Trending Topics

Beyond bonuses: How to reverse police staffing losses

Shortages are especially acute in California, where declining support for the police has been intensified by legislation and regulatory policies


To meet the staffing demands of an unsustainable future will require critical thinking and adaptation.


This article is based on research conducted as a part of the CA POST Command College. It is a futures study of a particular emerging issue of relevance to law enforcement. Its purpose is not to predict the future; rather, to project a variety of possible scenarios useful for planning and action in anticipation of the emerging landscape facing policing organizations.

The article was created using the futures forecasting process of Command College and its outcomes. Managing the future means influencing it — creating, constraining and adapting to emerging trends and events in a way that optimizes the opportunities and minimizes the threats of relevance to the profession.

Explore this article to uncover insights on these issues:

  • California’s law enforcement faces recruitment challenges due to unfavorable politics, high living costs, and legislative constraints.
  • Officer shortages are acute, especially in rural areas, exacerbated by declining public support and stringent regulations.
  • The future of policing in California looks bleak, with discussions highlighting difficulties in sustaining police departments.
  • Strategies to address these challenges include increasing departmental resilience, exploring regional policing models, and recruiting from nontraditional sources.

By Captain Adam Jevec
Today is the day! It’s June 6, 2030, and Assistant Sheriff Dwight Kennedy closes his locker for the last time and looks into the mirror at his green uniform shirt and pants. The star on his chest glimmers in his reflection. His retirement ceremony will cap a 30-year career that spanned decades of assignments, relationships and stories.

The green is a far cry from the dark blue Dwight became accustomed to at his prior job with a midsize California municipal police department. There he’d been the chief. He’d envisioned going out wearing his crisp blue uniform and four stars on his collar. That was five years ago — just before it was finally determined that maintaining the city police department was unsustainable. Dwight and his peers had seen it coming a decade earlier and once joked, “One day we’ll all be wearing green” and working for the sheriff.

Our scenario is not difficult to imagine. It’s already happening in rural communities across the nation. [1-3] Like many states, California is experiencing shortages of qualified personnel who want to be police officers in less populous areas, requiring the abandonment or elimination of services. [4] Writings and discussions about the future of policing offer a negative outlook, with bleak forecasts for the recruitment, hiring and retention of officers and deputies. The shortages are especially acute in California, where declining support for the police has been intensified by legislation and regulatory policies.

Analysis about the future of California policing generally focuses on recruiting, hiring and retention. Significant shortages of applicants who want to be police officers may cause one to wonder why anyone would want to become or remain a police officer in California, given the current state of its politics. Who would want to remain in California given the potential for population changes, increases in homelessness, abundant crime, budget deficits and pension reform? It is against this backdrop that the goals of police reform and police recruiting coexist.

California has a history of pushing legislative mandates onto counties and municipalities. [5] This continued in the aftermath of George Floyd’s homicide in 2020 when the state passed legislation to constrain the police. Several of these bills required significant staffing and resources to be expended by underfunded, understaffed and undertrained agencies. This included local and county agencies, as well as the California Department of Justice (DOJ) and California’s Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST). [6]

Less is known about how California regulatory policies will affect municipal police agencies and their ability to recruit, hire and retain officers. Even as the police struggled with public protests in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, the COVID-19 pandemic prompted local legislators to enact related mandates. These local laws often required officers and deputies to be vaccinated — and, if they refused, to be terminated. This resulted in the resignation or termination of police officers and deputy sheriffs at a time when staffing was already under duress. [7,8] Regulations have also caused an exodus of businesses out of California due to high operating costs. In 2021, California business headquarters left the state at twice the rate as in 2019 and 2020, and three times the rate of 2018. In the last three years, California lost 11 Fortune 1000 companies, often to states with less regulation and lower taxes. [9]

People followed the businesses out. In 2018-2019, 56% of persons relocating in California were families leaving the state. In 2021-2022, the figure was nearly 60%. The rising cost of living, mortgage rates, inflation, recession, the ability to work remotely, rising violent crime and homelessness were among the reasons. [10] Included in the migration out of California were police officers. One example of many is the three veteran officers from the Orange Police Department who resigned and left the state for similar jobs at a fraction of the pay and benefits because of politics, the cost of living and regulations affecting them and their families.

