Survey results indicate urgent need for comprehensive workload analysis and service delivery revamp

Data from Police1’s “What cops want in 2023” survey suggest the time is ripe for police administrators to do two things

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Police1’s third annual State of the Industry survey asked officers about their experiences related to recruiting and retention. [1] The patterns that emerged from the data suggest a few things: an older workforce, a service orientation and understaffed police agencies.

The patterns observed are consistent with other data about recruitment and retention (see the Police Executive Research Forum’s April 2023 report, “New PERF Survey Shows Police Agencies Are Losing Officers Faster Than They Can Hire New Ones”). The data suggest the time is ripe for police administrators to do two things:

  1. Undertake a comprehensive workload analysis aimed at shifting and sharing responsibility for public safety; [2]
  2. Revise the primary service delivery method to include more civilian (non-sworn) positions to augment sworn staff, and to adopt problem-oriented policing as a means to address fear, crime and quality of life conditions instead of merely responding to individual incidents.
Although the survey data suggest there are some negative issues with recruiting and retention, police administrators can reverse the trend by applying a differential approach to personnel management.
Although the survey data suggest there are some negative issues with recruiting and retention, police administrators can reverse the trend by applying a differential approach to personnel management. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Recruiting and retention data


The Police1 survey data are consistent with other surveys and industry discussions on police recruiting and retention.

For example, data from the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) reveal that fewer people are applying to become police officers, more officers are leaving their depart­ments – and, in many cases, leaving the policing profession – well before they reach retirement age, and a growing number of current officers are becoming eligible for retirement (i.e., an older workforce). [3]

One example of recruiting is the informal method, which is recommending the profession to family, friends and community members through one-on-one contact. The Police1 data indicate a relatively low likelihood that current members of law enforcement will recommend law enforcement as a career to someone (1 being unlikely and 10 being likely). Just over two-thirds of the participants (67%) were either neutral (5) or unlikely (1-4) to recommend law enforcement as a career.

There were numerous reasons that impact the likelihood of recommending policing as a career, some of which are shown in Table 3.

Another negative recruiting indicator is that 41% of the participants actively discouraged people from selecting law enforcement as a career; almost 31% of those responses are since 2020, which marked a drastic turning point in U.S. law enforcement following the nationwide events surrounding the death of George Floyd.

Participants listed several hundred reasons why they discouraged others from becoming a police officer, such as “it is a thankless job;” “the hatred by the community and the media;” “it is not what it used to be and no support from society;” “Advise them how overworked and underpaid they will be. Might have to go through every shift on eggshells;” “Officers no longer have the support of the administration or politicians.” There were several corroborating comments about poor pay, unfavorable changes to the pension system and becoming a firefighter is a better career choice.

All of the survey participants indicated that their agency is doing something to address recruitment (Table 2). [4]

Although the participating police agencies employ various strategies to attract officers, 55% of survey participants do not believe these initiatives have improved recruitment (21% believed they did improve recruitment and 24% were not sure).

The participants also offered their insight about the factors that had the biggest negative impact on recruitment (Table 3). [5] Although police agencies may have limited impact on external issues (e.g., coverage of police issues, public recording of police officers; better benefits, or higher pay in other professions), modifying the internal police administration is within their control. This is an opportunity for management (police executives) and labor (unions; fraternal groups) to define how and why officers do not feel supported and implement policy changes to alter those perceptions. A labor-management problem-solving model is the best approach to resolving disputes, contractual obligations, revising existing policies, and rules and regulations to ensure a healthy compromise between management and labor.


Retaining qualified police officers is also a challenge. Burnout, fatigue and cynicism can be accelerated by inaccurate media portrayals and emotional arguments that are not grounded in fact, which can lead to retirement and early retirement. [6] Retirement and early retirement contribute to understaffing. Understaffing contributes to being overworked, including unequal workload distribution, mandatory overtime (e.g., being held over after a regular shift, being called in on a day off, having vacation canceled), and experiencing a quick change-over. [7] Table 4 [8] reveals a pattern of understaffing that has direct implications for retention, officer safety, health and well-being. [9]

Table 4: Descriptive statistics concerning short staffing and potential implications

Here are the highlights from those survey participants who agree, and strongly agree about being short-staffed:

