According to Police Research Forum, fewer people are applying to become police officers, and more people are leaving the profession, often after only a few years on the job. These trends are occurring even as many police and sheriffs’ offices are already short-staffed and facing challenges in developing a diverse workforce.
The workforce crisis is affecting law enforcement agencies of all sizes and types -- large, medium, and small; local, state, and federal. And it is hitting departments in all parts of the country.
There are ominous signs that the workforce crisis in policing may be getting worse. Traditional sources of job applicants including the military and family members of current officers are diminishing. A robust economy and strong job growth are creating more options for people entering the labor market, so police agencies are facing more competition. And the often rigid, quasi-military organizational structure of most police agencies does not align with the preferences of many of today’s job applicants.
An important issue complicating the situation is the fact that the work of policing itself is changing. The work of police officers is becoming more challenging. Criminal offenders are committing new types of cyber-crime and are using computers to commit old types of crime in new ways. Officers must understand and be comfortable with new technologies. Furthermore, today’s police officers are increasingly being asked to deal with social problems, such as untreated mental illness, substance abuse, and homelessness. As a result, the skills, temperament, and life experiences needed to succeed as an officer are becoming more complex.
Lastly, the civil unrest that occurred in 2020 may also impact the size of our candidate pool moving forward.