What can be done about understaffing of police departments?

With this problem persisting beyond a reasonable period of time, we asked our Police1 members on our LinkedIn page to offer some solutions

There has recently been a spate of headlines decrying understaffing at police departments across the nation, with media reports coming from places such as AustinAlbuquerque, Burbank, Dallas, PittsburghPortland and Washington, D.C.

Sadly, this trend is about seven years old. 

Police agencies were severely hit when municipal tax revenues went in the tank following the housing bubble burst and the "Great Recession" began in 2008. At its worst stage, many agencies lost as much as 10 to 15 percent of their work force through a combination of attrition and layoffs — mostly layoffs. Even when the economy recovered (and it’s a debatable point that it truly has recovered for many cities and individuals who live there), those shrunken police budgets did not substantially bounce back. Some positions were added, but many agencies were forced to "do more with less" — the new normal.

Another contributing factor for agencies that continue to struggle to attract qualified candidates for this great profession is the "Ferguson Effect." It is widely accepted that in the aftermath of that incident on West Florissant Avenue, a whole host of potential recruits looked at the profession and simply changed their minds, choosing instead to pursue a totally different profession. This is understandable when considering a career path in which simply doing their job could land them in court, in jail, or in the grave. Suddenly, becoming a computer engineer looks incredibly appealing. So, what can be done?

10 Opinions from LinkedIn
With this problem persisting beyond a reasonable period of time, we asked our Police1 members active on our LinkedIn page to offer some solutions. Here are 10 of those opinions (edited for brevity and clarity). Add your own thoughts in the comments area below. 

Greg King: Current events reveal a greater need for our services than ever before, but society in large part doesn't seem to place a value on the services we provide. Arguably some of our own employers don't truly value what we do. Can we capitalize on this opportunity to market what we can do for them? Seems we would have the high ground in this dilemma if we were a private business. But we are sworn to duty in this profession and our customers can have their cake and eat it too.

Russel Workman: Privatize a portion of the uniform and investigative branches with highly rated and respected security/private investigation companies, free up sworn personnel for selective enforcement in areas they are needed most.

Darrin Zehnpfennig: This is a reflection of police reputation being attacked by the media (coupled) with cutting benefits, pay, and the elimination of pension plans. While middle class cost of living has increased, many departments have frozen wages, and cut benefits. You get what you pay for. Officers are asked to take on more responsibility every year. Agencies want the best of the best but instead they get what they pay for.

Roy Turnwall: Stop looking for perfect candidates. Value experience — there is a lot to be said for a candidate who is currently working as a police officer for a government agency with an excellent work history.

Martin Gilliland: The lack of organizational commitment, community commitment, personnel commitment and the list can go on. Our "leadership" is more concerned about themselves than anything else. People leave good jobs because of the lack of true all-around good leadership. It looks like the "me generation" has taken over. I would say the spate of negative publicity hasn’t helped, but leadership comes into play in this area as well. Take control of the situation! Don’t let outside influences dictate what you need to do.

Richard Dettmer: There are at least two reasons for understaffing. First is as mentioned by some already the fact that "becoming a police officer is not as attractive as it used to be." Pay and retirement benefits used to be very good in the ‘90s to early 2000s and the work was not as hazardous as it is today plus there was more respect given to good cops by the general public. The second is one of economics — not yours, but cities, counties, and states. The very reasons that made being a cop a good choice went south. Local governments could not afford to offer the great pensions, early retirements, salaries and other benefits so what did they do to cut costs? New hire benefit plans were reduced and required copay, LE positions were cut if not eliminated and cops had to do more with less even with perhaps too strong a cop union support on their side. Lastly, cops started getting bad raps — some deservedly, most not so — that lost some of their public trust. Blame the cell video or whatever, but it hurt.

TK Brown: In this current climate, I’m not sure we could get more qualified applicants if there were a large pay increase. That could help some, but it won’t solve the entire problem. And it’s not just recruitment, its retention of current officers. We need to try and keep the solid, seasoned officers instead of letting them walk away when they get other offers.

Fredric McQuiggan: The fix to labor shortages is no great mystery. Departments can either raise pay and benefits and/or increase the size of the hiring pool (i.e. lower the minimum hiring standards for police). Problem solved!

Tim Gordon: Pay, benefits, and resources. Pay your officers a rate commensurate with the community they serve. Give them good health and traditional retirement. Then support them publicly when they do their job. Provide them with the resources they need to work safely. Cars with 200,000 miles and working solo tours make you question the commitment of your administration — add to that the traditional nepotism and corruption of government and you can see why many officers become disillusioned with their chosen profession. Oh yes, and provide them with training, lots of training. But make sure it’s relevant to what they need and not just smoke and mirrors PR for political reaction.

Michael Habash: Find a way to recruit mid-career professionals from other fields looking for a change. Right now if someone wants to leave their field and enter law enforcement it comes with a pay cut. Millennials tend to switch careers more frequently, are well educated and could help meet public expectations.

Historically, a commonly accepted "standard" staffing level was one officer for every 1,000 citizens. This ratio is, of course, not present in truly massive cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, where the geography and other factors allow a lower ratio. But in too many jurisdictions, the problem of understaffing has police: citizen ratios nowhere near that level. In those places, police service can be slower for the citizens and more dangerous for the police. 

Somehow, the profession needs to address this issue. Sound off with your thoughts in the comments area below.

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