Highly-publicized cases of police killing suspects have transformed the way many view law enforcement. It is a profession under attack. We set out to find how that may be impacting police agencies nationwide. A six-month long Full Measure investigation produced some alarming results. We found the backlash is making it harder for police agencies nationwide to hire and keep good officers that protect communities. And it’s forcing police agencies to change how they recruit, who they hire, and how much they pay.
Sharyl: The latest crop of recruits, going through the paces at the sheriff’s office in Frederick County, Maryland.
But for those who pass the test the biggest challenge might be navigating the social landscape in a profession under attack.
Exemplified by last summer’s brazen attacks on New York police who were just doing their job. Public anger against law enforcement stoked by media and politicians didn’t build in a vacuum.
A tipping point was the 2014 death of Eric Garner in New York City. He was killed in a police choke-hold after resisting arrest. A grand jury and prosecutors found no cause to charge the officer. But advocates cried foul and New York paid Garner’s family nearly six million dollars.
A month later, a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri shot and killed suspect Michael Brown. It was reported that Brown had held up his hands in surrender. In the end, Obama’s Justice Department ruled Brown hadn’t held up his hand, he’d attacked the officer and was lunging at him again, when the officer shot in self-defense.
But “hands up don’t shoot” became an international call to action igniting anti-police sentiment.
Sharyl: As you decide to go into law enforcement, have you thought about the bad publicity and some of the stuff that's going on in the country?
Crystal Hall: Yes, you do see a lot of stuff that's going on, like the bad publicity. But I think it's our duty, especially with the new recruits coming in, to see that it can continue to do what you plan on doing, continue to police.
Sharyl: Some police departments are having trouble finding enough recruits compared to what it was 10 years ago.
Nathan McLeroy: I feel like a lot of that comes from upper echelons in the police departments where they're at. They feel like no one has their back there and the word's getting out.
Sharyl: Did any of you guys check out this department specifically to see what their attitude was?
Kevin Lewis: Yes. Our elected sheriff, Chuck Jenkins always stands behind his officers.
Sharyl: Meet Sheriff Chuck Jenkins in Frederick County, Maryland where he says they aren’t having trouble finding good recruits.
Sharyl: What are the sorts of things you're hearing or the concerns people describe?
Sheriff Chuck Jenkins: They're describing the fact that everything they do is under a microscope, that everything they do is going to be second guessed, and Monday morning quarterbacked. They're going to be not being backed up by their agency is a huge thing.
Sharyl: New York? Chicago?
Jenkins: Look at some of those examples. You named them. I have to tell you, I back my men and women. And a young person coming into this career field has to know that because of what they're doing out there, the decisions they make, that somebody there has to have their back. I think it's really important.
Sharyl: You're not trying to say there aren't some people who are doing wrong?
Sheriff Chuck Jenkins: I'm not saying that at all. The public takes maybe a negative view of one incident and turns that into a negative view of police overall, which is wrong. It's really not justified.
Sharyl: The negative view is taking a measurable toll. Our six-month long full measure investigation surveyed police departments in America’s 30 largest cities.
Most report difficulty recruiting qualified candidates. Particularly women and minorities.
San Jose, California told us they were short 39 officers. One police academy class that should have had at least 50 recruitshad just seven.
Nashville, Tennessee was short 114 officers.
San Diego, California said they were 175 below their target. They had 539 fewer people taking the police entrance exam in 2018 than two years before.
El Paso, Texas told us where they once received 1500 applications the first week of recruitment, they now average about 100.
A spokesman there blamed “criticism most of it unwarranted, the popularity of challenging officers by cell phone-wielding persons demanding a street trial, officers being ambushed and killed, videos of officers bearing the indignity of being doused with water and having to walk away for fear of repercussions for taking action.”
Recruit Nathan McLeroy came to the smaller, rural department of Frederick, Maryland instead of Baltimore where his dad served as a police officer.
Sharyl: So you wouldn't have applied to the Baltimore police department?
McLeroy: No ma’am.
Sharyl: Baltimore is another ground zero for controversy and backlash. In January, a viral video showed a police sergeant getting attacked and kicked by thugs while trying to arrest a man who allegedly assaulted him.
Baltimore police: not only were they attacking the officers they were trying to free the suspect who was actually being arrested.
Sharyl: Baltimore is where a suspect named Freddie Gray died in police custody after resisting arrest in 2015. Jurors found the officers not guilty of any crimes and federal prosecutors said there was no evidence to support federal charges. But the city paid Gray’s family more than six million dollars. Six officers were seriously hurt when rioters and looters lobbed rocks and cinder blocks at them and burned police vehicles.
Chief Steven Casstevens: So for example, back in 1980 or 81 when I tested for police officer in a Chicago suburb, there were 1100 applicants for those jobs. Today those same agencies probably get 150 applicants.
Sharyl: Steven Casstevens is Chief of Police in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, and president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
The group just released a new survey “State of Recruitment: A Crisis for Law Enforcement.” It found recruiting problems are “widespread” and affecting “agencies of all types, both large and small, throughout the United States.”
78% report having trouble finding qualified candidates.
75% say recruiting is more difficult than five years ago.
Casstevens: There's been a fair amount of negativities specifically in social media, pointed against law enforcement in the last several years. So we'd be foolish to think that that's not an issue that may steer some qualified candidates into a different career.
Sharyl: Is there a positive aspect to the negative press in terms of shining a light on maybe some bad departments or bad actors within a department?
Casstevens: I think so, but the way that it's good is if the law enforcement leaders in those communities step up to the plate and stepped up to the camera and say, "hey, we get it. Our officers are human. We just happen to wear a badge and sometimes our officers make mistakes and do the wrong thing. The key is we're here to hold them accountable for their actions.”
Sharyl: To address the crisis, some departments have adjusted their policies allowing tattoos and history of marijuana use and lowering formal college requirements.
San Francisco has started allowing remote testing and interviews.
Dallas and San Diego have increased pay. Indianapolis recently hiked salaries for first year recruits from $39,446 to $51,000 and offers referral bonuses.
Seattle is giving $7,500 bonuses for first year recruits, $15,000 bonuses for transfers.
Results are critical. The police chiefs’ survey concluded “as vacancy numbers increase due to the inability to fill positions and as more officers continue to become eligible for retirement, exiting officers are becoming overworked and burned out.”
Sharyl: You feel pretty good about what you saw today?
Jenkins: yeah, some of them, yeah
Sharyl: And Sheriff Jenkins invites recruits to come on down to Frederick, Maryland. Beginner’s pay starts a hair under $50,000 with good benefits and retirement plans.
Jenkins: we are the line between a civil society and really social chaos. To young men and women who are looking at a law enforcement career, take a minute and realize it can be a great career, very rewarding. You're not going to get rich, but you can make a good living. It's something that's got to be a calling, and if it is a calling, come see us.
For more on our police recruiting investigation, listen to my podcast Full Measure After Hours on iTunes or wherever you like to listen to podcasts.