Posted on June 21, 2021

Departures of Police Officers Accelerated During a Year of Protests

Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, June 11, 2021

Police departments face severe challenges in retaining and recruiting officers, according to new data outlining the steady exodus from an occupation that was the target of protests last year after several high-profile police killings.

“We have lost about one-third of our staff to resignation and retirement,” said Chief David Zack of the Asheville Police Department in North Carolina — more than 80 officers out of a full complement of 238. “Certainly with the way that police have been portrayed and vilified in some cases, they have decided that it is not the life for them.”

Those reductions in Ashville echo a nationwide trend. A survey of about 200 police departments indicates that retirements were up by 45 percent and resignations by 18 percent in the period between April 2020 and April 2021, when compared with the preceding 12 months. The percentage of officers who left tended to be larger for departments in big or medium-size cities, according to the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington policy institute that will release full data next week.


Last year’s departures came against the backdrop of protests that erupted nationwide when George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer, along with the police killings of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky., and Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta. {snip}

{snip} The pandemic also brought a surge in the most violent crimes.

“It is an extremely difficult time to be a police officer,” said Maria Haberfeld, a professor of police science who trains police officers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

Cities where demonstrations were robust last year experienced substantial departures from their police forces.

In New York, 2,600 officers retired in 2020, according to police statistics, after 1,509 retirements the year before. In Portland, Ore., 69 officers resigned and 75 retired from April 2020 to April 2021, versus 27 and 14 the previous year. In Seattle, resignations increased to 123 from 34 and retirements to 96 from 43.

Seattle ended up with 150 fewer patrol officers than expected, and for months, only slightly more than half of the highest-priority 911 calls have drawn responses within the targeted time of seven minutes, according to police statistics.

Many cities are also finding it harder to attract recruits, with the number of new hires in Portland falling to 30 from 69, and in Seattle to 44 from 119.

After skipping any police training last year for budgetary reasons, St. Paul, Minn., received 178 applications this year, down about half from the 366 received in 2016, said Sgt. Natalie Davis, a police spokeswoman.