2022 in Review: Police Trainers Speak Out on the Year's Toughest Challenges

Responding to an informal—and totally unscientific—poll, law enforcement educators and trainers from around the country pointed to shrinking budgets and increasing anti-police sentiment, but paramount in the list of challenges facing them in the past 12 months was officer recruiting and retention.

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Late last month, we conducted an informal—and totally unscientific—poll of a few dozen law enforcement educators and trainers from around the country inquiring what they felt were the greatest challenges in police training in 2022. We asked respondents to rank from 1 to 5—with 1 being the most daunting/damaging/destructive—among the following topics that dominated our coverage of law enforcement training in the past year.

  • Budgets / Inflation
  • De-Escalation Training
  • Leadership Development
  • Recruiting / Retention
  • Something Else / Not Listed _____________

The responses were compelling but not particularly surprising.

For example, more than one person replied with lament of budget woes. One individual said that not only are trainers being asked to "do more with less," but with inflation hitting a 40-year high—forcing prices up on everything from ammo to gasoline—it's been difficult just doing "the same with less."

Another person echoed that thought with the comment that agencies are unable to train officers "due to manpower shortages" as well as "lack of ammo" and "price of ammo."

Still another answered the question with a question, "If you can't pay your officers a living wage, afford training or safety equipment, then how can you recruit or retain your officers?"

Among the handful of oft-repeated topics falling under the "Something Else/Not Listed" category was the persistence of anti-police sentiment among many in the public, the press, and the political elites.

One respondent spoke of "rebuilding [the] department's standing, reputation, and re-earning respect." Another said that the "entire criminal justice system has broken down—to some extent—in most jurisdictions." Still another said the number one problem is "ineffective prosecution system" with "Soros-style prosecutors and no bail statutes."

The Biggest Loser

Even with all the responses placing the abovementioned issues at the fore, the people polled—by an overwhelming margin—declared recruiting/retention to be the most difficult challenge police faced in 2022.

Steven Casstevens—who recently retired after a career that spanned more than four decades and included a term as President of the International Association of Chiefs of Police—said that in years past his agency would get hundreds of applicants for only one open position. Now, it's tough to get a dozen solid leads on a good new hire.

"Last year, we had a hundred and twenty applicants apply online—only sixty showed up for the orientation and written test," Casstevens said. "Only eleven passed the written test. By the time we got the oral interviews done and posted the list, the top five had already been hired somewhere else. The next three could not pass the background. This is all too common across the country and we are all fishing from the same shallow pond."

Tim Barfield—who this year retired from his position Chief of the Wellington (OH) Police Department—said, "The problem is we have scared away all the candidates and the current staff is tired of being the scapegoat for society's ills. It will take years to re-build this desire and I would guess—if even possible—it'll take ten-plus years to do so. Rebuilding will have to be done by the politicians who have destroyed this honorable and noble profession."

Bill Harvey—a retired chief—said, "Short staffing creates budget impacts [with] overtime and back-fill issues. Mandatory overtime creates morale issues [with] burnout [and] stress."

Harvey added that "easing standards" and "lowering the bar" is a "pathway to destruction" for the police profession.

"You may fill the slots this month with breathing bodies," Harvey said, "but you will have issues in the future when the lawsuits land on your front door. Every officer you hire is a million dollar investment—either in their retirement and benefits of long career, or it is the lawsuit amount."

Ferguson and Floyd

Some respondents offered thoughts on specific causes for the hurdles police agencies—and consequently, academy instructors and in-service trainers charged with preparing them for the streets—face in the realm of recruiting and retention.

Dan Marcou—a law enforcement trainer with 33 years of experience as a highly-decorated officer and the author of numerous books, including "Street Survival II, Tactics for Deadly Encounters"—said that people in the profession are still working to undo the damage done by "a corrupt national media" in their depiction of officers nationwide following the deaths of Michael Brown in 2014 and George Floyd in 2020.

"This false narrative has created an environment where law enforcement officers in nationwide [are] besieged and unsupported inspiring them to retire early, change careers, or change agencies with a less toxic environment," Marcou said. "The narrative has also diminished the numbers of people wanting to enter the profession creating drought-like conditions in the recruiting pool."

Don Alwes—a 36-year veteran of law enforcement who now trains law enforcement officers around the country—agreed and said that society in general and policing in particular are "still recovering from the Ferguson/Floyd situations."

Alwes added, "Officers with less training in a career than a little league player in a season, are being criminally charged if not performing at the limits of human performance. Officers are attacked and killed at a rate we haven't seen in decades, if ever. LE has been left disillusioned and demoralized. We've lost a ton of officers too early, and few good people want to do the job."

Taken in Sum

In the final analysis, each of the topics presented in this survey merits careful consideration—not just in a retrospective of the past twelve months, but with an eye toward the year to come. Budgets will remain tight. Recruiting new officers and retaining those already in the will continue to be grim. Developing new leaders will be increasingly difficult as the collective ethos of a new generation fills offices vacated by the "old guard."

The adage that "the two things cops hate most are the way things are, and change" is fitting here.

"The way things are" at present is not simply sustainable—in part because the number of people who want to keep things "the way they are" is shrinking rapidly, but more importantly because change is in and of itself inevitable.

Forward-thinking police professionals should look at 2022 with a critical eye and an open mind, because 2023—and all the attendant challenges it will offer—is now on the near horizon.

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