A Police Hiring Crisis Is Gripping U.S. Cities And Towns

Some small towns are simply closing their police forces.
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - OCTOBER 19: Chicago police officers patrol downtown as the city celebrates the Chicago Sky's WNBA title on October 19, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. The city has started to place police officers on unpaid leave for refusing to comply with the city's requirements that they report their COVID-19 vaccination status. Only about 65 percent of the city's police have complied with the order. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Scott Olson/Getty Images

From big cities to small towns across the country, America is facing a police officer shortage.

To blame is a mass exodus from police departments over the last several years, along with difficulty hiring new officers.

Many in law enforcement say departments are suffering from flagging morale thanks to a wave of anti-police sentiment that peaked with the police killing of George Floyd in 2020. In some cases, city councils slashed police budgets, leaving some police chiefs feeling abandoned as they are stretched thin trying to keep residents safe.

Resignations among cops were up 47% last year over 2019, and retirements were up 19% among 200 police forces surveyed by the Police Executive Research Forum.

While large cities are forced to plod along with smaller departments, some small towns are giving up and simply shuttering their police forces.

In Goodhue, Minnesota, a town of 1,300, Police Chief Josh Smith warned the City Council that unless police pay and benefits improved, he would not be able to find new officers, the Associated Press reported.

When his prediction proved right over the summer, the chief quit, and the small police department’s one full-time officer and five part-time employees followed him out the door.

Goodhue closed its police department in late August, leaving its police work to the county sheriff.


However, the Goodhue County sheriff is trying to fill four vacancies of his own. He said he only has 10 applicants for all four jobs compared to the 35 applicants he got for one job in 2019, and he expects to have to poach cops from other forces.

“It’s scary,” Sheriff Marty Kelly told the Associated Press. “We are robbing Peter to pay Paul. And we’re not alone.”

Other towns have left their police work to state police or the police forces in neighboring towns.

The U.S. has seen many smaller towns and cities disband their local police departments in the last few decades. Over 500 towns and cities with populations of 1,000 to 200,000 closed their police departments between 1972 and 2017, according to a 2022 paper by a Rice University economics professor.

Lately though, the reason for closing the police department is often an officer shortage. Over the past two years, at least 12 small towns have closed their departments.

Morris, another Minnesota town, which has 5,100 residents, had only two cops left when it closed its police department last year after officers kept leaving.

Two Maine towns also recently shuttered their police departments — Limestone in March and Van Buren two years ago.

In Illinois, the town of Washburn with 1,100 residents closed its police department in 2021.

In Texas, the town of Lott with 700 residents closed its police department with two officers last year when the town was going broke, according to the mayor.

Big cities, where there is much more crime to handle, are scrambling to deal with officers quitting in droves as well.

In New York City, the NYPD has seen an alarming wave of officers resigning.

In January and February, 239 officers resigned, the biggest exodus since 2007, according to NYPD pension data. Also this year, the NYPD lowered its fitness standards in order to bring more women onto the force, a decision the mayor reportedly had to approve.

“The NYPD staffing emergency is approaching the point of no return,” said Police Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch in March.

In Los Angeles, the LAPD is more than 300 officers short and down to fewer than 9,000 officers, the fewest since the 1990s.

Last year, as Los Angeles battled the officer shortage and a crime spike, Angelenos pooled their money to offer new cops up to $24,000 over two years for housing. The program raised at least $2.2 million.

San Francisco is about 600 officers short, but the city has been able to attract more recruits lately.

In San Francisco, Democratic Mayor London Breed cut $120 million from the police and sheriff’s budgets in 2020, even though police warned that the cut could affect their ability to respond to emergencies.

By 2021 though, because the police cuts had impacted the San Francisco police department’s ability to respond to emergencies, Breed flipped on her decision. She made an emergency request to the Board of Supervisors for more law enforcement money to crack down on crime, including open-air drug dealing, car break-ins, and theft from stores.

Austin, which is also battling a crime spike, is more than 500 officers short, resulting in 911 callers being put on hold, according to a union representing the cops. The Austin Police Department has lost more than 800 officers in the last six years.

“We’re moving in the wrong direction. There’s less and less resources to go out and do the job,” Thomas Villarreal, president of the Austin Police Association, said last month.

In 2020, Austin’s city council voted to slash the police department’s budget by $150 million, more than a third. Meanwhile, at least 19 Austin police officers have been indicted for their actions on the job during the riots of 2020.

Nashville’s police department is short 170 officers, which left the city’s elementary schools 70 school resource officers short this summer.

“If we pull 70 officers from the precincts and put them in schools and we leave the rest of the community vulnerable,” Nashville Police Chief John Drake said, citing gun violence in the city.

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