Across the country, police departments are struggling to hire qualified applicants to fill vacancies within their agency. Departments are operating at bare minimum staff wise in an effort to stay afloat. What’s causing the decline in police officers?
Higher salaries and better benefits in the private sector are one of the main contributing factors. Not only is this affecting new recruits but departments are watching veteran officers leave for the allure of greener pastures. Even departments who offer competitive salaries are noticing a decline in the number of new recruits. According to the Washington Post, applications at the Seattle Police Department have dropped a staggering 50% even with a starting salary of $79,000. Seasoned officers have become attractive targets for companies seeking a particular skill set involving safety and communication skills. Companies are taking note that the majority of a police officer’s day revolves around the ability to communicate. Whether it be the use of de-escalation tactics or the ability to communicate with the victims of a crime, these tools are valuable to companies. The recruitment of officers is even taking place among other departments. In 2014 Austin Police Department held a recruiting job fair in Memphis. After one year, the base pay for an Austin Patrolman is $70,500. In comparison, Memphis offers $40,600 after one year. A difference of almost $30,000. In Arkansas, the average police officer salary is $38,450
The public scrutiny that comes with the job of police officer is also keeping applicants away. With the ability for virtually every police interaction to be filmed, it also allows for those interactions to be spread over social media in a matter of minutes. Often times the video is a snippet of the entire police interaction and does not tell the entire story. Body Cameras have become a great tool in offering transparency for departments and the ability to tell the entire story. Police officers are expected to make split-second decisions and get it right every single time. They can’t and they won’t. Why? Because they’re human. We hold officers up to a higher standard, as well we should. We entrust them to keep our communities safe. We want the best-trained officers there on the front lines to protect us. Quite frankly, many applicants don’t want this heavy burden. Work in a cubicle or work the streets for half the pay and twice the scrutiny? This job isn’t for everyone.
So how do departments compete if they can’t compete with better wages and benefits? Departments have to emphasize what they have to offer. Whether it be take-home vehicles, community policing roles or other incentives. Many departments offer the opportunity to work in different fields after a period of time. Whether it be School Resource Officer, CID, DTF, Bomb squad, or maybe bike patrol, the department can cater to everyone. Education incentives can also be used to entice officers. Often departments will offer higher salaries for those with an Associates, Bachelors, or Masters Degree. Some even offer tuition reimbursement for those officers who seek to further their education once hired.
Morale also plays a huge part in keeping officers. Officers need to know that they are appreciated within the department. Whether it be through award recognition or a simple pat on the back and “good job”. Nothing can bring a department down faster than low morale. This is true not just in law enforcement but in any business. Low morale creates a toxic environment which carries over in their work ethic and performance on the street. This chain of events, unfortunately, leads to safety concerns on duty.
The role of a police officer isn’t for everyone. A thick skin is a must in this profession along with patience. Thankfully there are those however who still have a general will to serve their communities. They’re entering a profession that has changed over the years. From the political era (1840-1930), The reform era (1930-1980), to the Community era(1980-present). New recruits are entering a time where more emphasis is placed on community policing than ever before. Neighborhoods aren’t just being patrolled, they’re being interacted with which is a good thing. The problem is finding qualified applicants who have that desire to serve in these neighborhoods.