Our communities are simply unsafe without police officers. Therefore, everyone should be concerned by the negative and unfounded rhetoric aimed at all law enforcement, which is causing large numbers of police officers to resign or retire.
Since the riots in the summer of 2020, anti-police sentiment – including increased attacks on officers and the movement to “defund the police” – has had an adverse effect on police morale. Overall community support for law enforcement is overshadowed by media attention on political and other agendas, creating a very difficult work environment.
Officers’ lives are in danger as criminals have become more emboldened to disregard police orders. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, 2020 saw the highest number of law enforcement deaths in nearly 100 years – a 71% increase compared to 2019. As of August 10, there already have been more officer deaths than in all of 2019.
In light of these problems, it is not surprising that many officers are resigning or retiring. A study conducted by the Police Executive Research Forum involving around 200 law enforcement agencies in 2020-2021 found a 45% increase in retirements and about a 20% increase in resignations compared to 2019. The timing of this exodus is coupled with substantial increases in crime.
Why Communities Need Experienced Law Enforcement Officers
Several cities in the United States have seen a 24% increase in killings in 2021, which follows an 30% increase of homicides in 2020. The loss of experienced officers is problematic because of the time needed to train new officers.
Furthermore, experience in law enforcement is an advantage because seasoned officers can apply critical thinking and problem-solving skills that develop over time. Seasoned officers know the specific needs of their communities.
Recruiting New Officers Was a Challenge Even Before the Pandemic
The trend of officers leaving in droves is coupled with a drop in police applicants. Recruiting was a challenge for law enforcement even before the pandemic. For example, the total number of law enforcement officers has dropped by 23,000 since 2013, according to a National Public Radio report. Low morale is at the heart of the personnel shortages.
In 2020, a third of new law enforcement academy graduates in South Carolina resigned once they started on the job. Let’s face it. Law enforcement does not typically pay well.
Motivations for doing the job are often based on a desire to help and serve the community. However, if officers’ perception is that their community does not respect, appreciate, or support them, it is unlikely they will stay long for the low pay and substantial risk to their safety.
Unfortunately, this perception is driven by a political agenda. It is true that policing is not perfect. Unfortunately, the criticisms of law enforcement have overshadowed the professionalism, heroism and dedication to their communities that the vast majority of police officers around the nation exhibit each day.
Related link: Increasing Professionalism in Policing through Education
Increasing Police Officer Morale Requires a Multi-Faceted Approach
Increasing morale in law enforcement requires a multi-faceted approach. The media have a responsibility to report daily police activities that reflect their professionalism. Law-abiding citizens can also have an impact on police morale by getting more involved with their local police department to gain a deeper understanding of police work.
This involvement might include participating in community policing initiatives such as National Night Out, when departments open their doors to the public for tours to increase communication between the police and the community they serve. Other community policing initiatives such as citizen academies, holiday food drives, police-community meetings, and other events throughout the year are a good opportunity for the public to learn what actually goes on within their local police agencies.
Politicians also play an important role in setting an example for supporting law enforcement, which can increase police morale. One of the best examples recently involved Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who showed his support by authorizing a $1,000 bonus for approximately 174,000 Florida first responders, including police. Governor DeSantis said, “This one-time bonus is a small token of appreciation, but we can never go far enough to express our gratitude for their selflessness.”
Police agencies have also taken steps to improve recruitment. While it is important that they do not lower the standards to become a police officer, other initiatives might also be available. For example, some police departments are offering cash incentives to attract and hire new officers.
We all recognize that a strong law enforcement workforce is vital because it increases public safety. Agencies with high morale are more likely to better maintain their workforce while serving their community.