The revenue shortfall

The loss of businesses and people equates to decreasing tax revenues, federal funding and congressional seats, which California lost during the 2020 Census. As funds are lost, local communities suffer. Most municipal revenue is generated by property and sales taxes. If more businesses and residents leave California, municipalities will be forced to adapt to reduced revenue. In most municipalities, public safety accounts for at least 50% of expenditures, and the cost to maintain adequate police staffing is increasing. The current response to attract candidates for police positions is to compete with neighboring departments by offering monetary incentives. One recent examination revealed hiring bonuses ranging from $10,000 to $75,000. [11] This practice, especially for small and rural departments, has exacerbated shortages because they can’t compete. [12]

Within this context, concerns about becoming a police officer or remaining in policing continue to grow. [13] Officers and future candidates face increased scrutiny because of transparency of personnel files; fear of being prosecuted for shootings; being overworked because of staffing shortages and increased call volumes; lenient district attorneys; [14] lower hiring standards to meet staffing shortages or tougher hiring standards to make it more difficult to be a police officer; potential for civilian or federal oversight; and inept leadership at all levels. Clearly, the status quo needs to change, and not incrementally. Law enforcement leaders should seriously deliberate making substantial changes to who and how they hire, regionalizing all or parts of their agencies, and adopting nontraditional processes to retain staff.

Nurses can travel freely — could a similar licensing approach help police personnel shortages?

Strategies to manage the legislative and cultural landscapes

How should today’s municipal leadership approach these challenges when forces outside their control directly affect their ability to recruit, hire and retain? Let’s form task forces across the state and consider implementing some or all the recommendations below to meet the challenges of the changing climate of policing in California today. As they do, they will fight against the “way it’s always been.” In spite of those difficulties, without altering the equation, the applicant pool will continue to dry up, experienced officers will leave, and communities will be less safe as a result. Here are three ways, though, we can push past the present to create a better future:

1. Build resiliency [15]

It’s always been like this. Police officers resigning due to the constraints of new laws is not an isolated phenomenon. Historically, police departments manage the highs and lows of politics, laws, budgets, district attorneys, judges, juries and public support. Understanding many, if not all, external factors are beyond a department’s control can be key to survival. There are several ways police departments can thrive when external challenges are presented:

  • While national sentiment about law enforcement may be out of an individual department’s control, being involved in their community, knowing its expectations and ensuring crime reduction and customer service are keys to having support.
  • Supporting or being part of groups that advocate on behalf of law enforcement. This can ensure a seat at the table when there are issues that affect law enforcement. The California Police Chiefs Association (CPCA) and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) are two such organizations.
  • Focus on retention and development:
    • Develop a strategic plan and work through contingencies on staffing levels and changes to budgets or municipal revenue.
    • Examine, define or redefine internal culture to understand if employees are trusted, micromanaged or overworked.
    • Ensure equity in work distribution and discipline. With standardization, consistency and authenticity, a culture of trust can be developed.
    • Protect employees by emphasizing doing the right thing.
    • Know the generational differences of employees and ensure their needs are addressed. These include recognition, vertical communication, respect for input and new ideas and utilizing technology.
    • Train, mentor and develop the next leaders by providing opportunities for growth.
    • Promote supervisors who can operate in the “gray” and have both the interpersonal skills to lead a diverse group of employees and the ability to utilize adaptive leadership.
    • Avoid politics by remaining neutral and ensure social media posts and the release of information to the community are fact-based.

2. Regional policing

Examine opportunities to maximize personnel, budgets, training and equipment. Current examples exist in the form of regional training academies, task forces, SWAT teams, mutual aid and collaboratives on homelessness. Regional policing models will require cooperation among city councils, city managers and police chiefs, along with county supervisors and sheriffs. The potential sacrifice from these leaders and their communities will be the impact on service levels.

