In the aftermath of the 2020 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, police departments across the country — and internationally — have continued to struggle to keep recruitment numbers up.
And the rate of retirements has remained high in 2022 because of “anti-police sentiments,” experts said.
Many departments have beefed up their recruitment and marketing staffs and eased requirements for applicants. Some have even shortened their recruitment process to one day, according to experts.
So far this year, more than 630 members of the Chicago Police Department have retired and collected their pension, according to data from the Policemen’s Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago. In 2021 that number was around 660, after about 560 left in 2020.
But Yolanda Talley, chief of the internal affairs bureau and the recruitment and retention unit, said CPD has been making good progress this year in bringing on new hires. Its goal is to make 1,000 new hires by the year’s end.
“We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing right now because it seems to be working. But we have, of course, a perception problem,” Talley said. “We’re now working with a professional marketing company, to assist us with making sure we’re going in the right direction.”
Bringing in recruits while maintaining a standard of professionalism is the key, she said.
“We want our unit and our department to run like a Fortune 500 company because that’s the business that we’re in,” Talley said.
CPD has had more than 8,700 applicants this year, compared with 7,200 in 2021. And as of late November, the department has hired more than 770 officers.
That figure is a sharp increase from 333 total hires in 2021 and 151 in 2020, according to police. There are about 1,000 vacancies at the police officer rank, according to the department.
CPD now has about 11,600 sworn members, according to a department spokesperson. Its demographic makeup is about 24% women and 76% men, with about 44% of them white, 31% Hispanic, 20% Black and 4% Asian.
Earlier this year, Superintendent David Brown announced that the department would waive the requirement for 60 hours of college credit to apply to be a Chicago police officer for those who have had careers in the social services, health care services, professional trade industry, licensed professional security or education. Also included in the relaxed standards were those who have worked as a correctional officer, peace officer or detention officer.
Similar moves around the country have concerned some criminal justice experts, who say that if the vetting process for officers is relaxed, then there is a potential for an increase in police misconduct cases.
“If there’s an anti-police sentiment, let’s not expect that there will be an improvement in police service,” said Maria “Maki” Haberfeld, chair of the Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “If you want to improve police services, you have to invest in this and not to just vilify. … You need to increase the standards and not allow police departments to decrease the standards for recruitment selections.”
Talley said she doesn’t see it that way. CPD doesn’t consider the move to change the requirements as a drop in standards: “We’re making some adjustments,” she said.
“I do feel like there’s a pool of qualified people out there that did not have the opportunity to pursue a higher education after they completed high school or went into the military,” Talley said. “That doesn’t mean they’re less desirable. If you have a commitment to service, we want you to be a part of Chicago Police Department because that’s what we’re about.”
The department over the summer made a push to recruit those leaving the U.S. military. In addition, the department partnered in August with Olive-Harvey College, where someone can be part of a one-year cohort program that results in the police officer’s exam being waived for an applicant after the completion of 60 credit hours.
CPD also offers a tuition-reimbursement program, so those who join without a college education can get a bachelor’s, master’s, doctorate or law degree while part of the department, Talley said.
“So when they say, you know, ‘Oh, you’re basically going to dumb down your department,’ no, we’re not. We’re offering an opportunity that would not be available to you if you did not join the Chicago Police Department. That’s my biggest selling point,” she said.
CPD currently has 25 full-time recruiters including two sergeants and a commander, with plans to add a lieutenant and two additional sergeants for the retention side, Talley said. She is also looking into implementing a mentorship program for new officers, especially for those who don’t come from police families.
“And my team is diverse, just like our city. They can go anywhere anytime and talk to anybody,” she said. “And I think that’s important that we have a recruitment team that is representative of our city.”
The recruiters have expanded to national outreach, making rounds at military bases, historically Black colleges and universities and local state colleges and universities, Talley said.
Haberfeld said the struggle of departments to fill out their academies is not new. Following the attacks of 9/11, the New York City Police Department had a difficult time recruiting, and the background check “suffered tremendously” because of it, she said.
It used to be that only larger police departments struggled with recruiting, but now it’s happening to even the smallest departments in the country, Haberfeld said.
There is also a concern that, due to the vacancies, departments will retain applicants and new recruits who may show warning signs. In the minds of many police leaders, she said, they may think it’s better to have positions filled than to say they can’t respond to calls for service.
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“Departments around the country explicitly tell their communities that they’re not going to be able to respond to calls for service … or the response time will be delayed,” she said. “So within this context, I can see how they’re going to do everything possible to keep whoever they’re recruiting, regardless of the red flags.”
Haberfeld said she would rather have fewer and better cops than more officers, since just one can cause irreparable damage to the profession, such as in the case of white Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin, who pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck and was later convicted of Floyd’s murder.
Talley said the Chicago Police Department has adequate staffing to keep up with calls for service and said that there isn’t pressure to fill empty spots. And with success, she said she believes there will be a shift in how people see CPD and policing in general.
Haberfeld, however, said we are still “in the midst of a very disturbing wave” in policing due to staffing issues and there’s no prediction when it will subside. And all of it comes with broad increases in crime in major cities across the U.S.
“Violent crime is not going away,” she said.