More than 80 percent of U.S. police departments are operating below their authorized levels. In some places, fewer than 10 percent of applicants go on to become officers.
Police brass around the U.S. are shuffling schedules, burning overtime, and watching response times rise as the numbers of qualified recruits has slowed to a trickle, the Christian Science Monitor reports. That has left hundreds of openings at some big city departments. More than 80 percent of U.S. police departments are operating below budgeted “authorized force.” Among the causes: a wave of retirements from the last big recruiting push 20 years ago, a tight labor market that offers less dangerous opportunities at higher pay, and a social media environment where officers whipsaw between being portrayed as heroes and villains. Millennials especially are steering away from lifetime careers like policing, opting instead for shorter experiences.
Social media and the burgeoning use of body cameras has exposed the profession to unprecedented transparency, while also helping police departments defend against false accusations. “The role of police has changed fundamentally in very recent years,” says Sarah Charman, a University of Portsmouth sociologist who conducted a five-year study of police recruits in Great Britain. “We are asking police officers to be something and portray something and symbolize something that doesn’t exist in the reality of their role. They are supposed to be heroic crime fighters yet they get heavily involved in social work, safeguarding, and mental health services.” Through Freedom of Information Act requests to six police departments in Texas and Oklahoma, the Monitor obtained recruitment numbers from the past five years. Fewer than 10 percent of applicants go on to become officers. The gap can result in hundreds of officers missing from the streets. Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo estimated he needed at least 1,500 more officers.