Monday Morning Thoughts: Police Are Struggling To Hire But Remain in Denial As to Why


Report Finds That Perceptions of Policing and Economic Factors Have Decreased Applications to Most Departments

Davis for years has struggled to hire police officers.  And while there have been a number of local factors cited for that trouble (including lower than average pay, high standards by the department, perceived low level of activity, and perceived unfavorable environment), it would appear that Davis is not alone and most departments are struggling to hire new applicants.

A report last week in the Washington Post finds that nationwide, “interest in becoming a police officer is down significantly.”

Moreover, retaining officers has become harder as well.  In a survey by PERF (Police Executive Research Forum” they found that 29 percent of those who left their job voluntarily had been on the force less than a year with another 40 percent being on the job less than five years.

At its annual gathering in Washington last week, police chiefs and commanders from across the country gathered and many believe that the decline in police officers is attributable to the perception of police harmed by the shooting in Ferguson in 2014 and subsequent occurrences along with the increased public and media scrutiny of police made possible by technology and social media.

“There’s an increased potential for officers to be criminally liable for making a good-faith mistake,” said Terry Sult, the police chief in Hampton, Va. “We’re seeing a lot more media coverage of officers being prosecuted, and that weighs heavily on a lot of officers’ hearts. … That’s a stressor on whether I want to stay in this position or not.”

Many believe that the videos of police misconduct and fatal shootings have damaged the perception of police.

But some believe this is not irrevocable.  For example, the report quotes Antoinette Archer, director of human relations for the police department in Richmond.  She believes that while many are “taken aback by the brutality” they are not in opposition to the profession.

She argues, “If we can be inclusive” of women and people of color, “those individuals who can see a part of their fabric in the department will come forward. … If the environment is not inclusive, you’re going to lose them.”

However, recruiting for diversity remains a huge problem.  Chuck Wexler, the group’s executive director, asked the room if anyone had problems with finding people of color and women to join their departments and every hand went up.

And it is not just recruiting for diversity.  PERF surveyed nearly 400 police departments and nearly two-thirds of them said their applicant numbers had declined.

In addition to perceptions, another problem is the healthy economic because private sector jobs offer better salaries.  But pay alone is not the reason for the decline.

As Seattle Deputy Chief Marc Garth Green put it, “Number one is validation…  The validation that they’re putting their life on the line. There’s no respect for that.”

For him though, then news media was to blame for undermining respect for police authority.

However, other data contradicts this view.  The report cites a recent survey of 800 college students majoring in criminal justice.  That reports finds that the students concerns do not line up with the ones cited by longtime police officers.

Charles Scheer, a criminal justice professor at the University of Southern Mississippi said, “They’re not afraid of increased scrutiny. This generation expects social media and scrutiny. They’re not afraid of the perception of police.”

Instead what he found was African American students, for example, were deterred by family members not supportive of the idea of their relative becoming a cop and distrust due to officer-involved shootings.  Professor Scheer suggested one way to combat this was to recruit the entire family.

Newer officers seem less defensive of new policies.  The Post reports, “Clario Sampson, a young officer in Newark, said he gladly donned a body camera every day to defend his policing.”

“For the older officers, it’s an adjustment,” Mr. Sampson said. “I do believe that because of the cameras and how the media looks at it, we have to do more training.”

While I find all of this fascinating and these are important discussions to have, I wonder how much of these discussions aren’t taking place in an echo chamber.  My unfortunate conclusion remains that policing is in deep denial about the problems of their profession and the video evidence that is coming forward is a look into how departments have operated for generations.

Those who want to argue that the problem officers are a small percentage of the force are in some ways correct but in others missing the institutional problems that undercut those statistics.  The problem with policing is not the few who violate their oaths by acting in bad faith, but rather the many that allow for the organization as a whole to lack transparency and accountability.

Moreover, even officers I admire and respect and believe are good officers are in denial about the way in which unconscious bias actually works.  I recently listened to an officer telling a group of people that the Davis police treat people of color the exact same way they treat everyone else.

We have made progress with things like unconscious bias training, but we have no where near addressed the problem.

If police want to know why they are having trouble with the perception, maybe they should not talk to a room of other police or even a group of potential recruits, maybe they ought to talk to the communities they work in and work to rebuild the trust with communities of color.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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29 thoughts on “Monday Morning Thoughts: Police Are Struggling To Hire But Remain in Denial As to Why”

  1. Keith O

    “interest in becoming a police officer is down significantly.”

    Ya think?  With much of the press including bloggers constantly demeaning police officers who in their right mind would want to take up that profession?

    1. Alan Miller

      I wonder how much of these discussions aren’t taking place in an echo chamber.

      Speaking of which:  Anonigeddon.  Imagine today’s discussion without Keith O. swinging at the first pitch.  Talk about Echo chambers.  You won’t fill the stadium with only one team playing.

      1. John Hobbs

        ” You won’t fill the stadium with only one team playing.”

        The soon to be missing noise has only to own up to his words.

        Lacking that small degree of courage, he can whistle in the wind.

  2. Keith O

    As Seattle Deputy Chief Marc Garth Green put it:

    For him though, then news media was to blame for undermining respect for police authority.

    And there it is in a nut shell.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      That’s a cop out. It’s easy to blame the media. But the media is reporting on what happened. The problems here are largely due to police mishandling tragedies – failure to be transparent, lies that have come out, failure to hold officer accountable, etc. As I said at the bottom, this is a profession in deep denial about themselves and until they come to grips with that they are going to struggle. They can only be propped up by ideology for so long. The problem is going to resolve itself because people are now voting with their feet.

    2. Tia Will


      “There it is in the nutshell “( a closely confined space) from which you and this particular police chief view the world.

