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What officers said were the biggest challenges of 2022 (and why leaders should pay attention)

Cops want to be part of the solution to the problems and challenges they face – maybe leaders and politicians should be willing to listen to the people doing the real work


AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews

This article originally appeared in the December 2022 Police1 Leadership Briefing. To read the full briefing, see Biggest challenges for LEOs in 2022 & why leaders need to listen and add the Leadership Briefing to your subscriptions.

When was the last time you saw a quote from a patrol officer about the state of law enforcement? We know what the politicians think. We might hear what the union representative says. Statements from police executives and PIOs are sought out, but that silence you hear in between is the officer in the patrol car working their shift and staying out of the news.

We used to talk about career survival as getting training, assignments and professional relationships to move up the ranks to retire on something better than patrol officer pay. Street survival meant avoiding death and injury and making sure the bad guy doesn’t win. Now, survival may be defined as keeping a low profile, staying off of social media, performing for a bodycam video, and avoiding force or restraint even if it compromises officer safety.

Police1 gave officers a voice by asking the question, “What has been the biggest challenge for LEOs in 2022?” The poll was open from November 25 through December 5 with over 700 responses.

Here, in order, is the list and responses:

  • Recruitment & retention: 52%
  • Risk of prosecution for on-duty actions: 17%
  • Officer wellness and morale: 15%
  • Media coverage of police issues: 9%
  • Ambush attacks: 4%
  • Crime spikes: 3%

Recruitment and retention

The number one concern expressed by 52% of respondents was recruitment and retention. This result was higher than last year’s ranking of the issue that, while still at number one, was at 37% for 2021. Whether the inevitable quirkiness of opinion polls or the ubiquitous media attention on the issue, the cop on the beat is worried.

Recruitment and retention might sound like something to be discussed only in the offices of chiefs and politicians. Budgets and modes of service delivery have to be adjusted. The public fear of having slow or no 911 response reaches the ears of the legislative bodies that depend on their votes and support. A quick Google search for “police recruitment and retention” yields 15 pages of results.

If the news on the increase in violent crime wasn’t a constant companion headline, police staffing might not be such an urgent issue, but the public connects the dots and so do the officers trying to keep up. The ones pushing the patrol car through the streets and alleys may have no control over public opinion or budget discussions, but inadequate staffing affects them most directly.

Reports of excessive overtime and fatigue, increased response time, cutting short investigative services, rushing rookies into the field and wondering if there is going to be a backup available are all on the minds of officers. The cycle of short-staffed working conditions, along with the pervasive hostility to law enforcement, have caused more rethinking about retirement and career changes than ever.

Media coverage of police issues

Last year’s number two concern was media coverage of police issues. At 25% it appears to have been more intense than this year’s ranking which came in at fourth on the list at 9%. Although the pressure of criticism remains strong, the encouraging reports of backlash against the defund rhetoric and the criticism of justice reform measures that the public associates with more violent crime, have moderated the narrative in 2022.

Risk of prosecution for on-duty actions

Taking over the number 2 ranking for 2022’s biggest challenge at 17% is the risk of prosecution for on-duty actions. The day of just getting sued or disciplined has yielded to the increased risk of criminal prosecution. In a rush to prove that officers don’t always get away with misconduct, prosecutors – particularly those elected on a reform platform during the height of the ACAB (“All Cops Are Bad”) frenzy are charging officers with assault, attempted murder, and murder for circumstances that often seem to be debatable and arguable using the science of biology and physics.

Officer wellness and morale

Certainly related to retention and risk of prosecution are officer wellness and morale. At 15% this topic ranked third on the list. In one sense this may be a positive indicator of rising awareness of this area of policing. More agencies are exploring prevention and response protocols to deal with job-related mental health issues. One fringe effect of the demand for mental health services to be provided in lieu of police response to calls related to persons with mental illness is the need to provide more services to the officers themselves.

As Police1 readers, those responding to the polls know that Police1 prioritizes officer health and wellness in its editorial policy and content, being a leader in bringing much-needed attention to the issue.

Officers want to be part of the solution

Of the six categories ranked in the 2022 poll, the lowest two are ambush attacks and crime spikes at 4% and 3% respectively. Why such low numbers on what seem to be the most serious threats to officers? Take a look at the other topics and ask what control the average police officer has over those issues. Dealing with crime and attacks is something that officers deal with on a regular basis. Those are categories of risk that they have already been sworn to address. Although the time and place may be unpredictable, these are areas that officers feel confident dealing with.

If that theory is correct, perhaps it teaches us that officers want to be part of the solution to all of the problems and challenges they face. Instead of intimidating these professionals into keeping a low profile just to survive in their careers, maybe leaders and politicians should be willing to listen to the people doing the real work, and let them speak without fear.

Follow all of Police1’s year-in-review coverage here.

Joel Shults retired as Chief of Police in Colorado. Over his 30-year career in uniformed law enforcement and criminal justice education, Joel served in a variety of roles: academy instructor, police chaplain, deputy coroner, investigator, community relations officer, college professor and police chief, among others. Shults earned his doctorate in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis from the University of Missouri, with a graduate degree in Public Services Administration and a bachelor degree in Criminal Justice Administration from the University of Central Missouri. In addition to service with the U.S. Army military police and CID, Shults has done observational studies with over 50 police agencies across the country. He has served on a number of advisory and advocacy boards, including the Colorado POST curriculum committee, as a subject matter expert.