Police Departments Struggle To Recruit Enough Officers

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STAR WARS can be used to sell almost anything, from Lego to a career in policing. Fort Worth’s police department released a recruitment video on its Facebook page in December featuring an officer at target practice with a stormtrooper. The white-clad soldiers are notoriously poor shots, and the video shows the galactic GI missing every attempt he makes until he creeps so far forward that his goggles are very nearly touching his target. When the exasperated officer asks “who referred you to us?” Darth Vader peeks out from the back of the room, shaking his helmeted head in disgust. The scrolling text at the end of the video, which has garnered 17m views thus far, urges: “Join our Force! If you have what it takes to be a Fort Worth Police Officer and are a better aim than a Stormtrooper.” The advert underscores a serious problem affecting police forces nationwide. Economic and social changes have made it harder for police departments to keep their forces fully staffed, and lead to increasingly desperate recruitment.

The Los Angeles Police Department was short of nearly 100 officers as of mid-December—only 1% of its total workforce, but still enough to be felt on the ground, says Captain Alan Hamilton, who runs recruitment for the department. Philadelphia had 350 vacancies, largely due to a spate of retirements. Last spring, Dallas cancelled two academy classes for lack of applicants; its preliminary applications dropped by over 30% between 2010 and 2015. In 2012, the ratio of police officers to population hit its lowest level since 1997, according to Uniform Crime Reporting Programme data published by the FBI.

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    The dynamics underpinning the shortages vary by department, but there are national trends making it harder for police forces to attract applicants. The first is a strong economy. Nelson Lim, a researcher at the RAND Corporation, a think-tank, says this is nothing new. When plenty of jobs are available, people are usually less motivated to enter dangerous professions. Police forces as well as the armed forces tend to field less interest in boom times.

    The second is the perception of increased danger associated with policing: 135 officers were killed in the line of duty between January 1st 2016 and December 28th 2016—a 10% increase from 2015 but fewer than the 192 killed in 2007. Shooting deaths increased from 41 to 64. Several of them were high profile and gruesome, such as the assassination of five Dallas police officers in July 2016. “When you look around the nation and you see the acts of violence directed at police officers—it makes people reluctant to join. Many people join the profession when they’re 22 or 23 when parents still have a heavy influence,” says Scott Walton, deputy chief in Dallas, though sympathy can also boost recruitment. Dallas has seen an uptick in applications since its officers were attacked.

    The last is the image of policing. The deaths of several unarmed black men at the hands of police officers and the ensuing backlash seem to have made police work less appealing. “We have a situation where law enforcement is being scrutinised more heavily,” says Mr Hamilton of the LAPD. According to Gallup, a polling organisation, trust in law enforcement generally has remained fairly stable since it began surveying the topic in 1993. But according to data collected by Harris, another polling group, the share of both whites and blacks who believe that African Americans are discriminated against by the police has risen markedly between 1969 and 2014.

    Baltimore Police Department’s officer shortage led it to Puerto Rico in search of fresh faces. The department also mulled relaxing its stance on past marijuana use. Chicago has cut its minimum age requirement for its police academy from 25 to 21. Several departments have lowered educational requirements for recruits. If President-elect Trump follows through on his promises to beef up military and infrastructure spending, the plight of police departments might worsen, worries Mr Lim. The armed and police forces tend to compete for applicants. If more jobs become available in industry and construction, putting on a badge might become even less appealing to young workers.

    Source : http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21713898-stronger-economy-partly-blame-police-departments-struggle-recruit-enough

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