Police departments across the country are struggling with staffing shortages as a result of a weak economy, hiring freezes, furloughs, layoffs, and cutbacks to salaries, benefits, and retirement incentives.
According to Police Chief Magazine, “Such difficulties spurred 7,272 applications to the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Hiring Program, requesting $8.3 billion to support more than 39,000 sworn-officer positions. Altogether, both the supply of and demand for qualified officers are changing in a time of increasing attrition, expanding law enforcement responsibilities, and decreasing resources.” The problem is not new, either. The Anniston Star reported in December 2013:
Since the late 1990s the nation has seen a decrease in the number of people interested in becoming police officers. A 2006 article on police officer recruitment published in Police Chief Magazine said an estimated 80 percent of the nation’s 17,000 law enforcement agencies had positions they could not fill. A separate report, Hiring and Keeping Police Officers, published in 2004 by the National Institute of Justice said 20 percent of agencies experienced officer weakness as a result of recruitment and fiscal problems.
One particular question being discussed by the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA) at the annual National Shooting Sports Foundation’s SHOT Show in Las Vegas this year is how local law enforcement can recruit and retain quality individuals to their departments’ SWAT teams. An NTOA seminar on this question was well attended by SWAT team officers from all over the country, from cities including Chicago, Santa Barbara, Washington D.C., and Palm Beach.
As baby-boomers in departments look toward retirement, issues surrounding differences among officers who grew up as Generation X-ers or Millennials appear to be surfacing. Veteran SWAT officers within the group of attendees say that too many new recruits look at SWAT as a “stepping stone” or “résumé builder” to other areas of law enforcement, so finding new recruits who are willing to stay on SWAT teams for the long haul is becoming more difficult.
“Instead of having 20 people staying there 20 years, you have people stay there five to seven years,” said Captain Ed Allen, NTOA Eastern Region Director and Instructor.
Additionally, new recruits are likely to be college graduates with a different mindset than their predecessors of 20 to 45 years ago. Attendees in the class gave their views on recruits in their early 20s who enter police departments with college degrees.
“What’s gone is police departments looking for the defenseman on the hockey team – the rough guy who can prepare to visit violence [on] a bad guy who would do us harm… [replaced by] the university graduate and all who comes with his entitled attitude,” said one officer.
Another claimed, “These new guys… come in that say, ‘I’m in here for just three to five years,’ and they check the box and they go on to do something else.”
“We got lawyers. We got Ph.Ds. We got everything but police officers. They can’t clear a corner. You tell them, ‘Get out of the squad car and go clear the corner;’ but they can recite to you a formula – you know, Starling’s law for cardiac help or something,” said one attendee.
He added, “But I think the worse thing we did was that we focused so much on law enforcement getting college degrees to move up that the type-A personalities out there in the streets kicking people’s asses and locking people up – well, they had to go to court. They didn’t have a lot of time to work on their master’s.”
Allen reminded the class it was important for older officers to properly teach new recruits how they can improve on skill sets, discipline, and leadership as well as learn from recruits themselves, considering the technological skill set advantage young recruits have over their predecessors.
However, Allen does caution that some potential recruits may not have what it takes to break out of the stereotype of their generation and become law enforcement officers. Referencing the children of “helicopter parents,” Allen recounted a meeting he had with one young man.
“I got this kid who wants to be in law enforcement. He wants to go get his degree, but he wants to meet me first.” Allen continues, “So he comes to my office; and as he walks in the door, this shadow is right behind him – his mom. (the room laughs) He was about to get into the law profession. He’s a freshman in college and he wanted to come meet us – with his manager.”
Allen emphasized, however, that there are recruits who need to be told their weaknesses straight out but should also be reassured that others can work with them to eradicate such faults.
Daytona Beach law enforcement training specialist David Agata, who has more than 20 years of law enforcement background, agrees with the sentiment of the class attendees, telling Breitbart News that some new recruits in law enforcement today cannot even tell him why they want to be police officers.
Agata says that too many just “want to put the uniform on and work the street,” learning along the way. “And these kids say, ‘Hey, why should I put a uniform on? I’m smart. I need to throttle back,'” he says.
“The challenge is we got a mindset that says, ‘I don’t need to pay the price to get to where I need to go,’ or they really don’t understand the job that they really have to do. Why? Because they haven’t done their homework,” Agata explains.
“Again, we have all this great technology, but I got a kid. He can probably text 250 words a minute, but can they write a report? Do they actually know what it is to educate? Can you tell me what your authority is? Can you tell me how to apply your authority? Can you tell me what levels of force would be applicable and proper while doing that? And then, what are we offering them?”
Other recruiting issues facing police departments are competition with the local fire departments, competition with nearby localities, and the privatization of law enforcement.