Is Turnover Good for Policing

Is Turnover Good for Policing

By Chief Joel F. Shults, Ed.D

Police departments are scrambling to find and keep qualified candidates.

Recently published reports show that the average person will change careers anywhere from 3 to 15 times during their working lives. Those estimates vary depending on the source, but it does appear that the American workforce is restless. The U.S. Department of Labor statistics reveal that nearly a third of the workforce will change jobs every 12 months.

A recent poll indicated that only 14% of workers felt they had a great job and would not change. Seventy percent of all working adults are actively looking for a job change. A significant number of those who change jobs or careers do so for a better paycheck, but the reasons for dissatisfaction in their current jobs are a variety of bad management. From micromanaging to lack of appreciation, a majority of workers have complaints about their work environment.

Although there are unique aspects to police recruiting and retaining experienced police officers, there is some comfort in knowing that the whole country is in a new stage of worker discontent.

Now USA Today reporters seem to think losing a chunk of officers might be a good thing. A recent article claims that as officers “quit in droves” it is an opportunity for police reform. The article notes that advocates of defunding or abolishing police departments may see the attrition as a positive thing but concedes that “some city officials said it affects the communities the police serve”. Perhaps they are hoping for a Pulitzer in the “understatement of the year” category.

For those who may not know the editorial policy of Gannett Publishing (owner of USA Today), it is not pro-police. While simultaneously claiming trusted and fact-based journalism, the Gannett web page advocates activism including unabashed advocacy of Black Lives Matter. Last year’s list of dozens of persons considered victims because they were killed by police includes few truly innocent persons if only the whole story were told.

The article makes the claim (through the seemingly objective lens of selective interviews) that the turnover in policing will result in gaining recruits that are more idealistic, diverse, and in tune with the reformer’s claims of built-in racism and excess among current law enforcement officers. It may be true that recruits coming out of the intense anti-police sentiment inflamed by the very journalism reflected in the article might be more determined and idealistic. I doubt it. The majority of cops that I ever knew were idealistic and determined, too. And most of them remained idealistic despite the bruising realities of police work.

It is those bruising realities that may make the idealists’ career short. A police officer just learns to live with the moral injury that is part of law enforcement. That’s not this writer’s cynicism at work, since I am still an idealist and proud of my service, but a reality check that every cop must face.

Remember the line of young men and women at the military recruiting offices after the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon? The highest ideals of patriotism, duty, and sacrifice were embodied in those fine recruits. And from all accounts, they served well. But they served in the reality of war, confusion, and conflicting thoughts and feelings. They felt the animosity of the enemy. They tasted the dirt and blood of combat. They were wounded in mind and body, returning to find that the support they expected was bogged down in politics and bureaucracy. They persisted just like those who went before them. Though some are embittered – and who could blame them – most would quietly say they’d do it all again.

A person may enlist in the military for as little as two years. When they honorably complete their service they are considered a veteran. If a police officer fails to persist until retirement, they may be labeled a quitter. No one should blame a police officer for a shorter term of service. If they served well while they served, then they are a veteran of law enforcement. Those of us who did 20 years or more made our choice. To serve long is an indication, not of a rut, but of a sense of duty and service that persists after the idealistic glow wears off. When the prayer changes from “Lord if it’s going to happen let it happen on my shift” to “Lord please not on my shift”, the officer that’s been around still goes to where the trouble is. They still sacrifice. They still give.

To imply that we need to be happy about the exodus of officers in the hope that better men and women will fill their shoes is an insult both to those who have served and those who are presently stepping up.