  1. Incur mandatory overtime: 62%
  2. Concerned about on-duty safety: 69%
  3. Increase in the number of one-officer vs. two-officer units: 22% [10]
  4. Regularly pulled off specialty assignments to work patrol shifts: 34%
  5. Available training hours have decreased: 57%
  6. Being denied time-off requests more often: 45%
  7. Less likely to conduct traffic stops due to reduced officer backup: 46% [11]
  8. Response time to high-priority calls has increased: 49%
  9. Response time to low-priority calls has increased: 62%
  10. Officers don’t have adequate time for training: 60%
  11. Less time to review department policies: 49%

On-demand webinar: The impact of the police recruitment & retention crisis

On-demand webinar: The impact of the police recruitment & retention crisis

Our expert panel discusses key insights from Police1's State of the Industry survey on the impact of short staffing, mass retirements and lateral transfers

Potential solution: Comprehensive workload analysis and problem-oriented policing

Workload analysis

Police administrators should undertake a comprehensive workload analysis to examine the nexus between workload and costs. [12]

Police departments continually face issues with staffing, largely owing to their inability to measure their work. A recurring, yet fundamental question pervades the industry: How many police officers do we need? This is inevitably followed by: What is the projected cost?

Answering these questions is essential to any planning discussion about staffing. Police agencies often report that they “feel” understaffed but cannot demonstrate it with empirical data. [13] Lack of empirical data can directly affect department efficiency and recruitment efforts. Perceived understaffing may also undercut community policing and problem-solving efforts, as well as negatively impact officer morale, productivity and community support. [14]

Even if a police agency can reasonably estimate its workload, they often do not have a rational method for linking work to the costs. This presents an “either-or” conundrum for elected and appointed officials: solve the workload or the budget issue, but not both.

Previous research suggests that workload is one of the primary contributing factors to increasing staffing [15] and responding to service demands. [16] Linking activities to costs creates a clear nexus between the cost of service and resource allocation. Such a model comports with the rational-technical theory of organizations, which implies that organizations behave and are structured in a manner designed to optimize efficiency and effectiveness. [17]

A workload analysis will provide the agency with a baseline from which to operate. Once the actual workload is examined, identifying and reducing (or eliminating) “problems” can further reduce workload, which is likely to reduce the stress and strain of being overworked.

Problem-Oriented Policing

The problem-oriented policing (POP) method was developed in 1979 by Herman Goldstein. [18] This model reconceptualized how the police address recurring community issues.

The traditional method of policing was an incident-driven system: police respond to each individual call for service, apply a treatment and then move to the next call and repeat the treatment – whatever the treatment may be (e.g., arrest an offender, conduct a search, conduct a field interrogation, provide medical assistance, investigate a crime) – to resolve the situation, at least for the short term. The primary tactics of the traditional model were preventive patrol (omnipresence), rapid response to calls for service and follow-up investigations. Police departments became interested in trying to prevent crime through more aggressive preventive tactics with the hope that such a response would deter crime. Scientific inquiry revealed the limits of this approach by the late 1970s, something that is now well-established in policing and academic circles. [19] The traditional policing model did not give any thought to the antecedents of crime and disorder or the nexus between individual calls and the broader problem. For the police to continually respond to recurring calls (e.g., repeat call types, repeat locations, repeat offenders, repeat victims) without analyzing the underlying condition is the proverbial cat chasing its tail: the police repeatedly

For the police to realize a greater return on the investment they make in their crime and disorder-control operations, they must concern themselves more directly with the end product of their efforts (i.e., effectiveness). Meeting this need requires the police to develop a more systematic process for examining and addressing the problems that the public expects them to handle. It requires identifying problems in more precise terms, researching the problem, documenting the nature of their current response, assessing its adequacy and the adequacy of existing authority and resources, engaging in a broad exploration of alternative responses, weighing the merits of these alternatives, and choosing from among them. [20] It requires the police to implement a problem-oriented policing/problem-solving model [21] and employ the SARA (Scanning, Analysis, Response, and Assessment) process. Problem-oriented policing/problem-solving relies on data to identify problems, analysis to describe the problems and determine why they are occurring, developing and implementing specific wide-ranging responses and assessing those responses to determine whether the problem has been reduced, and if not, why not.

Crime, disorder and quality of life conditions arise from opportunity. [22] Opportunity plays a role in every offense. Opportunity occurs when a motivated individual converges in time and space with a suitable environment in the absence of a capable guardian. All offenses require opportunity, but not every opportunity is necessarily followed by an offense. For example, a motivated individual is necessary for an offense to occur, but it is not sufficient. The environment must be conducive to the offense, including the absence of those who might stop it and the arrangement of the physical/built environment. Opportunity thus becomes the limiting factor that determines the outcome in environments prone to disorder because the individual generally has little or no control over environmental conditions that facilitate disorder. Disorder can be reduced or eliminated by identifying, analyzing and altering the opportunity structure.

