Law enforcement agencies change tactics to retain officers

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DENVER, Colorado — In a growing number of cities, if you call the police, there are fewer officers in the force to take your call than there were even five years ago.

Police departments across the nation are raising concerns about current and future staffing.

“I think law enforcement agencies across the nation are struggling to get people to get into business as a first-time employee,” said Tony Spurlock, the sheriff of Douglas County Sheriff’s Department in Colorado. “And then, equally, the amount of retaining good staff.

Across the country, law enforcement agencies are seeing staff shortages. According to the Police Executive Research Forum, a national survey found that departments around the country on average were filling 93% of budgeted positions available in the last year.

In that same survey, it found there was a 44% increase in retirements and an 18% increase in resignations.

"We've had some problems in law enforcement in the past three years, from a very small amount of law enforcement officers who acted outside policy and outside the law,” Spurlock said. “And it's one of those things that has made it difficult, and some legislation has occurred that's made it a disadvantage to be in law enforcement."

Some places, like in Dallas, were down about 550 officers.

Because of low employment, and the difficulty retaining these officers, departments are switching up recruiting and retention tactics.

Pay is one of the biggest factors in retaining officers, and some departments are offering signing bonuses up to $8,700 for new hires with college degrees. Others are changing officers’ work-life balance.

"One of the things we try to do when folks are thinking of leaving is we ask, What is it that you need?'” Spurlock said. “'Why are you leaving? Why are you going somewhere else?' We are addressing those issues. 'Is it equipment shifts you're working? Assignments?'"

Spurlock has said departments are even recruiting outside the state to help fill positions.

“Florida, any of the southern states, where they don’t pay a lot to their law enforcement, you can come here and we’ll start you with your experience between $90,000 and $100,000,” Spurlock said. “That’s almost double what some of them are making.”

Now, officials say it’s more important than ever to recruit and retain quality officers.

"The national average people look at is 1.25 officers per thousand of your population,” Spurlock said. “You don't go below that because it becomes tragically dangerous."