Police departments struggle to recruit enough officers

Police departments across the country are facing a challenge to recruit enough officers to fill their ranks as the perception of policing changes. This phenomenon is a danger to the safety of our communities as criminals take advantage of the situation.

“The number of full-time sworn officers per 1,000 residents decreased, from 2.42 in 1997 to 2.17 in 2016,” the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reported. The raw number of police officers in the U.S. also declined slightly, from 724,690 in 2013 to 701,169 in 2016.

Small police departments in rural communities struggle the most to recruit enough officers due to the lower pay. According to an article by the Associated Press:

“As hard as it is to find someone interested in joining law enforcement, it’s even more difficult to steer them toward a small town agency. It’s common for officers at smaller departments to move to large departments.”

Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum wrote in a 2017 organizational newsletter. A strong job market also contributes to the police recruitment crunch.

Jones and Wexler describe, law enforcement has lost its gloss in the eyes of many Americans. Public opinion of law enforcement slid to a 22-year low in 2015, according to a Gallup poll.

The rush to put officers on the street has led to gaps in training that has had tragic results.

Changes in public perception has contributed to the challenge to recruit enough officers

Controversial cases such as the shooting of Michael Brown made national headlines and caused a backlash against precised police discrimination against minority communities.

Wexler wrote, “The American policing profession may be facing the most fundamental questioning of its legitimacy in decades,… The very essence of policing is being debated in many cities, often because of controversial video recordings of police officers’ actions. Community trust has eroded, and the professionalism of the police is being questioned.”

The media is a driving force in the perception the public has of the police and many other issues. Many police officers are becoming dangerously concerned with how the media will portray them in some situations.

According to CBS Chicago: “The theory is the increased scrutiny of police has prompted some officers to take a step back. Some criminals are capitalizing on that, leading to an increase in crime.”

Add to that videos of alleged police abuse, and many officers fear becoming the next viral video.

Police departments face recruitment challenges

Lack of support for officers has led to de-policing of some communities

The lack of support from some communities and political leaders has also made the challenge to recruit enough officers more of a challenge.

Officers try to walk the fine line between doing their jobs and balancing the perception of them played out in the media. The loss of support from some communities and politicians wanting to make examples of them has led to de-policing of some areas.

A police officer from Chicago told the media outlet: “I’ve never been afraid of being hurt on this job or killed on this job,” he said. “I’m more concerned about what the media is going to think about me, what they’re going to put on the news, or how I’m going to be portrayed as this evil person.”

The New York Post published an article on an FBI report on the consequences of the war on cops and highlights the growing issue of de-policing of certain areas of the community.

Undertaken last year after a spate of cop-killings around the nation, the study confirms that areas across the nation have seen “de-policing” in the wake of protests that political leaders seemed to support.

“Law enforcement not only felt that their national political leaders [publicly] stood against them, but also that the politicians’ words and actions signified that disrespect to law enforcement was acceptable in the aftermath of the [Michael] Brown shooting,” the study notes.

The Assailant Study — Mindsets and Behaviors” examines the men behind 50 cop-killings last year. Most of the perps were simply looking to avoid arrest, but a full 28 percent actively hated police and desired to “kill law enforcement.”

Several, including the killers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, were clearly inspired by the protests that began in Ferguson, Mo.

Police officer indited for stopping an active shooter

One of the most extreme cases against a police officer comes out of Oklahoma where an officer who shot an active shooter was indicted for murder.

For the law enforcement community, the indictment has sent a chilling shockwave of concern, summed up by the state president of the fraternal order of police, Jason Smith.

“This would be the first time in American history that a police officer or anybody was charged with the crime of murder for shooting at an active shooter.”

The growing threat to the community

Criminals are taking advantage of the shortage of police officers. They are also using the media portrayal of officers to their advantage as well. According to the Wall Street Journal, de-policing of some black communities has lead to an increase in murder rates.

In predominantly African-American neighborhoods of U.S. cities, far too many killers have gotten away with far too many crimes for far too long, fueling a disastrous murder epidemic. Solving these murders and other serious crimes of violence in black communities should be a top goal for law enforcement

Every community in the country needs effective law enforcement. Part of making them effective is eliminating the bad element that harms the image of policing as a whole. Greater accountability is needed for those who violate the community’s trust and abuse their authority.

We must also question the media portrayal of officers as the criminals until we know the facts of a particular case. A short video showing an officer tackling a suspect may not show the reason behind the officers decision to take such action.