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Nationwide Police Shortage: Why Officers are in High Demand

From large metropolitan departments to rural towns, attrition is outpacing hiring in the police force.

Tenured officers are retiring faster than departments are filling vacancies. As a result, staffing issues are putting public safety at risk. In Houston, solvable property crime cases have no one to work on them and in Dallas, officers are taking longer to respond to fewer emergency calls, The Texas Tribune reports.

In 2017, 272 Boston police officers became eligible for retirement. That number is projected to grow to 458 by 2019. The pool of officers to fill those positions isn’t big enough. In June 2017, only 56 new recruits graduated from the Boston Police Training Academy, according to a report published by WBUR News.

Other police departments face similar vacancies, according to an NBC news report.

  • Philadelphia, PA has 300 open positions
  • Baltimore, MD has more than 100
  • Little Rock, AR has 75

It wasn’t always this difficult. A decade ago, the Seattle Police Department received 3,000 applicants for just 10 openings, according to ABC News. Today, roughly 1,000 applicants are submitted for 70 positions, a drop of more than 90% according to the department.

Shortages Mean New Recruitment Strategies Incentives

The nationwide shortage is forcing departments to rethink recruitment and roll out new incentives to fill open positions as soon as possible.

  • In Palo Alto, CA, the department is offering bonuses of up to $25,000 on top of starting salaries ranging from $100,000 to $119,000, according to an article published in The Mercury News.
  • In addition to offering a strong pension and $7,500 signing bonus, the San Antonio Police Department developed an accelerated training course to fill gaps faster; offering a 16-week course instead of 32 weeks, according to KENS5 News.
  • The Portland Police Department is offering a $10,000 sign-on bonus as well as a nearly 10% pay raise during the first two years of service, according to the Portland Press Herald.
  • A newly approved police contract will allow the department in San Jose, CA, to roll out several incentives including: a 20% pay raise over three years, $5,000 one-time retention bonus for current officers, and up to $7,500 for recruiting cadets or lateral officers from other departments, according to The Mercury News.

Despite departments’ efforts to minimize talent gaps, overall interest in the field is suffering. Hiring is much harder today than it was five or even 10 years ago – for multiple reasons.

Recruitment Crises: Why Policing is Losing Popularity

Career interest, risks, public scrutiny and more have contributed to this decline.

Departments are competing with private sector jobs that offer higher wages, a better work-life balance and flexible schedules. With unemployment hovering just under 5%, a 10-year-low, competition for good workers is fierce.

“When you’re having to compete against the IBMs, the Microsofts, the Intels, for all the qualified people, it makes for a real contest,” Gilbert Gallegos, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said in an ABC news report.

Recruiters also say an increase in public and media scrutiny is forcing people to rethink if this career is worth it.

Nine out of 10 officers say their departments have become more concerned about their safety, according to a 2017 Pew Research Study.

The same study revealed conflicting results regarding officers’ work experience. While about 6 in 10 officers say they are nearly always or often feel proud about their work, about half say it always or often makes them feel frustrated.

Safety concerns paired with low salaries, an increase in retiring officers, and concerns regarding high-profile cases are creating a “perfect storm” for recruitment.

An increasing number of departments are working to fight the shortage with incentives, which could become more widespread as the shortage continues.

High Demand for a Rewarding Career

Despite many of the challenges law enforcement professionals face today, the profession is still a rewarding one.

“It’s definitely a profession you don’t get into for the pay. It’s for the love of wanting to interact with people, wanting to do great things and the ability to give back,” Capt. Heath Helton of the Little Rock Police Department said in an interview with NBC News.

Becoming an officer does have its advantages:

  • Job stability for you and your family
  • Personal gratification from helping others
  • New challenges, as no one day is ever the same
  • Enhancing problem-solving capabilities through experience
  • Future career opportunities in law enforcement

Fellsmere (Florida) Chief of Police Keith Touchberry, an adjunct professor in Florida Tech’s online BA in Criminal Justice program, says:

“While dangerous at times, it provides officers with an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the people they are sworn to protect and serve. No two days are the same and officers can be as proactive or reactive as they need to be to meet their community policing needs.”

A career in law enforcement can start with arresting criminals on the streets, solving crimes, finding missing persons and more. But, it can lead to careers in other high-demand areas including working for the FBI, Secret Service, and Drug Enforcement Agency.

Want to learn more about becoming a police officer and other career paths in law enforcement? Start with the following articles:

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