KRMG In-Depth: Police departments across the nation report serious staffing issues

Police officers on the job

TULSA — The numbers from a recent survey of agencies by the Police Executive Research Forum reveal a troubling, and seemingly almost universal trend.

Police departments, large and small, across the nation have seen large increases in resignations and retirements, and unfortunately, a significant drop-off in applicants as well.

[Hear the KRMG In-Depth Report on the shortage of police officers HERE]

Experts in law enforcement point to three main factors which they believe have played a role in what many of them call a staffing crisis.

Moves to defund, or reduce funding, for police departments, the morale hit that resulted from COVID, and the political fallout that resulted from the murder of George Floyd.

Sgt. Betsy Smith (retired) served as a sworn officer for many years, and continues to train police officers.

She’s also a spokeswoman for the National Police Association.

She tells KRMG the trend started before 2019, but accelerated rapidly after that.

“Really, pre-pandemic we started to see a slight decline,” Smith said. “But then, after the death of George Floyd, we saw police officers just leaving in droves. Not just the Minneapolis police department, who lost hundreds of police officers after the death of George Floyd, but all around this nation.”

Smaller departments have not been spared, by any means, and Smith points out that their members constitute the majority of law officers in the country.

“Small towns just don’t have the tax base to be able to pay a cop what, you know, a cop makes at NYPD, or LAPD, or Dallas PD and a Tulsa PD,” she said. “So that can become very difficult for a small jurisdiction to be able to recruit and retain - and that’s what’s really important - retain good law enforcement officers.”

Still, in her opinion, it’s not money that’s crippling recruitment efforts, it’s what she sees as a troubling, anti-police trend in American culture.

That trend definitely gained steam in the wake of Floyd’s killing, and Smith believes the solution is political.

“Support law enforcement,” she said. “Not just supporting the cops themselves, but supporting the justice system. And that means electing prosecutors, judges, and leadership that is pro-law and order, pro-crime victim, and pro-police.”

That may be challenging, however, at a time when an anti-law enforcement attitude has been exacerbated by recent attacks on the justice system from the right-wing political fringe, as well as the left.

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