Police officials again met with legislators to emphasize the difficulties they face in recruiting and retaining police officers and performing public safety duties.
They also warned of negativity about the police from the general public and the media and its effect on morale.
The House Republican Policy Committee held a hearing Wednesday to discuss issues plaguing first responders, during which police officers focused on the difficulty of increasing their ranks.
“In 2019, before the pandemic, the state of police recruitment in the United States was already dire — so dire, the International Association of Chiefs of Police called it ‘a crisis for law enforcement,'” said David Kennedy, president of the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association. “Many organizations are regularly looking to hire additional people.”
Anecdotally, Kennedy noted that the Pennsylvania State Police received 10,000 applications when he joined in 1995; Today, the PSP has seen just over 1,000 people apply. The PSP patrols 85% of Pennsylvania’s land and takes over when smaller municipalities dissolve local departments.
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A similar recruitment problem has been observed in the city police.
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“We’ve lost both ends of the candle, which makes it difficult for us to keep up with the growing need for police services,” said Captain Atah Akakpo-Martin of the Harrisburg Bureau of Police. “Resignations, then retirements, are major issues.”
Harrisburg has had 21 police officers resign since 2017; Departments hire a small number of applicants from a shrinking pool of people. Of the 337 applications they received since 2017, only 45 were hired.
Akakpo-Martin suggested that a lack of respect and not talking enough about the benefits of being a cop hurt their efforts.
“What causes young people to pass up the noble profession of being a law enforcement officer?” Akakpo-Martin asked. “Continuous media overreaction to police-related incidents across the country prevents many from discovering the benefits and rewards of being a law enforcement officer. Lack of focus on pay, benefits, work environment, agency support and recession on public opinion and perception less and less willing to join.
If police had more positive interactions with young people through their schools or in their neighborhoods, Akakpo-Martin said, that could prevent them from becoming disaffected.
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Officials also cited the economics of policing, including the rising cost of technology and its impact on budgets.
“There is a dramatic increase in the cost of having a police department,” said Larry Garrity of the Pennsylvania Fraternity of Police. “How do you pay for it? I don’t know – but you all (the public) demanded it, so you got it.”
Officials appealed for more funding to support the police department’s responsibilities.
“There are legislative steps that can be taken to enhance public safety for all residents of the Commonwealth,” Kennedy said, advocating for “a dedicated funding stream” for PSP. “Let’s end the annual funding free-for-all for the Pennsylvania State Police.”
Syndicated with permission from Center Square.