      There are many other ways of interpreting the problem as David has pointed out. In medicine, we have much the same problem. If doctors sit around and discuss why we have poor patient compliance with our recommendations, we make little progress. It is only when we include the voices of nurses, pharmacists, medical assistants, patient family members and most importantly patients themselves, do we begin to see the full scope of the problem.

      David’s final paragraph in my opinion is exactly right on this point.

  3. Keith O

     Police Are Struggling To Hire But Remain in Denial As to Why

    It sounds like they know exactly why they’re struggling to hire.  What denial are you referring to?

      1. Keith O

        You don’t think things like the media sensationalizing incidents like “hands up, don’t shoot” which turned out to be a lie has contributed to people not wanting to go into the police profession?


        1. David Greenwald Post author

          As opposed to Officer Slager who lied about the man wrestling him for his taser and Officer Van Dyke who lied about how the shooting of Laquan McDonald went down?

        2. Tia Will


          Contributing factor? Yes.

          Underlying causality. No.

          In any event, it is mostly irrelevant. Police departments cannot change the sensationalism of some ( not all) journalists. However, they can, by changing their own policies and procedures decrease the types of incidents that lead to sensationalistic reporting.

          Again, a medical example. Journalists are justified in writing about doctors or hospitals who have a high rate ( or even single) “never event” such as amputation of the wrong extremity. The correct solution for the medical profession is not to vilify the reporters, but rather to devise systems in which this kind of medical atrocity is reduced, ultimately to zero, even if that makes the surgeon’s work more burdensome.

  4. Keith O

    I was thinking about this the other day.  Since the race baiting Obama is no longer in office have you noticed how little we now hear from Black Lives Matter and black related racial incidents seem to be way down to almost unheard of under Trump.

    1. Tia Will


      If you believe that “black related racial incidents seem to be way down to almost unheard of under Trump” I suspect that we are using different news sources. I do not watch any TV or any talk radio. I like to get my statistics on injuries and deaths from CDC, MMWR, FBI crime stats and other reliable statistical sources. Where do you get your information?

      1. Keith O

        Baloney, there’s always a few isolated incidents but on a national level since Trump has been in office we haven’t had anything near the black racial problems we had under Obama.

        1. David Greenwald

          I think you’re mistaking incidents for coverage.  What’s actually happened is the lunacy of Trump has sucked a lot of the focus off other issues that ordinarily would receive more coverage.  For instance, what happened with Sac sheriff might have made national news but for the fact that so much else is going on right now.  There’s a lot of this stuff – you’re just not aware of it because the new sources you follow aren’t focused on it.

        2. Keith O

          Sorry, not buying it.  How many BLM marches have you seen since Trump has been in office?  Under Obama it seemed like a weekly occurrence.  I know it doesn’t fit your agenda to admit it, but at least you could try to be honest here.

        3. David Greenwald

          Why is a BLM march your indicator?  The movement basically got consumed by the “resistance” and other lefty movements.  The underlying incidents are still occurring, they just have more to compete with in this environment.

        4. Tia Will


          I would like to know at what point, in your opinion, ” a few isolated incidents” become a national issue. David is correct that how many incidents you perceive depends on what news sources you choose.

  5. John Hobbs

    My friend Kirk became a police officer, graduating the academy and taking a job in a smaller foothill department. Prior to that, he was a logistics specialist in the US Army, served in Fallujah, and then worked as a substitute teacher in Compton for a couple of years.He is literally an Eagle Scout, a husband and father of two now college aged girls. He was first picked on by some of his fellow officers for pursuing a graduate degree in psychology and that later turned to outright contempt when he questioned a fellow officer’s use of force in a minor disturbing the peace call. His fitness reports began reflecting the negative attitude toward his perceived empathy. He began looking for another job.


  6. John Hobbs

    “unheard of under Trump.”

    2017 by the numbers:

    987 fatal police shootings.

    68 of the victims were unarmed.

    223 Black people accounted for over 23% of fatalities (although they only account for 13% of the US population.)

    179 Latinos were killed by police.(They accounted for 18% of the killings and represent about 17.8% of the US population.)

    About 25% of the victims were experiencing mental health issues at the time of their killing.

    Only 99 (10%) of the shootings were caught on body cams.

  7. Keith O

    Good, robust discussions on the Vanguard today.  Too bad in three weeks it will be reduced to a small number of liberals all agreeing with each other and Trump bashing.

    1. David Greenwald

      That’s your choice.  I’m not convinced that there will be no conservatives willing to post under their own name, but I guess we’ll see.  BTW, right now the change is planned around the time we launch the updated website, not sure exactly when that will be – probably early January, definitely not January 1.

        1. David Greenwald

          I have no problem with conservatives posting.  There are a lot of moving parts being managed behind the scenes, one is the new website, the other has not been unveiled but if it comes about will be a major new change for the Vanguard.  Stay tuned.

  8. John Hobbs

    First of all, I’m pretty sure Bill Buckley jr and Bob Dole resent the usurpation of “conservative” by tribal and narrow minded malcontents bent on asserting white privilege. Second, you are the guy running away because he’s afraid of the light. The liberal(s) you refer to has been right here taking your anonymous crap without ever saying, “You need to go!” Third there are true conservative readers and posters. So either pony up with your true name, or shut up about being “run off the range.” Fake news, didn’t happen.

  9. Howard P

    You give “conservative” a bad rep.  Dad was ‘conservative’ fiscally… a moderate, on social issues… we voted the same ~95% of the time.  True conservatives are cautious, but open to discussion.  Dad and I had that.

    “Progressives”, here in Davis, are uber ‘conservative’ in several areas (particularly the addition of housing), and are “liberal” on what they would impose on others.  A pox on both of those factions…

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