The Real Cost of Defunding

The Real Cost of Defunding

By Chief Joel F. Shults, Ed.D

The fast-talking video pitchman pounding on the variety of vehicles available to viewers and flashing the number to call now wasn’t a car dealer but a Ft. Worth, Texas police officer recruiting for applicants. While other recruitment efforts are not as clever, similar tactics are being used to convince officers and potential recruits to choose one department over the other. Just like discounts and cash rebates from car dealers, agencies urgently seeking applicants are offering cash bonuses and incentives to get results.

While worker shortages are a challenge across the country and in nearly every enterprise, police jobs used to be the first option for job seekers. The pension plans, job security, and interesting work attracted more applicants than any agency could handle. Today’s job market for police officers is wide open to eligible applicants, but not attractive enough to overcome the critiques, hostility, and violence that has been generated against America’s police officers.

While violent crime is spiking, cities deal with record-breaking murder rates, and ambush murders of police up 100% in the latest officer fatality statistics cities like Minneapolis, MN where millions had to be added back to the police budget and a judge ordered the hiring of more police officers to Portland, Oregon where defunding was short-lived and 82% of the citizens want more police, communities now waking up to the need for police are doing everything but apologizing to keep up staffing.

Especially valuable to law enforcement agencies needing more cops on duty right away are trained, experienced officers already working for other agencies. These hires, called lateral officers, shorten the agency’s training time as well as make the hiring process, including background checks, much simpler.

In times past when there were multiple applicants for every open position, the selection process was tedious and could spread out over many months. Initial testing, then physical performance testing, then psychological testing, a formal physical, and a background investigation were all separate phases requiring an applicant to make multiple visits over several months to complete the process. Many agencies had policies that eliminated anyone with an arrest record and without some college credit. Law enforcement agencies now often have a one or two-day testing process, allow more categories of arrest or drug use history, and are eliminating the college requirement.

Recognizing that many areas have a high cost of living and prohibitive housing costs, some financial incentives are being offered to lure the highly desired lateral candidates. A quick survey of ads for police officers in law enforcement publications shows what appear to be some pretty generous offers. Vancouver, Washington offers are $25,000 lateral incentive and a $10,000 entry-level officer bonus. Washington, DC is offering a $20,000 recruit bonus and a $6,000 available housing bonus on top of a $60,000 entry-level salary. Seattle and New Orleans are both offering up to $30,000.

Tukwilla, Washington, a community of about 22,000 people just south of embattled Seattle, begins its job description with all capital letters addressing what they know is causing officers from many cities to flee to the suburbs: ARE YOU TIRED OF A LACK OF SUPPORT, LACK OF EQUIPMENT, LACK OF CAREER OPPORTUNITIES AND A LACK TIME OFF TO HAVE A LIFE OUTSIDE OF WORK? Addressing other quality of life issues, the agency recruiting material emphasizes health and time off. “We operate in an environment where officer’s mental health and wellness comes first. Having happy and healthy officers benefits them, the department and the community we serve. Officers are encouraged to workout on-duty and participate in a variety of benefits and resources to assist them and to maintain a high level of mental and physical fitness. Our officers also enjoy ample time off to enjoy life outside of work with a bank of 236 hours of paid time off in addition to the 96 hours of vacation and 144 hours of sick leave that they accrue annually.” With a $25,000 hiring bonus, the department seems to get to the heart of the recruitment challenge.

Even small agencies such as the 25 officer Pelhem, New Hampshire Police are in the competition.  Pelhem is offering $15,000 more up-front cash.

Early retirements, disinterest in the profession, and officers just plain quitting are all the result of oppressive legislation against law enforcement, reducing the accountability of criminals, unsupportive police administrators fearing for their own jobs, and prosecutors more interested in charging police officers than charging criminals. The cost has been high in increased crime, increased fear of crime, property damage, and now the need to dig into the treasury in order to make police work seem attractive again.