It’s no exaggeration to say that American law enforcement agencies are facing their greatest recruiting and retention crisis in the history of the nation. Hardly anyone wants to be a cop these days and many people in the profession are looking for ways to leave it.

Being a police officer in the United States has never been easy. This is not a nation of polite rule following folks. But it is so much harder today in the aftermath of the civil unrest that followed the justified police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, and the months of riots and demonstrations that followed the in-custody death of George Floyd. In this environment, even families that have generations of service in law enforcement are discouraging their younger members from following in the boot steps of their fathers and grandfathers.

Resentment toward law enforcement, refusal by witnesses to cooperate with investigators, progressive prison and jail reform, the movement to defund and/or abolish police departments, and the shortage of law enforcement personnel has led to a serious crime wave in many of the nation’s largest cities. Many people are afraid to go to the entertainment and business centers of their cities for fear of being shot, and they are also afraid of being robbed at home.

American voters have had enough. Even in ultra-progressive San Francisco, the voters bounced the soft on crime district attorney, in favor of someone who has the novel idea of being a prosecutor instead of a criminal advocate. And the politicians are taking note of the voters’ rage. So much so that city councils in extreme blue cities are voting to add money to police salaries and pay hiring bonuses for both lateral transfers and new hires.

Washington, DC, is a prime example of a city that is desperately trying to buy more police officers. The city is now paying a $20,000 bonus for new hires to the Metropolitan DC Police Department. Recruits get $10,000 as a signing bonus and another $10,000 when they successfully complete the academy. “While our recruiting standards remain high, we know this is an extremely competitive job market and this bonus distinguishes us from the rest of the pack,” police chief Robert J. Contee III said at a news conference in June.

While the twenty thousand bucks in bonuses does raise the starting salary for a DC cop to a little more than $80,000 per year. It’s not unique. Other cities are throwing money at the recruiting problem.

They are also hoping to use cash to entice lateral transfers. Redding, CA, announced in March that it is offering a $40,000 hiring bonus for laterals. That’s a $20K signing bonus, another $10K at the end of field training, and another $10K at end of first year. Officers who accept this deal must stay with the Redding PD for three years or pay back the money.

Even Portland, OR—the city with the populous most likely to throw mortar bombs and balloons filled with feces at police officers—is desperately trying to buy more cops. And like a lot of cities, they want experienced officers. For lateral transfers, the Rose City is paying a $25,000 bonus. One caveat, you have to stay three years or pay back the bonus at pro-rated amounts. That’s three years of dealing with anarchists street thugs who want to kill or maim you, progressive politicians who want to jail you or at very least make it impossible for you to do your job, and anti-police sentiment so thick you couldn’t cut it with an acetylene torch. Any
takers?

The cities that are trying to hire more cops need to realize something: Bonuses alone are not going to cut it. If they truly want to be competitive in the recruiting of laterals and new hires and in retaining the officers they have, they have to present those officers with a political environment that values public safety, honors their service and potential sacrifice, regards their safety as paramount, and does not coddle criminals to the point that the parolee they arrested for carrying a handgun on Thursday is the one throwing shots at them during a liquor store robbery on Friday. If cities can’t offer the cops they need to retain and the cops they want to hire a decent place to work, then throwing money at them is nothing but a temporary solution to a long-term problem. Some of them may take the money, but they’ll be counting days until they can move on to a better city. And for many the money may not be enough.

Back in 2002, my first year as editor of POLICE, we ran a cover story on the shortage of officers because of low pay compared to the private sector. It was headlined, “Who Wants This Job?” The same story today could be headlined, “Who Wants This Job at Any Price?” And I’m afraid the answer does not bode well for the future of America’s cities.

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