A new study says many policing agencies across the country are in “crisis mode” when it comes to recruitment and retention of qualified staff.
The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) released its conclusion on the matter this month. A portion of the research was based on a meeting of 250 forum and survey participants consisting of law enforcement leaders, recently hired officers and deputies, researchers and other subject matter experts.
The study states that fewer people are applying for policing jobs and more are leaving the profession after only a few years on the job. The workforce crisis is apparently affecting law enforcement agencies of all sizes at the local, state and federal level. The study also suggests that the problem is going to worsen, claiming that the “rigid, quasi-military organizational structure doesn’t align with the preferences of many of today’s job applicants.”
Before mentioning other conclusions and assertions made by PERF, it’s critical that we obtain input from various local law enforcement agencies. On Tuesday, iFIBER ONE News spoke to Moses Lake Police Chief Dave Sands, Quincy Police Chief Kieth Siebert, Chelan County Sheriff Brian Burnett and Chief Deputy Ken Jones with the Grant County Sheriff’s Office.
All four law enforcement officials came to a consensus that recruitment was more of an issue than retention. However, opinions varied on why the applicant pool is receding.
Captain Dave Sands told iFIBER ONE News that the Moses Lake Police Department is seeing some retention issues as demand for lateral officers heightens. Sands asserted that generational perception is a possible factor.
“Years ago, when you were hired by a particular law enforcement agency, you stayed with that agency most, if not, the entirety of your career. That isn’t the case these days,” said Sands.
As of today, the Moses Lake police force is short one officer.
iFIBER ONE News then reached out to Chelan County Sheriff Brian Burnett who says recruitment has been a factor. Burnett says four deputy positions will become available in the next couple of months due to retirement, but the number of qualified applicants is a fraction of what it was. When we inquired about the reason behind the workforce recession, Burnett says it comes down to society’s perception of law enforcement.
“We’re lucky here in north central Washington, our community is supportive of us, but the support at-large has diminished as law enforcement comes under more scrutiny for their actions,” Burnett says.
Burnett added that the wider scope of law enforcement is a potential deterrent for some as officers deal with more mental health, civil and cyber issues.
iFIBER ONE News also spoke to Quincy Police Chief Kieth Siebert.
“Not the retention part but recruitment, definitely. We are finally full staff. The number of those testing to get into law enforcement is down and been that way for a year or so,” Siebert stated in a text message.
Ken Jones of the Grant County Sheriff’s Office says the retention aspect in the department has been fine, but there are fewer candidates to choose from. Jones says the Grant County Sheriff’s Office has managed to navigate the shrinking applicant pools successfully. However, Jones did mention that the wider-array of law enforcement scenarios along with the magnification of de-escalation tactics, is a deterrent for many as agencies re-assess police accountability protocol.
The PERF study parallel’s Jones’s assessment in the following statement:
An important factor complicating the situation is the fact that the work of policing itself is changing. The work of police officers is becoming more challenging. Criminal offenders are committing new types of cyber-crime, and are using computers to commit old types of crime in new ways, so officers must understand and be comfortable with new technologies. Furthermore, today’s police officers increasingly are being asked to deal with social problems, such as untreated mental illness, substance abuse, and homelessness. As a result, the skills, temperament, and life experiences needed to succeed as an officer are becoming more complex.
According to researchers, as policing agencies struggle to find applicants, they’re prompted to raise the bar and look for applicants with a wider array of talents and skills.
The report published by PERF states that agencies are dealing with a “triple threat” of problems as revealed by the survey:
1.Fewer people are applying to become police officers
- Nationwide, PERF claims that police applicants are down by as little as 27% and as much as 36% in all areas.
2. More officers are leaving their departments-and in many cases, leaving the policing profession-well before they reach retirement age.
3. A growing number of current officers are becoming eligible for retirement.
- PERF’s survey found that about 8.5% of current officers are eligible for retirement. Within, the next five years, 15.5% will become eligible for retirement.
On positive note, research also provided input from officials during the large-scale meeting on how to potentially avert hiring hardships. Suggestions include streamlining the application and hiring process, provide authentic portrayals of what policing is about and align incentives with what today’s officers want.