(The Center Square)
Police officials again met with legislators to emphasize the difficulties they’ve faced recruiting and retaining police officers, and keeping up with the responsibilities of public safety.
They also warned of negativity about the police coming from the general public and the media, and its effect on morale.
The House Republican Policy Committee held a hearing Wednesday to discuss the issues plaguing first responders, during which police officials focused on the difficulty of expanding their ranks.
“In 2019, prior to the pandemic, the state of police recruitment in the United States was already dire — so dire in face, the International Association of the Chiefs of Police termed it ‘a crisis for law enforcement,’” said David Kennedy, president of the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association. “Many agencies are routinely looking to hire additional individuals.”
Anecdotally, Kennedy noted the Pennsylvania State Police received 10,000 applications when he joined in 1995; today, the PSP saw only 1,000 people apply. The PSP patrols 85% of Pennsylvania’s land mass and picks up duties when small municipalities dismantle local departments.
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City police have seen similar recruitment problems.
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“We have lost at both ends of the candle, which makes it hard for us to keep up with the growing need of police services,” said Captain Atah Akakpo-Martin of the Harrisburg Bureau of Police. “Resignation, followed by retirement, are the leading issues.”
Harrisburg is down 21 police officers since 2017; departments hire a small number of applicants from a shrinking pool of people. Of the 337 applications they’ve received since 2017, only 45 were hired.
Akakpo-Martin suggested a lack of respect and not enough talk about the benefits of becoming a cop hurt their efforts.
“What makes young men and women look past the noble profession of becoming a law enforcement officer?” Akakpo-Martin asked. “The constant media backlash on police-related incidents throughout the country deter many from finding the benefits and rewards of being a law enforcement officer. The lack of focus on pay, benefits, working environment, agency support, and the downturn on the public’s opinion and perception lead to fewer and fewer willing to join.”
If police had more positive interactions with young people through their schools or in their neighborhoods, Akakpo-Martin said, could prevent them from becoming jaded.
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Officials also noted the economics of policing, including the growing costs of technology and its effect on budgets.
“(There is) exponential growth 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 responsibility of police departments.
“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 the PSP. “Let’s end the annual funding free-for-all when it comes to the Pennsylvania State Police.”
Syndicated with permission from The Center Square.