hiding? since the whole “hands up don’t shoot” has proven to be a Total lie, how many police agencies have actively recruited darren wilson? Think back to the media reports at the time, they were waiting to film the construction of the cross to crucify wilson on. No, the job was fun once, but it is no longer worth the personal risk, risk of indictment over a mistake, being branded a racist at the next altercation. no, it’s no longer worth it, not even at twice the pay.

Hi Paul: AS I said to Chris (above) We desperately need good officers and, per Gallup, you represent a profession that is greatly admired by the vast majority of Americans. Thanks for being a cop and good luck on your retirement. Best, Len.

As a copper with 27 years of service with a large ontario, canada agency, i completely agree with the sentiments of this article.

Proactive policing is all but dead here in ontario and the results are evident. Violent crime is on the rise. De-policing is a matter of course, mostly out of self-preservation. Our politicians have bought into a culture where the poLice are thought to be the proverbial bad guys. Most officers that i work with are throwing in the towel aNd simply responding when called.

Its a shame. But this is going to get worse Before it gets bettEr.

Hi Ry: Thanks for your comments. I have always loved Canada for its low crime and functional cities. It would be a tragedy for that to change. Best, Len.

iitimothy 3 verses 1-6; ‘this know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. v2, for men shal be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, v3; without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, v4; traitors, heady, high minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of g-d; v5; having a form of g-dliness, but denying the power thereof-from such turn away.’
We are still living in the dispensation of grace. my prayer for everyone in law enforcement is that you will seek the lord while he still may be found. you are living in and witnessing the end of the age-the dispensation of grace. Isreal is one of g-d’s prophetic time clocks. we are also at the end of the six thousand year probation period. throughout scripture, the lords number of perfection is seven. there’s not much time left. There’s way toooo much corruption all the way across the board in our government and there always has, but not at the level that you are witnessing now. same sex marriage; ‘without natural affection’, changing the gender assignment given to them by g-d, gender neutral. very soon you will be sued and thrown in jail for using personal pronouns, i.e., he, she and on and on it goes and will go. when the seven year tribulation starts, there will more than likely be no law enforcement except what will be employed by the elite, a police state-martial law.
your only hope is jesus! john 3 v16; ‘for g-d so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’
this world that you exist in is temporary. the lord offers you paridise in eternity w/him forever.
g-d loves you. jesus came here to this earth as a g-d in the flesh to die a brutal death on the cross for your/our sins, that we might be saved. all you have to do is look around you, turn on the news-it gets worse by the day and will get much worse very soon. everything is converging, culminating and escalating at a very rapid rate.
may the lords Holy Spirit come upon you.
read the books of daniel, revelation, matthew, chapter 24, iitimothy 3, verses 1-5. yes, this ancient text refers to all of us. the lord jesus is coming very soon, will you be ready to escape all of these things that are coming on the earth-you do not want to be left here. all hell will break loose and will commence.
believe, trust and love jesus.

WQe won’t run out. No, look carefully. The progressive movement wants, no, needs police. But it needs ITS police, who will support its specific political agenda. the old standards of policing are being redefined, as the progressive movement more and more takes root in America. As the old dinosaurs (my generation, almost all retired now) and our successors retire, as the millennials and other newer generational police are further discouraged by the sudden changes being thrust upon them and leave, the progressives will find new meat to draw from…meat that accepts its political beliefes, that shares its often amoral beliefs, and that will accept its marching orders no matter how offensive they are to older generations. Remember, many of the developments we face today are top-down from the progressives already in position politically – civil forfeiture, ever greater aggressive activity, an us and them outlook – that has been perpetuated to drive a wedge between the police and the community, and lead us ever more to this position we now face. Yes, manipualation by the political class…to achieve its end, rather than to support and achieve the concepts of good policing, nor to support the overwhelming percentage of good, honest citizens trying to themselves survive day to day.

Hi Paul: You are correct that much of what we face today, especially proactive policing, was demanded by progressive community leaders, mayors and media demanding action to curb violent crime. Cops were criticized for not doing enough. Now, they are criticized for doing too much. best, Len.

Thanks Leonard for publishing a detailed analysis of what I’ve been telling my friends, coworkers and family for the last 10 years. Yet, things have gotten much worse in the recent past. When I started my police career almost 30 years ago, I remember the senior officers telling me, “I don’t know how you’re going to do this job anymore.” Now, I’m saying it to the newer officers. The biggest difference is that back then, we still referred good candidates to the police applicant pool. We get our best cops from word of mouth. We know someone who would make a great cop, and we encourage them to apply. That isn’t happening anymore. I’m sad to say that I recommend against this career to those asking my advice, unless they are so driven to it, that they are going to apply anyway. Then, I help them as best I can. I have steered my kids away from wanting to follow in their father’s footsteps, and it’s often been heartbreaking to do so. But, I don’t feel safe in this profession in today’s climate. We all signed up for the inherent dangers of the job, but we didn’t sign up for the internal stresses that come from our own administrations, which are succumbing to the pressures of the anti-police sentiment coming from a loud minority of the public. The vast majority of the public does still support us. For those officers who feel they can’t leave the profession, I strongly encourage you to lateral to a city that supports their police. Now that I’m close to retirement, I fear the quality of officer applicant currently in our hiring pools. I fear the “take no action” procedures officers are being forced to take due to the irresponsible reporting of high profile incidents. But, what is one of the biggest problems I’ve seen over my career that has exacerbated the situation? The “No comment” ideology that most police departments take. When the public hears only one side of a story, they’re not left with much information with which to make an informed decision. I understand that we have to be careful in our responses, as we are worried about affecting investigations in progress, liability, etc. But the leaders of our police agencies, District Attorneys, State Attorney Generals, and other leaders need to speak out in support of police officers. They need to educate the public on how we are trained and why we take certain actions. They need to do more media interviews dissecting a past incident and explaining and defending the proper use of force an officer took. Silence isn’t going to help us through this really rough patch. Especially with cameras everywhere, for the first time showing the public the horrors of what police experience every day. The learning curve of the public will be a hard one, but our leaders need to help them through it.

Hi DJ: 100 percent correct as to cops telling their stories. I have been beating the drum of law enforcement and CJ PR for decades. WE need for people to understand what’s happening and why. Why are we so afraid to tell our story? Best, Len.

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