"Public safety is not affected," says Santaniell. "We have more officers on patrol than before because of the restructuring of our department."
Yet unions say safety is compromised. "You can't see 44 percent of an agency laid off and first response times not affected," says FOP National President Chuck Canterbury, referring to Camden. "Not only were they affected, but officer safety was affected as well … with 44 percent of officers laid off, that's 44 percent less backup. I'm sure the criminal element is glad there's less patrol."
Messages left with the Camden PD were not returned.
John Williamson, FOP President of Lodge #1 in Camden, argues that slashing police budgets in a recession is short sighted. "I don't think they're looking at when the economy dips, unemployment goes up, and crime rate increases. When the economy is hurting, tensions rise at home, domestics increase, people drink more, people resort to using, selling drugs as a quick way to making money."
After the Shock
Still, cop jobs are being cut. And the pink-slipped officers are being forced to cope with loss of income and status and maybe even the loss of a cherished career.
There's really only three options for an officer who has been laid off, says Dr. Jim Nardozzi, dean of the masters of public administration program at Connecticut's Post University and a retired deputy chief of the Waterbury Police Department. "You can wait it out and see if they call … If you can hold out and make ends meet," he says. "Or you can be prepared to pack your bags and move. Or you can pursue a different career."
Nardozzi's advice to officers facing layoffs is to diversify. "Officers come to me with let's say 20 years with a criminal justice degree and say, 'should I get my masters in CJ?' and I say no, you've already got that skill set. It's time to learn something new."
Sgt. Antoine Lane, a 20-year law enforcement veteran of a Texas agency, advises laid-off officers to "find out what departments are hiring" regardless of location. Police departments deal with a geographically diverse application pool, he says. "People in Minnesota will apply to Florida-have gun, will travel."
Nardozzi, who says he feels badly for laid-off officers, recommends they sell themselves as certified and trained, representing a cost savings to another
Lane suggests relocation, but he knows how hard that can be on many officers, especially those with ties to the community. "Their support mechanisms are in place, they have family, daycare, schools, and all these things blind the employee from relocation," he says.
But experienced police officers are valuable in the market; they just have to be willing to go where the work is. "Whether you're an Alaska trooper or Hollywood PD, you should be optimistic about procuring a job," Lane says. "Just be willing to take a hit on relocation or pay."
Lane, who is building a second career as a corporate trainer, says cops are "married to the position" and usually stay in the field. Lane believes another option is "resign yourself to smaller departments … like campus PDs. You may be taking a 50 percent pay cut but you're still a very attractive applicant against traditional applicants," he says.
Others suggest officers not rule out private security as a career. "Officers can have an easier transition into the security management and loss prevention fields. They already have experience with interpersonal communications, interviewing, and investigations," says Philip Farina, CEO for Manta Security Management Recruiters. He suggests career seekers hold membership in security associations such as ASIS International.
Planning for the Worst
Sgt. Glenn Nixon of the Bourbonnais (Ill.) Police Department and a Republican Kankakee County board member facing a 16-percent reduction in the county budget, says we must look at lessons learned from business and cut back effectively. "If you don't perform as a manager, your business will fail."
Nixon believes a good leader is not waiting for the layoff to happen but is proactively prepping an employee. "Good leadership prepares years before any threats of layoffs," Nixon explains.
Nixon stresses education, lifelong goals, and networking, and he advises officers to keep acquiring knowledge and skills. "Everyone in my department who works for me should be refining skills and education. It doesn't mean it has to be criminal justice, it could be chemistry," Nixon says.
Officers should "begin making connections with small business associations or go to community college," Nixon says. "Pull out the positives you own. You have skills. Get involved in community services. Reevaluate your education level. Don't specialize in law enforcement if you don't want to. Accumulate a book with an explanation of certificates."
Dr. Jim Nardozzi, dean of the masters of public administration program at Connecticut's Post University and a retired deputy chief of the Waterbury Police Department, also believes a good leader makes sure that his or her officers can weather the bad times. This means convincing them not to live over their financial heads. "If your salary is $40,000, and you get used to making $80K from overtime and private duty work, and you're living the $80K life and then the economy turns, there's no tax receipts, and the city is cutting officers back to base salary, then what do you do? Don't make decisions based on OT."
Kristine Meldrum Denholm is an award-winning freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. She wrote for ATF's press office for 10 years.
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