Applications to the Philadelphia Police Department and to New Jersey's state police force have dropped to historic lows, due to what one police union spokesperson says is "the perfect storm" of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, widespread protests against cops, and calls to defund police altogether.
"We are anticipating that the department is going to be understaffed by several hundred members, because hundreds of guys are either retiring or taking other jobs and leaving the department," Mike Neilon, spokesperson for the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge #5, told The Philadelphia Inquirer.
The Inquirer notes that, although the Philadelphia Police Department is budgeted for 6,380 officers, it currently employs only 6,112, leaving well over 200 vacancies.
And Pennsylvania's police problems aren't uncommon.
Baltimore City Lodge #3 Fraternal Order of Police tweeted last week: "Word is Police Commissioner [Michael] Harrison will need to close 2 police districts. As of today, Patrol has fallen below 700 sworn officers! #500copsshort #cityincrisis."
The Union President later wrote: "The topic of closing police district(s) is nothing new in these times of mismanagement resulting in police shortages. It will continue to be one of many suggestions on the table until recruitment and retention issues are resolved. Our Patrol numbers are now below 700 officers which is about 300-400 below what is needed. This creates huge safety issues for our officers and for the citizens of Baltimore."
However, a spokesperson for Baltimore police denied that there have been any discussions of closing any districts.
"There's no doubt in my mind that what's transpiring in our nation today is contributing to the lack of retention and the difficulty in hiring new officers," said Jack Rinchich, president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police. "A lot of cops right now in view of the environment are saying, 'Hey, I've gone 20, 30 years without being sued, shot, or divorced. I'm going to get out while I have an opportunity.'"
Pat Colligan, the president of the New Jersey State Policemen's Benevolent Association, the largest police union in the state, said that "Every action has a reaction.
"When you vilify every police officer for every bad police officer's decision, [people] don't want to take this job anymore," Colligan said.
He added: "It's been a very trying and difficult time to put on the badge every day. There's a recruiting crisis."
New Jersey State Police acting superintendent Col. Patrick Callahan said at a press conference earlier this month that the department had a "historically low" number of qualified applicants so far this year, with 2,023, and noted that in some years the State Police would receive anywhere from 15,000 to 20,000 applications.
"I think the young men and women, when they look around the country and they see things that are going on and question it, I think it's time for those to step up and be a part of igniting change," Callahan said.
"The atmosphere with police work right now is people just don't want to apply," Robert Fox, the president of the New Jersey State Fraternal Order of Police, told NJ.com, adding that there are many people who think, "maybe I'll try later when things improve."
Said Colligan: "There will always be applicants, but what's the quality of the applicant? The quality has really diminished in the last few years."
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