(NewsNation) — Police departments across the country are struggling with widespread staffing problems, finding it difficult both to retain longtime officers and recruit new ones. In Philadelphia, for example, the police department faces a shortage of more than 500 officers.
Many observers blame these staffing shortages on a political climate that has made policing a less attractive career.
“I know a lot of police officers and police leaders who discourage their own kids from entering the profession. And they do that because they see it as very high-risk today,” said Ron Huberman, the CEO of Benchmark Analytics, which works with police departments on management issues. “It has always been high-risk in terms of personal safety. … But today there’s also a secondary level of risk that they may do something in the course of their career that puts them in harm’s way if they’re the next YouTube sensation.”
NewsNation spoke to police departments and people who work with departments on recruitment and retention about the different strategies that are being pursued to address the staffing problems.
One of the most common steps departments are taking is to increase compensation for police officers. North Carolina’s Fayetteville Police Department has been short by dozens of officers over the past few years.
It has responded to this challenge in part by increasing its starting salary from $34,000 to $41,500, with a $4,000 sign-on bonus for new recruits who stay for at least three years. In 2020, they also instituted a retention bonus of $2,000 for officers who agreed to stay on for an additional two years.
“We started this retention incentive around the time that COVID started. … Not only were we working but we were working even more than we were before,” said Fayetteville Police Sgt. Kendra Faire. “So I think the retention bonus helped show officers … not only do we appreciate what you do on a day-to-day basis, but we also appreciate you being here and putting effort and energy into doing a good job during a pandemic.”
Earlier this year, Capt. Todd Joyce said the department expects to be fully staffed sometime in the next few months as more recruits come on board.
Sgt. Matt Trenka of the Westminster Police Department in Colorado noted that his department has lost 64 officers since 2020. They responded by, among other things, improving compensation by implementing hiring bonuses and compressing the pay scale so that officers could increase their salaries more quickly.
“I think that’s done a really good job on keeping people,” he said.
He expects to bring his department’s vacancy rate down soon to between 5% and 7.5%.
LOOKING FOR NEW PLACES TO RECRUIT
Another strategy the Fayetteville police have been using to replenish their ranks is to widen their net for recruits. They recently hired nine people from Puerto Rico, a mix of veteran law enforcement officials and cadets.
“They’re able to come over here, they’re able to make more money, we don’t have to worry about the citizenship issue, obviously, and we have a better retirement system here in North Carolina as opposed to Puerto Rico,” Faire said.
Faire added that they’re also working on recruiting in Guam and American Samoa.
The Fayetteville department has also been aggressive in recruiting within its own community. Every police vehicle has a QR code that takes people to their recruitment website.
Changing police culture
“Today, if all you’re doing is paying more, I’m going to be very skeptical that you’re seeing any kind of real results in both retention and hiring numbers that are really making a difference,” Huberman said, pointing to police culture and morale issues as the culprit in the current nationwide staffing problems.
Many departments are working to make the job more attractive for officers. In Fayetteville, police are allowed to take home their vehicles and the department extended the geographical range where the vehicles are allowed to go off-hours. They also allowed employees to have tattoos and facial hair under some circumstances.
It’s difficult to quantify the impact. Alex Johnston, the co-founder of Epic Recruiting, which works on law enforcement recruitment, emphasized the importance of showing potential recruits that the police are engaged with the community. He referenced an example of a police department the company worked with in Delaware that had good relations with the local NAACP.
“What we’re trying to tell (the) police department is, go out and tell your story. Don’t be afraid to engage (with) organizations and nonprofits and community organizers within your community to speak on your behalf. Because that’s the voice that people want to hear,” he said.