At a time when the murder rate is rising across the country, police departments are struggling to attract new officers.
Leaders of police departments nationwide say they cannot fill their academies or overcome rapidly worsening officer shortages as interest in law enforcement careers dwindles during a time of intense scrutiny of police misconduct.
In many places, police morale has plunged and retirements and resignations have soared, NPR reported. A June survey of nearly 200 departments by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), a nonprofit think tank, showed a 45% increase in the retirement rate and a nearly 20% increase in resignations in 2020-21, compared to the previous year.
The timing of these staffing problems could not be worse, NPR reported. Multiple cities are seeing rising increases in shootings and murders.
In some places, the pandemic compounded the problem by putting police training on hold.
Philadelphia suspended police training from March 2020 until June 2021, according to Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police spokesman Mike Neilon, the Washington Examiner reported.
"While other departments continued to recruit and push through classes at the academies . . . Philadelphia stopped that process," Neilon told the Examiner. "So, we're behind other big-city departments, other suburban police departments, who are kind of going after the same men and women that we would like to pursue. So that challenge has been a real struggle."
Police officers are less likely to want to work in cities, where physical dangers lurk and "defunding the police" is called for.
In Philadelphia, as in much of the country, murders have spiked this year. The city has seen 404 homicides this year to date, according to data from the police department.
"If you're a young person, male or female, you know, that level of violence is concerning to officers and recruits," Neilon said.
Police departments say there is decrease in morale in the wake of George Floyd's killing in police custody in Minnesota and other highly publicized events, discouraging some prospective recruits from pursuing law enforcement careers.
"No doubt about it: There's anxiety within the rank-and-file of, what is going to happen to them if they make a mistake or something out there in the street happens?" Neilon said.
Montgomery County, Maryland, police reported in June the number of applicants for new academy sessions averaged fewer than 500, compared to more than 1,000 in recent years.
Similar to other city police departments, St. Louis is contending with an uptick in officer departures while its hiring slows. Officials in some departments have worked to entice recruits with bonuses and higher salaries.
And in Memphis, Tennessee, the mayor announced Monday that new police officers will receive a $15,000 signing bonus on top of existing incentives.
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