|Cops Are Leaving-What Does This Mean For Public Safety?
|By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.
Is there hard data suggesting that cops are leaving the job in numbers that could affect public safety? Beyond a survey stating that recruitment is down 63 percent (below), no, there isn’t. But it seems like a daily ritual to read articles about police staffing problems throughout the country.
America is going through a lot right now. From the recent disgraceful storming of the Capitol resulting in the horrific deaths of Capitol Police officers to protests-riots-looting resulting in two billion dollars in insurance claims Riot Insurance Claims to rising violent crime and fear of crime Crime in the US to the pandemic to lack of trust in government Pew to endless questions about the accuracy and reliability of the media Columbia Journalism Review, institutions seem to be failing us.
At least we can count on cops to come to our aid when warranted, right?
After all, policing in America is one of our most trusted institutions ranking much higher than most, including Congress and the media. When adding all three categories in a recent Gallup poll, a great deal of confidence, quite a lot, and some, 81 percent expressed a level of confidence in law enforcement. As to a great deal of confidence, law enforcement did better than most institutions, Gallup Via Crime in America.
So regardless of all the harshly negative press, America continues to count on police officers for their protection, correct?
So in this day and age of COVID, endless protests, Capitol Hill riots, police defunding, fewer protections for police officers and relentlessly negative media coverage, cops will always be there, right?
Police Officer Deaths
A staggering 264 police officers were killed in the line of duty in 2020 representing a 96% increase compared to the previous year, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
As of Dec. 31, 2020, the 264 officers killed consisted of federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial officers in the line of duty compared to 135 officers who died in the line of duty in 2019. The Memorial Fund’s report also records the deaths of officers in the category of “other” causes, which includes COVID-19 deaths, which is up 300% compared to other causes last year, Crime in America.
Copes Leaving-Chicago Sun Times (direct quotes rearranged for brevity)
The number of police officers retiring in Chicago and other cities has soared amid a chorus of anti-police rhetoric that’s become increasingly loud over the past year.
In Chicago, 560 officers retired in 2020 in a police department that had about 13,100 sworn officers as of March, records show. That’s about 15% more cops retiring than during the previous year, when the number of retirements rose by nearly 30%.
In New York City, 2,500 cops retired last year, nearly double the number in 2019, according to the New York Police Department, which has about 34,500 uniformed officers.
In Minneapolis, about 40 officers retired last year, and another 120 took leaves of absence. That’s nearly 20% of a police department with about 840 officers in the city that touched off anti-police protests nationwide following the death last May of George Floyd, who was Black. A since-fired white cop knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes that was captured on video by witnesses. Police officials are waiting to see whether the leaves of absences in the Minnesota city become retirements.
“It’s serious,” said Michael Lappe, vice president of the board of trustees for the Policemen’s Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago, which oversees police pensions. “A lot of these people aren’t retiring. They’re quitting.”
Minneapolis city officials are asking surrounding communities to place some of their officers on joint law enforcement teams in the face of the flood of departures. The Minneapolis Police Department also is curtailing some of the work it normally does, Chicago Sun Times.
63 Percent Reduction in Police Recruits-ABC News (direct quotes-rearranged for brevity)
Police agencies across the country are having trouble keeping and hiring police officers, according to a new survey obtained by ABC News.
Produced by the Police Executive Research Forum, the survey shows a “triple threat” for police departments: there is a decrease in applications, early exits and higher rates of retirement.
Agencies participating in the survey reported that there has been a 63% decrease in applying to become a police officer. Departments are also having trouble hiring non-white/minority applicants the most, followed by female officers, according to the survey.
Montgomery County, Maryland, just outside of the nation’s capital, felt the hit because of increased racial profiling incidents, when someone is targeted because of their race of ethnicity, according to acting Police Chief Marcus Jones.
“I can’t ignore that that’s a factor. When you do a job that’s being highly criticized on a daily basis, we have to ask ourselves, how do we find good candidates that really want to be under that type of scrutiny,” Jones said, according to Bethesda Magazine. “If you feel like you’re being scrutinized all the time, then this may not be the career that you want, so we understand that that may be a roadblock for us.”
The survey encompasses agencies from 45 states, the District of Columbia and Canada — with the majority of answers coming from medium-sized departments, ABC News.
Example Of Underfunded Agencies-Buzz Feed News (direct quotes rearranged for brevity)
But unlike its legislative counterpart, the US Park Police suffers from chronic understaffing and deeply diminished resources, according to multiple Inspector General reviews, reporting by a watchdog group, and interviews with current and former officers. Since 2001, its ranks have shrunk by a third, to just 508 sworn officers currently nationwide, according to the National Park Service’s annual budget request documents. Its budget stands at $116 million and hasn’t grown in years, while the Capitol Police has seen its funding increase about a quarter, to $516 million, since 2017 alone.
