Recruiting police officers used to be pretty simple, Chelsea, Ma., Police Chief Brian Kyes recalled. Post an opening and watch the resumes roll in. The job, offering a solid income and a chance to serve the community, sold itself. “Everything was word of mouth,” he recalled. “We didn’t really have to do much. People wanted this job.” Now, a strong job market, coupled with a heightened public skepticism of policing, has made it more difficult to fill vacancies, the Boston Globe reports. “This is a nationwide issue,” said Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum. “Police departments, small, medium, and large, are experiencing significant decreases in applicants.” A survey of government human resources departments this year found that 32 percent had struggled to fill police positions, more than any other field. From 2013 to 2016, the number of full-time sworn police officers fell from almost 725,000 to just over 700,000.
The crunch has been felt acutely by smaller departments. In Pepperell, a town on the New Hampshire border with a police force of 16, the department used to receive about 100 resumes for every opening. Now it’s one-third of that, Police Chief David Scott said. Police officials cite several hurdles to attracting candidates, including the inherent danger of the job, higher salaries in the private sector, and the widespread requirement to pass the civil service exam. Protests over police shootings have cast the profession in a harsh light. “The occupation of policing is under a microscope,” Wexler said. “It’s taken its toll. You don’t have to spend much time turning on the TV and seeing a video that makes the police look like they’re doing something wrong.” The recruitment crunch is ill-timed, as waves of officers reach retirement age after long careers.