As major cities across the country are seeing staggering rises in crime rates, those same cities are facing unprecedented difficulty in recruiting police officers to combat the surge of criminal activity.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, while non-violent crime decreased during the pandemic, the murder rate rose nearly 30% in 2020 and the rate of assaults went up 10%.
Nearly every big city in America has a similar story. According to NYPD statistics, crime in New York City increased by 30.5% between July 2021 and July 2022.
And while Americans are reeling from violent crime spikes, police departments are struggling to fill their ranks. The Associated Press reports that Los Angeles is down more than 650 officers from its pre-pandemic levels. Seattle recently announced $2 million in hiring bonuses and benefits to entice recruits.
“We’re getting more calls for service and there are fewer people to answer them,” said Philadelphia Police spokesperson Eric Gripp. “This isn’t just an issue in Philadelphia. Departments all over are down and recruitment has been difficult.”
Experts are uncertain of what is driving the current trend in crime rates, though many point to the social disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Experts have, however, shot down one popular theory about rising crime rates. According to the AP, widely cited theories that “violent crime is worse in places that changed policing tactics in the wake of protests over Floyd’s murder don’t bear out.” Violent crime has increased in communities of all political affiliations, regardless of their approach to policing.
Whatever the cause, the issues are not just limited to big cities; even small-town American is feeling the pain. “We’re trying to get out to certain job fairs and recruitment days … we’re eight people down so trying to find a qualified candidate is very hard right now,” said Lt. Robert Marra of the Vernon Police Department in Connecticut.
Many police officers have reached a breaking point regarding the current situation. Recently, police officers and other officials in the town of Kenly, North Carolina, submitted mass resignation letters, citing stress, a hostile work environment, and an inability to continue the department's long-term betterment projects.
This affects response times. “You may be lucky if you get an officer two, three, four hours down the line," John McNesby, head of the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police, told CNN.