The agency denied that staffing issues played any role in the Park Police’s ability to respond when the Capitol was overrun, Buzz Feed.
But it’s not just cops leaving; there are important issues for all Americans to consider:
From 2015 to 2018, the total number of violent victimizations increased by 28%. The rate of total violent victimizations also increased. The number of violent incidents increased from 5.2 million in 2017 to 6.0 million in 2018, Crime in America. There is additional data stating that violent crime is becoming more serious in nature. Gallup states that violent crime tripled. Fear of crime is at an all-time high.
Arrests and Contacts
Arrests are also down considerably, Arrests. There is conflicting data as to proactive police contacts. Is the immense negativity thrown at cops causing them to pull back?
Per Pew, 72% say officers in their department are now less willing to stop and question suspicious persons. Overall, more than eight-in-ten (86%) say police work is harder today as a result of high-profile, negative incidents.
About nine-in-ten officers (93%) say their colleagues worry more about their personal safety – a level of concern recorded even before a total of eight officers died in separate ambush-style attacks in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Cops Holding Back?
When asked whether they want the police to spend more time, the same amount of time or less time than they currently do in their area, most Black Americans — 61% — want the police presence to remain the same. This is similar to the 67% of all U.S. adults preferring the status quo, including 71% of White Americans.
Meanwhile, nearly equal proportions of Black Americans say they would like the police to spend more time in their area (20%) as say they’d like them to spend less time there (19%), Police Myths.
The data on police PTSD, suicides, drug and alcohol use and general stress is well documented, see Police Stress. Is policing becoming too hard, too emotionally draining? Is that why recruitment and retention are problems?
Does Policing Change You?
There are endless references as to how being a cop changes your personality. “How many domestic violence calls can you handle? How many people shot? How much blood? How many abused children? How much violence can you process?” Crime in America.
Rate Of Cops Decreases
The rate of full-time police officers decreased by 11 percent from 1997 to 2016, Declining Cops.
But Public Confidence in Law Enforcement is High
An estimated 40 million U.S. residents age 16 or older, or about 17 percent of the population, had a face-to-face contact with a police officer in one year. Among people who had face-to-face contacts, about nine out of 10 residents felt the police were respectful or acted properly, Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Having said this, it’s inevitable that out of 40 million yearly encounters, some will go bad. It’s a statistical reality. Per the Bureau of Justice Statistics study, police used or threatened to use force in less than two percent of contacts.
Even in fragile communities (i.e., high unemployment), a study finds that 74% of fragile-community residents vs. 87% of Americans overall think people like themselves are treated “very fairly” or “fairly” by their local police. The results vary by racial group: Black (65%) and Hispanic (72%) residents of fragile communities are considerably less likely than white residents (87%) to say people like themselves are treated fairly by police, Gallup.
Many stereotypes about cops are challenged by the data, Police Myths.
I fully understand that there are cops who have made horrible mistakes and some who, quite simply, shouldn’t be on the force. Some of the endless and harshly negative media was justified. I hate butthole cops. All police officers dislike those who bring the profession into disrepute. We within the justice system must do better, especially as it applies to minority relations.
But if you are capable of stereotyping a million human beings, you are capable of any “ism.”
I know of people who are telling their police officer family members to, “Get out of law enforcement. And get out now.”
There are endless stories of officers being shot, shot at and beaten. New York City has dozens of incidents where people are brazenly throwing water and other substances on cops as they patrol. In Baltimore, Chicago, and many other cities, officers are facing extremely hostile community members.
Years ago, I became a cop based on my pride in the job and the satisfaction that the vast majority of citizens appreciated what I did. Take that away and many believe that being a police officer is meaningless.
We are losing a ton of cops. Arrests are down. Violent crime and serious violent incidents are going up per one index from the US Department of Justice.
There may come a time, and it may happen sooner than we think, where we see more dangerous communities and increased threats to families and loved ones. Sales of firearms and home/personal protection devices are exploding, Gun Purchases. People are leaving cities, Leaving Cities.
We’ve been very hard on cops and yes, some of the negative publicity is justified. But the bottom line is that much said as commentary or in media reports about law enforcement is factually incorrect, Police Myths.
But we may be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. If there is any question as to the impact of cops on society, then remove them and see what happens.
Per media reports, we may be doing that now.
The results could be disastrous for cities and many communities.
See more articles on crime and justice at Crime in America.
Most Dangerous Cities/States/Countries at Most Dangerous Cities.
US Crime Rates at Nationwide Crime Rates.
National Offender Recidivism Rates at Offender Recidivism.
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Leonard A. Sipes, Jr has thirty-five years of experience supervising public affairs for national and state criminal justice agencies. He is the Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse and the Former Director of Information Management for the National Crime Prevention Council. He has a Post Master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University and is the author of the book "Success With the Media". He can be reached via email at email@example.com.
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