Law enforcement agencies across the country experienced a wave of retirements and departures and are struggling to recruit the next generation of police officers in the year since George Floyd was killed by a cop.
And amid the national reckoning on policing, communities are questioning who should become a police officer today.
Mass protests and calls for reforming or defunding the police, as well as the coronavirus pandemic, took their toll on officer morale. The rate of retirements at some departments rose 45% compared with the previous year, according to new research on nearly 200 law enforcement agencies conducted by the Washington-based Police Executive Research Forum and provided to The Associated Press. At the same time, hiring slowed by 5%, the group found.
The wave comes as local lawmakers have pledged to enact reforms — such as ending the policies that give officers immunity for their actions while on-duty — and say they’re committed to reshaping policing in the 21st century. And recruiters are increasingly looking for a different kind of recruit to join embattled departments.
Years ago, a candidate’s qualifications might be centered around his — yes, his — brawn. Now, police departments say they are seeking recruits who can use their brain. And they want those future officers to represent their communities.
“Days of old, you wanted someone who actually had the strength to be more physical,” Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant said. “Today’s police officers, that’s not what we’re looking for. We’re looking for someone who can actually relate to the community but also think like the community thinks.”
But the climate today, coupled with increases in crime in some cities, is creating what Chuck Wexler, the head of the Police Executive Research Forum, called a “combustible mixture.”
It’s creating “a crisis on the horizon for police chiefs when they look at the resources they need, especially during a period when we’re seeing an increase in murders and shootings,” Wexler said. “It’s a wake-up call.”