Police Departments Are Still Under Stress

posted on August 24, 2023
Police car downtown
Matteo Modica/Unsplash

In 2022, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, 247 police officers died in the line of duty in the U.S.—61 by gunfire. Some were ambushed. Others were murdered during traffic stops. Fourteen were killed in “vehicular assaults.” It perhaps isn’t surprising that being a police officer can be a difficult and dangerous job, but other figures are also disturbing.

“Resignations [in police departments] are still increasing; responding agencies reported nearly 50% more resignations in 2022 than in 2019. While retirements came down a bit in 2022, agencies still reported nearly 20% more in 2022 than in 2019. As a result, total sworn staffing has dropped nearly 5% over the past three years,” says a survey from the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF).

Even as many of the nation’s 18,000 police departments are having a hard time retaining and recruiting good police officers, and as violent crime has gone up in many areas of the country, President Joe Biden (D) wants to force law-abiding citizens to disarm. Indeed, many on the Left wrongfully blame lawfully armed citizens and their freedom for the rises in criminal activity.

Meanwhile, PERF findings also reveal that “in the largest departments with 500 hundred or more officers, the retirement rate increased by nearly 30%.”

“The problem compounds on itself, unfortunately. As recruitment dwindles, standards are lowered. When standards are lowered, people who should never have been allowed to become police officers are hired,” said Michael Hassoldt, who was a patrol officer in Gardena, Calif., before being medically retired for a spine injury sustained in the line of duty. “Those people then make egregious errors and prove why they should never have been hired in the first place. These errors bring more criticism to the profession, leaving still fewer willing to do the job. Rinse, lather, repeat and here we are today.”

Hassoldt believes that while officers are still coming to the job for the “right reasons and with good intentions,” departments, to improve policing, must “commit to transparency, raising hiring standards and ridding themselves of feckless leadership and be more active politically when it comes to policies that hurt the public, such as zero bail.”

When asked how he would describe the state of police forces in the U.S. today, Hassoldt said, “Understaffed, under-appreciated and devoid of leadership and morale.”

Hassoldt argues that the human touch from so many officers is too-often missed in today’s politics.

“One day I was nearly finished with my field training and, while on patrol, I spotted smoke from an apartment fire. I notified the fire department of the fire and responded to the scene with my field training officer,” said Hassoldt. “Upon our arrival, we broke out two windows to the apartment and began to use fire extinguishers to fight the fire. During that time, a frantic resident began to yell to us that her daughter was asleep in the apartment on fire. Upon hearing this, I kicked open the door and entered the building, with my training officer following me in to make sure we could locate the resident who was asleep and then all get out together.”

Hassoldt crawled to reach the sleeping resident.

“Many of the officers are miserable and just want out.” –Officer Christopher Hernandez

“Upon locating her, we woke her, pulled her from her bed to the floor, and crawled out of the apartment with her, leading her to safety,” he said. “Because we were the only people present willing to enter the burning building, we saved her life.”

But he says that such moments are lucky to make a blip on the local news radar.

“There is just a total lack of enthusiasm for being a police officer today. The reasons for this are deliberate attacks from a ‘woke’ agenda and a leadership gap at all levels of government,” said Chris Young, a police officer who has done everything from being a patrol and custody deputy at a jail to being a part of Special Enforcement Bureau (SWAT), to working as a scuba instructor in a career that has spanned almost 35 years. “The vast majority of law-enforcement officers are quality people recruited and vetted from our society. For years, I have said almost all officers will risk their lives without hesitation to do their job. But, unfortunately, almost all officers, particularly in recent times, do not want to risk their careers for doing their jobs.”

Exacerbating this problem is that it takes up to a year to recruit, hire and train a new prospect. The independent Task Force on Policing, launched in November 2020 by the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ), found that “while the number of sworn police officers has increased by 26% since 1987, that expansion has not kept pace with the growth of the general population. As a result, there were 11.5% fewer officers per capita in 2016 than in 1987.”

Still, police officers are often the first to admit that problem people are among their ranks.

police officers at range
Shown here are cadets training to become police officers at the Odessa Police Academy in Odessa, Texas.

“Whatever profession, whether a school teacher, nurse or police officer, there will always be bad apples,” says Robert Gillis, a Los Angeles-based police officer. “But policing is becoming a no-win battle in larger cities. You go out there, do your job and then you’re constantly arresting the same people, watching them get out of jail because all they get is a slap on the wrist. Recruitment is on a downward slide, so departments are lowering the standards for hiring. And they are looking down on the military now. It used to be that if you served, you were higher up on the chain; now, it is not like that.”

Still, most officers welcome the fact that America has a large and responsible civilian gun ownership.

“Every cop I know is extremely pro-civilian gun ownership. I haven’t met a single officer opposed to civilian ownership of weapons,” said Christopher Hernandez, a police officer for a large Texas police department. “Major city police chiefs are political appointees, so they can follow the politics of inner-city politicians, but this isn’t the rule on police forces.”

But even in a state such as Texas, Hernandez feels the weight of plunging morale.

“There is a lot more scrutiny now than there used to be, which is not bad. But sometimes, it’s so intense and so negative. Now there’s an instant suspicion and an assumption that we were in the wrong,” says Hernandez. “Many officers are miserable and just want out. We have numerous examples of violent criminals released on cashless bail who then commit more murders or multiple felonies. And yet, voters reelect the same people responsible for this.”

“It has always been important to protect and serve our communities,” said retired Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Commander Patrick Maxwell. “But even more important is to build back the public trust eroded by some officers’ actions, by some politicians and by the mainstream media. You have liberal district attorneys across the country who are placing suspects’ rights over victim rights.”


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