Problem-oriented policing/problem-solving seeks to identify and block opportunities for offenses to occur through the SARA process. The model requires the police to reorient at least part of their work around a new basic work unit, a problem, [23] instead of an incident. Problem-oriented policing/problem-solving entails deep analysis into the contributing factors underlying the problem, instead of a generalized response by one or more officers to repeated incidents where they triage and move on to the next incident – only to return again. Most importantly, defining a condition as a problem, as opposed to an incident, carries with it a commitment to analyzing the condition to understand its causes and contributing factors, and then developing and implementing responses designed to achieve long-term, sustainable improvements in the community’s and police’s response to the problem.

Today, problem-solving is one of the most widely adopted crime and disorder-control strategies among progressive police agencies; place-based interventions that implement a wide variety of tactics (e.g., situational crime prevention) [24] to address the underlying causes of disorder show the greatest long-term promise. [25] 

Although the survey data suggest there are some negative issues with recruiting and retention, police administrators can reverse the trend by applying a differential approach to personnel management: civilianizing the agency to a larger degree, conducting a comprehensive workload analysis that identifies where to shift and share responsibilities for public safety, and adopting problem-oriented policing to address chronic problems. Police agencies have a tremendous amount of institutional knowledge and talent. Capitalize on the internal talent and the officers’ commitment to community service to build pride, community engagement and a visible public presence. If other expertise is required (e.g., data analysis; geographic information system; crime analysis), then partnering with a university is an easy solution. [26]

Problem-oriented policing is known to contribute to employee satisfaction in various ways:

  1. Meaningful work: POP focuses on identifying and solving specific problems within the community. This approach allows officers to see the direct impact of their work, which can increase their sense of purpose and job satisfaction. Officers are more likely to feel fulfilled when they can witness positive changes resulting from their efforts.
  2. Collaborative approach: POP emphasizes collaboration between officers, community members and other stakeholders. This approach promotes teamwork, communication and a sense of shared responsibility. Working together on problem-solving initiatives can foster a positive and supportive work environment, which enhances employee satisfaction.
  3. Professional development: Implementing POP requires specialized knowledge and skills in problem analysis, data collection and evaluation. Providing officers with training and resources to develop these competencies demonstrates a commitment to their professional growth. Opportunities for continuous learning and development contribute to employee satisfaction by increasing job mastery and personal growth.
  4. Community support and recognition: As POP focuses on engaging with the community and building partnerships, officers are likely to experience increased community support and recognition for their efforts. Positive interactions with community members, expressions of gratitude and acknowledging the officers’ contributions can boost morale and job satisfaction.
  5. Autonomy and decision-making: POP empowers officers to take a proactive role in identifying and solving problems. This approach allows for greater autonomy and decision-making at the operational level. Giving officers the responsibility and trust to solve problems can enhance job satisfaction by providing a sense of ownership and control over their work.
  6. Feedback and evaluation: Implementing a problem-solving approach involves assessing the effectiveness of interventions and making data-driven decisions. Regular feedback and evaluation mechanisms allow officers to see the impact of their actions, learn from successes and challenges, and improve their problem-solving strategies. Clear performance feedback contributes to a sense of achievement and satisfaction.
  7. Reduce monotony: Traditional reactive policing can sometimes lead to a monotonous routine of responding to calls for service. POP introduces a proactive component to the officers’ work, which can break the monotony through increased engagement that brings greater job satisfaction.

By embracing problem-oriented policing principles, police administrators can enhance employee satisfaction by providing meaningful work, fostering collaboration, supporting professional development, recognizing officers’ contributions, and promoting autonomy and decision-making. Ultimately, this can create a more fulfilling and positive work environment for officers that is likely to garner goodwill with the community, including the media.

