By: Kathy L. Francis, MS, CEM, MDPEMP
Executive Director, Mid-Atlantic Center for Emergency Management
The number and quality of police academy applicants has drastically declined across the nation. “We have a national crisis,” said Eugene O’Donnell, a former New York City police officer and now a lecturer at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. “For the first time in my life, I would say I could never recommend the job. Who’s going to put on a camera, go into urban America where people are going to critique every move you make? You’re going to be demonized” (Collins & Pane, 2016, para. 3). When a career officer, serving in a city known to challenge the most seasoned cop, publicly shares a message like this, it is time to pay attention.Young men and women all across the nation are reluctant to choose this honorable profession, one in which many current police officers identify as their passion and a calling to serve their community. There are many factors influencing this decline including low wages, negative publicity, low public confidence, concern for the safety of their families, physical demands, competition of new jobs in the security sector, millenials’ aversion to strict regulations in the workplace, and body cameras with critique of every action and inaction – not to mention far too many line of duty deaths each year. Few professions are more dangerous.
In spite of all this, people still want to serve their communities in public safety professions – they still want to be cops! Agencies still want to recruit and retain honorable men and women into the public safety workforce! When reflecting upon the national attention drawn to police violence, Donald Grady II, a 30 year, now retired, police chief, advocates for a solution. “The problem is we’ve been addressing the issues wrongly for years. We keep wanting to say it’s a training issue. It’s not a training issue.” Grady further continues, “This is an issue of who it is that we’ve decided we would allow to police our country” (Cain, 2016, para. 2).
Many agencies are experimenting with their entrance requirements and pondering change. Many law enforcement agencies stipulate that the recruit must be 21 years of age by the academy graduation date. To address this national concern, consider the role of high school, cadet, and community college public safety preparatory programs that serve students in the age gap prior to academy placement. Dallas Police Chief David Brown shared, “We want to have people who have a sense of public service, who want to help, people who have a high moral standard. We want the model citizen who wants to go into public service and make our democracy work” (Cain, 2016, para. 9).
Educators, this is our call to action. Are we working with public safety leaders to critically review curricula and develop robust programs applicable to the changing world we now live in? Is it time to refresh and broaden our academic advisory committee membership? Do we need to develop co-curricular programs to address the changing psychological demands of the profession? Research suggests that the more college education an officer has, the less likely he or she is to be physically or verbally abusive. Are we advocating for the appropriate level of education in academy requirements? Are we preparing tomorrow’s public safety leaders to prevent and address the growing societal challenges with police and community relations, in addition to the myriad threats, and combination of threats, to our nation? These are all great questions, as national public safety leaders develop a strategy to address this growing problem.
“Now, more than ever, society is asking its police officers to go into harm’s way and to face grave danger,” said New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton (Berman, 2016, para. 18). It is with a sense of gratitude to our men and women in uniform that I write this article and prompt educators to think about their contribution to address this national challenge.
Berman, M. (2016, July 27). Number of law enforcement officers fatally shot this year up significantly after ambush attacks, report says. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2016/07/27/number-of-law-enforcement-officers-fatally-shot-this-year-up-significantly-after-ambush-attacks-report-says/?tid=a_inl&utm_term=.c14af39829d0
Cain, R. (2016, July 21). Pitfalls with police recruitment in the U.S. ThinkProgress. Retrieved from https://thinkprogress.org/pitfalls-with-police-recruitment-in-the-u-s-db3d7ebe0b8d#.hxp01ypy6
Collins, D., & Pane, L. M. (2016, November 14). Police departments eye lower recruitment criteria. The Columbian. Retrieved from http://www.columbian.com/news/2016/nov/14/police-departments-eye-lower-recruitment-criteria/
Lewis, D. (2016, May 25). Police applications on the decline; Departments struggle to find quality candidates. Channel3000com. Retrieved from http://www.channel3000.com/news/Police-applications-on-the-decline-Departments-struggle-to-find-quality-candidates/39716406?item=0
Libaw, O. Y. (2016, July 10). Police face severe shortage of recruits. ABC News. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=96570&page=1
National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. (2016, November 22). Preliminary 2016 law enforcement officer fatalities. Retrieved from http://www.nleomf.org/facts/officer-fatalities-data/