Chief Thoughts: Difficulties of Staffing Small Town Police Forces
Last week, the Sherriff, district attorney and I were invited to the high school to speak to the junior and senior students. I asked the students how many were considering a career in law enforcement. Sadly, only a handful raised their hand. Then, I asked if they were interested in staying in local law enforcement--not a hand was raised.
People’s disinterest in law enforcement careers seems to be the norm. I can remember when it wasn’t unusual to have 20 applicants apply for one law enforcement job--This was a time when police officers were respected and being a police officer was a highly sought-after job.
I have spoken to other police chiefs who are finding it difficult to staff their police force, too. We agree that we cannot get applicants. I’ve noticed some agencies reduce their job requirements to get people to apply. However, I can understand some of the reasons why someone does not want to become a cop.
According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, 43 police officers were killed by gun violence in 2017. In 2018, 52 police officers died from gun violence in the line of duty. According to USA Today, 144 police officers killed in the line of duty in 2018. Officers in smaller agencies are at no less risk.
We ask people to become police officers for the same amount of pay that people can make working in other non-risk occupations. It takes a special person to become an officer. The people who step up to become police officers do not expect to be rich. Many say when asked why they want to become an officer, “to help the community.” Many officers say if they can provide for their families they are satisfied with the pay—but this does not mean they would refuse a raise in pay.
Occasionally small cities have one officer on duty. This Officer still makes arrests, works traffic, handles domestics, thefts and other crime. They handle dangerous situations alone when there is not a backup available. I understand why smaller cities and towns cannot pay these officers what they deserve to risk their lives every day. Nevertheless, despite the low pay, there are still people who step up to do the job. I thank these officers for their service and for their courage to work in a small city or town.