What cops want in 2o23: Administrative and demographic data

There were 4,141 survey participants. The overwhelming majority of participants were current sworn law enforcement officers (98%), the remaining officers were civilian non-sworn. Age of the participants indicated an older workforce trend. Eighty-three percent of the participants were between 36 years old and over 55 with a concentration between 46 years old and over 55 (52%). The majority of participants were male (87%), followed by female (11%) and those who preferred not to answer (2%), which is generally consistent with the picture of U.S. policing as reported by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The overwhelming majority of participants were White/Caucasian (78%), followed by Hispanic/Latino (8%). Other racial groups included Black/African American (5%), Asian/Pacific Islander (2%), Native American (1%), Middle Eastern (.3%) and those who preferred not to answer (8%). Those without military service comprised the majority of participants (72%), followed by those with previous service (26%) and those who are currently serving (1%).

The primary community type served was urban [27] (40%) followed by suburban [28] (37.3%) and rural [29] (23%). The primary service agency was a municipal police department (63%) followed by a sheriff’s department (22%). The remaining agencies included state police (6%), campus police (6%), federal agencies (2%), transit police (1%) and tribal police (.5%). As for why the participants chose law enforcement as a career, helping people (19%) and serving the community (17%) outweigh all other dimensions. Collectively, however, the job functions (variability of the job-no day is the same; fight crime; challenges of the job) present the strongest interest for why participants chose law enforcement as a career (38%).

Just over one-third of the participants came from agencies with fewer than 50 personnel (35%); the remainder was from agencies between 50 and more than 1,000 personnel. Lastly, all 50 states were represented with a concentration in California (10%) and Texas (7%). The District of Columbia (.4%), Guam (.02%), and Puerto Rico (.02%) were also represented.


1. The data come from a convenience sample of U.S. law enforcement officers. This means the results may not represent the entire U.S. law enforcement community, and generalizing beyond this sample should be accepted with caution.

2. Shane JM. (June 2023.) Creating a nexus between workload and costs: A case study from Ocean View PD. 
3. Police Executive Research Forum. (2019.) The Workforce Crisis, and What Police Agencies are Doing about It. Washington, D.C: PERF, p. 8.

4. There were 4,141 participants and 9,830 answers since participants were given the choice to select multiple responses.

5. There were 4,141 participants and 11,750 answers since participants were given the choice to select multiple responses.

6. Early retirement is generally any retirement before the mandatory minimum amount of time required to draw a pension.

7. A quick change-over is having only 8 hours off the last shift (11 p.m.) and the start of a new shift (7 a.m.).

8. There were 434 participants (10%) who skipped these survey questions.
9. Although the U.S. Department of Justice supports law enforcement officer health and wellness, and believes that healthy officers are critical to building healthy and safe communities, it is incumbent upon home agencies to embrace and spearhead such initiatives.

10. This figure is generally lower compared to others because two-officer patrols are not common in many police agencies.

11. Although the question was not asked directly, it is easy to extend the logic to pedestrian stops and other self-initiated work that might require backup.

13. Wilson JM, Weiss A. (2012.) A performance-based approach to police staffing and allocation. Washington, D.C: US Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, p. 14.

14. Wilson JM, Weiss A. (2014.) Police staffing allocation and managing workload demand: A critical assessment of existing practices. Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice 8(2): 96-108.

15. Greene JR, Bynum TS, Cordner GW. (1986.) Planning and the play of power: Resource acquisition among criminal justice agencies. Journal of Criminal Justice, 14(6):529.544. 

16. Laufs J, Bowers K, Birks D, Johnson SD. (2021.) Understanding the concept of ‘demand’ in policing: a scoping review and resulting implications for demand management. Policing and Society, 31(8), 895-918.

17. Blau P, Schoenherr R. (1971.) The Structure of Organizations. New York: NY: Basic Books; Thompson, J.D. (1967). Organizations in Action. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

18. Goldstein H. (1979.) Improving policing: A problem-oriented approach. Crime & Delinquency, 25(2), 236-258.

19. For example: 1) Kelling GL, Pate T, Dieckman D, Brown C. (1974.). The Kansas City Preventive Patrol Experiment: A Technical Report. Washington, DC: Police Foundation (the research concluded that “random motorized patrol did not impact crime”); 2) Pate T, Ferrara A, Bowers RA, Lorence J. (1976.) Police response time: Its determinants and effects. Washington, DC: Police Foundation (the research concluded that “rapid response to calls for service did not result in greater apprehension rates or deter criminal activity”); 3) Greenwood PW. (1979.) The RAND criminal investigation study: its findings and impacts to date. Santa Monica, CA: RAND (the research concluded that “traditional approaches to criminal investigation by police departments do not significantly affect the rate at which cases are solved; that most cases are solved by application of routine administrative procedures; that the effectiveness of criminal investigation would not be unduly lessened if approximately half of the investigative effort were eliminated or shifted to more productive uses; and that significant increases in criminal apprehension rates are more likely to be produced by more alert patrol units and improved citizen cooperation than by refinements in investigative work”).

