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Five Ways the Economy Will Change Your Job

The economy has gone down the toilet. How will that affect law enforcement?

February 01, 2009  |  by - Also by this author

2) You Could Get Canned (If Not, You'll Work Harder)

Historically, law enforcement has been a recession-insulated profession, relatively speaking. After all, maintaining social order becomes increasingly difficult when large numbers of people lose their jobs and homes.

Professor Richard Rosenfeld of the University of Missouri-St. Louis's department of criminology and criminal justice notes, "Every recession since the late 1950s has been associated with an increase in crime and, in particular, property crime and robbery."

Such realities ensure that the worse things get, the more cops are needed.

Still, in bad times, many agencies cut positions through attrition. They don't hire new cops to replace retirees and other officers who leave the job. Already, agencies such as the New York City Police Department have initiated hiring freezes and canceled academy classes.

NYPD is not the only agency decimating its ranks. As of September, 367 Chicago officers had retired or resigned, with less than a third of that number hired to replace them. Worse still, more officers and civilians stand to be laid off in 2009, exacerbating the lack of backfill. And Chicago is not alone. Atlanta isn't filling 53 job vacancies.

Layoffs of sworn personnel are also happening, especially for those most recently hired at the most cash-strapped agencies.

In late December, despite vocal protests by the local citizenry, the city of Muskegon Heights, Mich., voted to lay off six of its officers. Some 79 Connecticut State Police officers—eight percent of the agency's work force—became Christmas Eve casualties of the economy.

In this economy, officers left on the job will probably be working much harder and maybe for much less.

What's happening in Vallejo, Calif., offers a cautionary example. Given that 80 percent of its general fund budget is committed to the salaries and pensions of its active and retired police and fire personnel, the city became the first in California's history to file for bankruptcy. In the wake of falling tax revenues, rising payrolls, and depressed housing markets, it probably won't be the last. As of November, the Not-So-Golden State cities of Rio Vista and Isleton were considering similar measures.

"It's hard to know what cities that are in receivership will do with their law enforcement," says Rosenfeld. "Typically when that happens, law enforcement functions in that city are taken over by the county or by the adjacent jurisdiction; sometimes by the state. I would imagine that would happen in those places that are suffering significant budget woes right now."

The economy and the shortage of officers are spurring many agencies to explore the use of non-sworn personnel to support their missions.

The Gilroy (Calif.) Police Department has deposited its graffiti abatement upon the shoulders of a largely civilian unit. Meanwhile, the L.A. County Sheriff's Department is finding greater use of its deputy sheriff reserves.

"The department is realizing that the reserve force is an excellent resource, not just for the purpose of filling a car, although we do that," notes Mike Leum, an administrative services manager with the department who is also its Reserve Chief of Search and Rescue.

"Reserves bring with them their professional skills from the private sector. They are not only filling a seat in a car, but also providing technical expertise. The varied skill sets of these reserves—be it computer expertise, legal, or accounting—find them assisting in investigations or in setting up Websites, all types of different things. Otherwise, the department would have to go outside and do a contract with somebody at pretty great expense."

Leum says the labors of the reserves make for a huge savings for the department. "Last year, over 192,000 hours of work was donated by 850 reserves. That's a savings to the county of $5 million to $6 million," he explains.

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