3. Nontraditional recruitment sources

Agencies across the nation are reaching into nontraditional areas for recruitment. California has taken a similar approach by passing SB 960, a bill that removes citizenship requirements for police officers. [16] Given California’s desire to be a “sanctuary state,” recruitment in this demographic could provide access to a large applicant pool. California also recently passed AB 89, raising the standards for peace officers. This included raising the minimum age to 21 and the creation of a “modern policing” degree by 2025, with financial assistance for people from disadvantaged communities. [17] This standard has yet to be implemented.


Disparity exists between police agencies and their geographic regions relating to revenue, enforcement, regulation and compliance. How will understaffed and underfunded municipal agencies train and remain in compliance with California police transparency laws? The result could be untrained officers who do not know their craft and high-liability teams that lack sufficient training. Current practices of hiring bonuses and salary increases specific to recruitment and retention are unsustainable. Where will local municipalities find the revenue? Rural municipalities seem to be the most vulnerable. To meet the staffing demands of an unsustainable future will require critical thinking and adaptation.


1. Stevens O. ‘I don’t see this trend getting any better’: Officer shortages devastating small-town PDs. Police1.

2. Roebuck S. After entire Minn. PD resigns, sheriff’s office reaches tentative agreement to police city. Police1.

3. Silver A. Mass. PD to end night shift patrols despite new staffing grant. Police1.

4. Duara N. ‘Catastrophic staffing shortage’ hits California’s rural police first, and hardest. CalMatters.

5. Pierson V. Hard truths about deinstitutionalization, then and now. CalMatters.

6. Nguyen T. Newsom proposes rolling back transparency over police misconduct recordsv. NBC San Diego.

7. Cain J. 3 LAPD officers fired for refusing vaccine mandate. Police1.

8. USA: San Diego loses 22% of its police force due to vax mandates. Gulf Insider.

9. Ohanian L, Vranich J. California business exits soared in 2-21, and there is no end in sight. Hoover Institution.

10. Bagdasarian T. How long will the exodus from California cities last? Governing.

11. Employment opportunities and classifieds. PORAC Law Enforcement News. August 2023.

12. Kuhn A. ‘It’s getting kind of scary’: Calif. sheriff says deputy shortage is reaching dangerous levels. Police1.

13. Digital edition: What cops want in 2023. Police1.

14. Stimson C, Smith Z. ‘Progressive’ prosecutors sabotage the rule of law, raise crime rates, and ignore victims. Heritage Foundation.

15. Perez J. Building resilience in those you lead.” The Debrief podcast. August 2023.

16. Senate Bill 960, Chapter 825.” California Legislative Information.

17. Assembly Bill No. 89. California Legislative Information.

About the author

Adam Jevec was born and raised in Orange, California. He is third generation to attend the same elementary and high school as his parents and grandparents. He attended California State University, Sonoma, where he completed a Bachelor of Arts Degree in History. Adam completed a Master of Arts Degree in History from George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia, with an emphasis in United States History and Archival Management.

While obtaining his Master’s Degree, Adam worked as a technician with the National Archives and Records Management in Washington, D.C., and College Park, Maryland. He published two articles about the Navajo Codetalkers in Social Education and Prologue. Upon completion of his degree, Adam worked as a Records Manager at the American Red Cross.

In 2004, Adam joined the Arlington County Police Department in Virginia where he worked as a Patrol Officer until 2006. Adam eventually moved back to Orange, California, and joined the Orange Police Department. He has worked several assignments within Patrol as a rotator in the Special Enforcement Detail, Field Training Officer and S.W.A.T. operator. He worked as a detective in the Gang Unit where he testified as a Gang Expert over 30 times. He was promoted to sergeant in 2015 and worked in Patrol, Gangs and was a S.W.A.T. team leader. In 2017, he was selected as the Legal Affairs Sergeant and completed over 50 Internal Affairs investigations.

In 2019, Adam was promoted to lieutenant and worked various assignments within Patrol, including FTO Manager and SWAT Commander. On June 6, 2021, he was promoted to captain and assigned to the Support Services Division. He is currently overseeing the Field Services Division.