In August, the entire police department in Goodhue, Minnesota, resigned, and the local police chief stated that he had “zero” applicants as a result of the resignations. According to experts, it is emblematic of how law enforcement has been viewed in recent years.
Goodhue Police Chief Josh Smith informed municipal leaders that he was unable to find anyone willing to join the force.
“This has been three weeks now, we have zero applicants, and I have zero prospects,” Smith said on July 26. “I’ve called every PD around for the youngest guys out there, getting into the game. There’s nobody getting into the game.”
Goodhue Mayor Ellen Anderson Buck told local media that the exodus had caught them off guard. However, some former police commanders and campaigners believe that recent trends have shown that this “crisis” has been in the works for some time.
“I can tell you firsthand the biggest challenge that we hear over and over and over from law enforcement executives is that they cannot hire, and they also cannot retain the officers that they have,” Rev. Markel Hutchins, founder of MovementForward and Faith & Blue, which aims at building relationships and bridging gaps between communities and police, told Fox News Digital. “We have a real crisis in this country, but it’s not a crisis that will be overcome without a shift in culture and a shift in conversation. The demonization and demoralization that law enforcement professionals have faced over the last several years is what Dr. King called the vocal minority.”
Goodhue isn’t the only community suffering from a police deficit. Former police officers and campaigners argue low salaries and even lower morale are to blame for the police profession’s current undesirable status. According to April reports, the size of the police force in Washington, D.C. has reached a half-century low, while a Minneapolis Star Tribune research indicated that the Minneapolis Police Department had its lowest staffing level in four decades in August.
According to a poll of almost 200 police agencies conducted by the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, officer resignations were up 47% last year compared to 2019 while retirements were up 19%, according to NBC News. According to the site, the poll only includes departments connected with PERF, which represents a small percentage of the thousands of police enforcement agencies around the country.
The COVID-19 pandemic and George Floyd’s death occurred in the year 2020. Floyd died in police custody after Officer Derek Chauvin sat on the Black man’s neck for over nine minutes. Chauvin was ultimately sentenced to 3.5 years in prison, but not before violent protests erupted across the country in major towns.
Hutchins contended that America has forgotten the message of Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders.
“The mantra and the mission was not to defeat anyone, but it was to make America live up to her highest ideals,” Hutchins told Fox News Digital.
“In 2020, when I began to see people on one corner yelling, ‘Our lives matter,’ people on a different corner yelling a different message around, ‘Our lives matter,’ I knew that we were going in the wrong direction because we’ve never progressed,” he continued. “When we separate or segregate ourselves from one another, if we are to see officer-involved tragedies reduced, if we are to see crime reduced, if we are to see the attacks and an assassination on the character and the quality of law enforcement improved, it will be because communities and law enforcement come together.”
“We’ve seen the demonstrations and the protests over the last several years that don’t seem to have improved the circumstances,” he continued. “We continue to see an increase in officer-involved tragedies. We continue to see an escalation in tensions. We continue to see a reduction in law enforcement force. People don’t want to join the profession, so no one is winning. So we decided to take a distinctly different approach and actually build bridges between law enforcement and communities in an environment where there seemed to be such an interest in dividing police from the communities they serve.”
Charles Adams, a former Minneapolis cop and high school resource officer, believes the police profession isn’t very “appealing” right now.
“It goes to the point of is not an interest profession that people want to be that are interested in it,” Adams told Fox News Digital. “It’s not appealing. And a lot of people don’t want to be in a situation where they can continue to be scrutinized, or they can get in trouble for doing something that they’re supposed to do… But it also goes back to my first statement, this job is not – people don’t consider this job as the service piece. It’s more of an enforcement piece. And people are avoiding being in those types of situations.”
Lon Bartel, VirTra’s head of law enforcement training and curriculum, and a former Arizona cop, believes the source of the problem is both negative public view of the police and financial incentives.
He stated that pay and benefits are “always a consideration for officer applicants.”
“It is a tough job if the job that at any given time, an injury could cause you to have to no longer be able to do it,” Bartel told Fox News Digital. “And those injuries are not just physical. Those injuries are also psychological because of the sheer amount of trauma that law enforcement officers get into facing, it’s a high risk. So having a big competitive wage is important. The flip side of that, sometimes you get what you pay for. So what do you want? Do you want the best of the best – you might have to pay a little more for it, or do you want mediocrity? And if you’re okay with mediocrity running around carrying a gun and making life or death decisions, just be aware what that means.”
Bartel, like Hutchins, expressed dissatisfaction with how police have been depicted in the media.
“The problem is the environment that they have to do it – it’s not the out in the road that’s problematic,” Bartel told Fox News Digital. “It’s the lack of support from a political perspective and even from a media perspective, that law enforcement community as a whole just doesn’t feel supported.”
After a spate of high-profile “bad cop” instances, he regretted the usual tendency to generalise all cops. According to the data, most police are striving to do the right thing.
“Politically, law enforcement officers are vilified,” Bartel said. “If you take into account that, you know, some of the estimates that there has been over 10 million police contacts in a year, and you have one or two high profile incidents with law enforcement where maybe an officer violated somebody’s rights or, you know, they end up engaging in illegal behavior that killed somebody, that everybody paints law enforcement with a broad brush. And it’s like, wait, no, over 10 million contacts. ‘Okay, you’re going to throw me in with that one guy on another side of the country who did something that bothers the hell out of me as a cop?’ Because reality, nothing makes a cop angrier – cops hate nothing more than a bad cop.”
Hutchins urged officers and members of the community to “lean into their differences.” From October 7 to 10, Hutchins’ organisation will stage a national “Faith & Blue Weekend” focused on locally organised community-officer engagement. The gatherings, which will take place in cities across the country, will allow police officers to have a cup of coffee, meals, and chats with citizens of the communities they have vowed to safeguard. Other activities will include prayer services and sports. One event dubbed “Kickin it with a cop” in West Memphis, Arkansas, is described as “a kickball event that will give officers and the community time to bond.”
Bartel gave his own particular suggestions for building community connections, urging residents to gain a better understanding of how and why officers may need to use physical action when summoned to a scene. He cited organisations such as Force Science, which provide education and training on certain aspects of those realities in order for communities to gain a more “realistic perspective of what the law enforcement profession actually has to do.”
According to Adams, building police-community relations necessitates an investment.
“It’s easier to do when you have an investment,” he said. “And so like me, in my family, we have a vested interest in the community that we serve because that’s where we came from. But also, it’s a collaboration. I mean, you got so many situations where officers are in bad situations because of control and because of – to enforce the control that they have within their job. The minute that you are able to realize that the community supports you, and you’re there to help them and work together, that’s when that thought process changes.”
“And once we can get to the point of law enforcement officers being an accessory in the resources to the community, then you probably see more people wanting to be cops and be a part of the police community,” he added.