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.
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