With departures happening against the backdrop of rising crime rates in major American cities and activists calling for defunding the police, departments across the country are now experiencing staff shortages. Now, as officers continue retiring en masse, police departments are struggling to attract enough new recruits, and some are even being forced to restructure in order to respond to 911 calls.
While Philadelphia, Seattle, Los Angeles, and Chicago stand out as cities hit the hardest by this mass exodus, nearly every major American city has experienced similar shortages. If you threw a dart at a map of the United States, you’d likely land close to a city dealing with short-staffed police departments and rising crime rates.
In response, police departments across the country are paying out more overtime to make up for staffing shortages and restructuring to keep response times up while prioritizing violent crime over other offenses such as drugs or theft. Cold case investigators and officers who typically work in outreach and community programs are being reassigned and placed back on the streets.
High trafficked and high crime areas are, of course, prioritized, and officers are kept in those areas; however, criminals are still taking advantage of law enforcement being stretched thin. Despite their best efforts, crime is continuing to rise in major cities across the U.S.
A catastrophic drop in morale seems to be the biggest driver of the police exodus. After the COVID pandemic began in March 2020, many state and local governments adopted policies that put criminals back on the street within days of being arrested in order for jails to remain less crowded. Police in New York City were arresting the same criminals for different crimes within weeks – or sometimes even days – of each other in extremely frustrating cycles.
Then, in May of that year, almost every single major city in America was rocked by protests and riots over the death of George Floyd. Black Lives Matter activists led massive demonstrations that sparked hundreds of violent riots and gave momentum to a movement for defunding the police.
Progressive leaders in cities such as Minneapolis, Portland, and Los Angeles initially embraced the reforms and cut police department funding. These funding cuts and the Defund the Police messaging signaled to many officers that their elected leaders no longer supported them.
This loss of hope in elected officials has produced a startling shortage in police departments across America. The Police Executive Research Forum conducted a study of nearly 200 police departments last year and measured the changes in hiring, resignations, and retirements. Researchers polled police departments on how those statistics changed in the year following the onset of the pandemic compared to the year before, and found that hiring across those police departments fell by a relatively modest 5%. Resignations, on the other hand, increased 18%. Retirements, though, were the biggest blow of all, jumping a staggering 45%. The study acknowledged that smaller departments may have skewed the previously noted statistic, but, even if all the departments with less than 500 officers were excluded, the retirement rate still jumped 27%.
The police shortage, paired with a rise in crime, seems to be feeding a snowball effect:
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania hit a record number of homicides last year, and it’s on pace to break that record again this year. Additionally, the city is down about 550 officers under pre-pandemic levels, and over 800 more officers are on medical leave or restricted duty.
In New York City, the crime rate has jumped nearly 40% this year, and the city’s police officers are leaving en masse. About 1,600 have left the force already this year, well over 400 more than the number that left the police department in all of last year.
In New Orleans, Louisiana, “fewer than 1,000 officers remain after a net loss of one in six officers since the start of last year. More than 90 have left the force this year as of early July, according to police officer groups. That’s about the same number who resigned, retired or were fired in all of 2020.” New Orleans police officials and Mayor LaToya Cantrell admonished the media for making their police recruitment more difficult and stated that their priorities are “retention, recruitment, resources.”
Las Cruces, New Mexico was down to 77% of its max operating forces as of June 2021.
In Portland, Oregon, only two recently retired officers, among the 81 contacted by Police Chief Chuck Lovell, have expressed interest in helping fill vacancies for Portland police under the city-approved retire-rehire program. Chief Lovell urged retired officers to consider returning in a letter, acknowledging that those who have retired since August 2020 left “at a time of great despair for the Bureau and the City of Portland.”
In Asheville, North Carolina, Police Chief David Zack stated, “We really saw this towards the middle and end of 2020 when we started to see the mass exodus of officers.” He continued: “It’s been pretty steady on a monthly basis where we’re about 40% down of our sworn staff.”
According to Minneapolis, Minnesota’s city records, “MPD’s sworn ranks reached a low of 614 officers in early May, down from more than 900 in early 2020.”
In the city of San Francisco, California, police are down by about 300 officers, “meaning fewer police on the streets, longer response times for critical crimes and little or no time to interact with the public.”
In Chicago, Illinois, according to police, “There are 296 academy recruits right now – with a new class of about 85 to 90 starting June 1. They are not making up for the numbers lost quite yet.” Chairman of the Chicago Police Foundation Board of Directors Richard Simon, in defense of officers, stated, “These are every mother’s son and daughter that put on the uniform of our country. These aren’t bad people; these are great people. These are American heroes.”
There is a heightened need for cities to get a handle on police officer shortages before things become much worse.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.