Things like low pay, low rewards, and bosses who become politicians are driving police officers out of the career field, especially in major cities, and causing a severe shortage of officers all over our nation.

In a recent article in Criminology Careers, author Timothy Roufa makes a great point.  He states, “the problem of recruitment and retention of police officers in departments across the United States is well documented. Many law enforcement agencies have difficulty not only identifying and hiring qualified candidates but keeping them as well.”

Most departments require at least an associate’s degree, if not a bachelor’s degree in order to qualify as an entry-level police officer or deputy.  Having a perfectly clean background, near-perfect credit, a good driving record, and in many places, no visible tattoos, are the usual requirements in addition to the educational steps.

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Recent studies show that attrition in the police career field, meaning losses of personnel not due to normal circumstances like retirement and advancement or cross-training, is more than 15% annually.  That figure is higher than other degree-required fields like nursing and teachers.

Baltimore Police

The Baltimore Police face off against rioters during the 2015 protests. (Wikipedia Commons)

 

One must take a step back and realize that recent – the past 20 years or so – changes in the police work environment have led many officers and deputies to abandon law enforcement careers for other areas, or to work in support rules instead of the mainstream.

Never before have the police been so vilified, protested, hated, spat on, or had their food tampered with to the degree we’re seeing recently. To make matters much worse, mayors, city council members, state and federal government figures, and more recently, even their department’s own police chiefs and sheriffs have bashed officers publicly, causing strife in officer’s everyday lives – and impacting their safety both on and off the job.

 

I’ve seen countless references to the quality and eligibility of officer candidates being a large component of the loss in department population. In many major urban areas, especially, there aren’t enough suitable candidates to fill positions, and people from outside the area must come in to work.  I think of Ferguson, Missouri and Dallas, Texas as two of the more volatile areas for police officers.  The previous Dallas Police Chief, David Brown, said it best when commenting after the horrific attack on Dallas officers.  One reporter demanded to know why there weren’t more inner-city officers in the department’s inner-city sections.  Brown strongly encouraged the reporter, and others, to apply for a position instead of criticizing.  Chief Brown was widely applauded for saying what we were all thinking.  People complain about white officers, for example, working on the Ferguson Police Department while Ferguson is mostly populated by black people.  Yet, young black men and women aren’t applying to work in their town’s police force. Or they’re not qualified.  Either way, that’s a problem that only the town’s or city’s citizens can fix.

Students at a college in Massachusetts planned a protest for a police academy graduation. (PxHere/Wikipedia)

 

Never before, as well, with the advent of social media and a good quality photo and video cameras in every smart phone out there, has law enforcement worked under such scrutiny.  Doing the job under a microscope is more stressful than ever before, and when an officer must second-guess their every move for fear of retribution or trial in public, it creates a reluctance to do the job at all.  One could say or ask, “Why should I do xxx, since I’ll just be criticized and dogged for it, anyway?”

Never before has the political leanings of a police chief or sheriff impacted a department’s morale, effectiveness, and capabilities as it does today.  Officers who don’t feel that their supervision and administration have their backs won’t take risks that might help citizens, out of fear for not only initial backlash, but total lack of support afterwards.

It is my sincere hope that countless people still believe in doing the right thing for their communities and families and pursuing the police career path.  I know there are still daily rewards in the job.  I also implore potential candidates to use the technology available to us – in years past, mainly before the internet, it was difficult or impossible to review and vet a department and its leadership before applying.  With social media, Google, and other sources, it is now much easier to do your research homework before applying or showing interest. If you see turmoil in a department, choose another place to work.

Now more than ever, we can protect ourselves by researching and making good decisions that would lead to long-lasting and productive careers.

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