GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) A nationwide shortage of police officers is causing a quiet crisis, leaving many Americans questioning their safety.
9 On Your Side spoke to several local agencies about the drop in applicants.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the US currently has about 700,000 sworn police officers, about 23,000 fewer officers than in the 1990s.
But, the country’s population has grown by millions. What changed?
“It’s hard to give a definite reason why,” said Lt. Rodney Jacobs, a recruitment officer for the Pitt County Sheriff’s Office. “I think it’s the way the picture is painted for law enforcement officers in this world.”
Local recruiters believe it may have started with the media.
“Just the media attention for police officers, quite frankly,” said Officer Tyler Whaley with Greenville Police Department. “It’s not popular to be in law enforcement anymore. In my opinion, it started with the Ferguson case that really snowballed this.”
“Not to get specific, but some of the higher-profile cases where officers were questioned about how they performed acts in the line of duty are probably why we’re viewed negatively,” said Lt. Jacobs.
They point to August of 2014 when Michael Brown Jr., an unarmed 18-year-old African American man was shot and killed by a police officer, Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri.
Wilson was not charged.
The case caused a national uproar leading to closer scrutiny of the justice system.
Since then, recruiters believe some people have a bad view of law enforcement which deters potential applicants.
“I think a lot of it is, they don’t want to be scrutinized for an honest mistake,” said Officer Whaley.
The officer shortage also causes problems for the people who are on the job.
“When things happen it may prolong you getting to a call. Things may happen where we can’t respond because we’re in another part of the county,” said Lt. Jacobs.
They say overtime is at an all-time high.
Proactive policing is down in some areas because they just don’t have the time.
Now, local departments are trying to combat the problem.
“It’s something we work towards and try to re-position ourselves in the way we market and advertise our department,” said Officer Whaley.
Both the Greenville Police Department and Pitt County Sheriff’s Office have state of the art equipment and training, but they’re taking it a step further.
“I would say just being out in the community, showing our faces. Showing that we are human,” said Lt. Jacobs.
“It all starts with the individual officer. Every interaction he has, every call he goes on, just being polite and professional with everyone that you meet,” said Officer Whaley.
Creative recruitment tactics, like videos on social media, have applications on the rise for the Greenville Police Department.