Maintaining a Strong Police Force: The Crisis Governments Must Solve
Crime is a serious issue that demands thoughtful solutions to deter criminal behavior and promote public safety. Since the pandemic and protests, violent crime has been on the rise across the United States. During this turmoil, some have pushed the overcriminalization narrative too far by instituting no bail policies for violent offenders, releasing them back onto the streets. Some district attorneys aren’t prosecuting violent offenders, and some judges are giving lenient sentences. Major cities across the U.S. are pushing to defund the police. There is a shortage of police officers nationwide, and Louisiana hasn’t been unaffected. New Orleans is currently short 300 officers and Due to policy changes that led to a rash of retirements and resignations, New Orleans is short 300 officers and Baton Rouge is short 100.
The recruitment and retention of police officers is not just a Louisiana problem, but a nationwide problem. A survey conducted by the Police Forum found that police forces around the country are experiencing a decline in the number of officers patrolling the streets with only 93% of their available positions being filled. Police forces in larger cities are seeing even higher numbers of resignations and retirements while struggling to fill the number of open positions. A recent article by CNN surveyed several police departments around the country and noted that they all expressed similar concerns including Covid-19, the great resignation, the climate for law enforcement, and local reform efforts that are making recruitment and retention difficult.
So what can be done to hire new police officers and keep the ones we have? Compensation certainly has to be examined. According to Indeed.com, average police officer pay in Louisiana is $42,000, with starting salaries around $35,000 per year. These are individuals that we ask to go into the most violent and crime ridden parts of our state. Is that the best that we can offer them?
The state already makes a hefty effort at increasing the pay of local police officers by providing a salary supplement of $6,000 per year, at a total cost to the state of $125 million annually. Louisiana is the only state in the nation to provide such salary supplements. Because these are local government employees, it’s up to local governments to further increase their pay. Many police departments around the country are offering hiring bonuses to recruit new officers. New Orleans is offering a $20,000 bonus at the end of an officer’s first year as well as other incentives to remain on the force for at least three years. This certainly attracts applicants’ attention.
What can be done to retain police officers once they are hired? Job dissatisfaction is reported as one of the leading causes of police officers leaving the force or retiring early. Some departments have relaxed strict facial hair and tattoo policies, extended the boundaries for taking a police car home, and provided mandatory counseling services to provide for better mental health of their officers. Local law enforcement hopes these changes, along with the use of technology to ease burdensome reporting requirements, will increase job satisfaction. However, these small perks and adjustments often fail to override the negativity, stress, and perceived lack of support.
A recent survey cited increased criticism of police and issues with leadership as top reasons for leaving police work. Police officers feel demoralized, facing criticisms from local and state leaders and the public. They face increased demands on the job, such as coping with drug overdoses, mental health disorders, homelessness, and other social ills, without adequate training. This prevents them from focusing on their primary job of preventing and solving the most serious crime.
Local leaders would be wise to prioritize strategies that will significantly bolster police departments’ ability to recruit new police officers and retain those working now:
- Increase pay, especially for starting salaries;
- Improve job satisfaction by addressing leadership issues that undercut and demoralize officers;
- Focus law enforcement time and resources on addressing crime, not on social work; and
- Reduce rhetoric that creates public backlash against police.
Improving the overall climate for policing will go a long way toward recruiting new police officers and keeping the valuable, experienced police we have.