20. Weisburd DL, Eck JE. (2004.) What Can Police Do to Reduce Crime, Disorder, and Fear? Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 593: 42–65.

21. Scott M, Kirby S. (2012.) Implementing POP: leading, structuring and managing a problem-oriented police agency. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, COSP Office.

22. “Opportunity” is short for “opportunity structure” and also means the physical and social arrangements that enable disorder.

23. A policing “problem” is different from an “incident” or a “case.” Under problem-oriented policing/problem-solving, a problem has the following basic characteristics: 1) A specific condition that concerns the public; that 2) Involves conduct or conditions that fall within the broad, but not unlimited, responsibilities of the police; that 3) Involves multiple, recurring incidents or cases, related to one another in one or more ways; and 4) The condition is unlikely to be resolved without special police intervention, which includes resources outside the police.

24. Clarke RV. (1995.) Situational crime prevention. Crime and Justice, 19, 91-150; Clarke RV. (1983.) Situational crime prevention: Its theoretical basis and practical scope. Crime and Justice, 4, 225-256; Clarke, R. V. (2016). Situational crime prevention. In Environmental criminology and crime analysis (pp. 305-322). Routledge; Cornish DB, Clarke RV. (2003.) Opportunities, precipitators and criminal decisions: A reply to Wortley’s critique of situational crime prevention. Crime Prevention Studies, 16, 41-96; Clarke RV. (1997.) Situational Crime Prevention: Successful Case Study. Criminal Justice Press.

25. Weisburd DL, Telep CW, Hinkle JC, Eck JE. (2010.) Is Problem-Oriented Policing Effective in Reducing Crime and Disorder? Findings From a Campbell Systematic Review. Criminology & Public Policy 9(1): 139–72 (the research concluded “POP [problem-oriented policing] has been adopted widely across police agencies and has been identified as effective by many policing scholars”); Corsaro N, Weisburd D. (2018.) Police interventions. In Nagin DS, Cullen FT, Jonson CL. (Eds.), Deterrence, choice, and crime: Contemporary perspectives. Advances in criminological theory (Vol. 23, pp. 239-268). Routledge (the research concluded the “core foundation of law enforcement strategies that have demonstrated measurable crime reduction benefits has been, at least in large measure, the deterrence framework…we illustrate that when the police began to alter the perceived risk of apprehension among offenders in more context-specific ways (i.e., by concentrating their efforts either geographically or within high-risk offender locales, or both), the impact on crime became more tangible and sustained”); Weisburd D, Eck JE. (2004.) What can police do to reduce crime, disorder, and fear? The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 593, 42-65 (the research examined “police effectiveness in reducing crime, disorder, and fear in the context of a typology of innovation in police practices. That typology emphasizes two dimensions: one concerning the diversity of approaches, and the other, the level of focus. The authors find that little evidence supports the standard model of policing – low on both of these dimensions. In contrast, research evidence does support continued investment in police innovations that call for greater focus and tailoring of police efforts, combined with an expansion of the toolbox of policing beyond simple law enforcement. The strongest evidence of police effectiveness in reducing crime and disorder is found in the case of geographically focused police practices, such as hot-spots policing…A developing body of evidence points to the effectiveness of problem-oriented policing in reducing crime, disorder, and fear”). 

26. Guillaume P, Sidebottom A, Tilley N. (2012.) On police and university collaborations: A problem-oriented policing case study. Police Practice and Research, 13(4), 389-401; Guerette RT, Lee-Silcox J, Przeszlowski K. (2021). From research partner to embedded criminologist: A synthesized taxonomy and reflections from the field. Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice, 15(2), 770-783; Braga AA, Davis EF. (2014). Implementing science in police agencies: The embedded research model. Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice, 8(4), 294-306; Piza EL, Szkola J, Blount-Hill KL. (2021). How can embedded criminologists, police pracademics, and crime analysts help increase police-led program evaluations? A survey of authors cited in the evidence-based policing matrix. Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice, 15(2), 1217-1231.

27. Generally characterized as densely populated with extensive development.

28. Generally characterized as predominantly single-family residential, within a short distance of an urban area.

29. Generally characterized as scattered small communities and isolated single-family dwellings.

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