October 2, 2021

Managing the Stress of the Past Year


Dear PERF member,

Today, I’d like to mention a few things that were going on this week at PERF:

A new PERF report on officer wellness

You can’t help but notice that in the past 18 months, Americans have been faced with some of the most daunting challenges of our lives. And when you think of policing in America, it’s hard to think of a period when police have been more challenged. The NYPD had 10,000 members of their department infected with COVID, and 60 died of it. In cities like Minneapolis, Louisville, and Atlanta, use-of-force incidents created enormous stress on the communities as well as the officers managing demonstrations and riots. In Portland, Oregon, officers faced 100 consecutive days of protests. And COVID itself has become the number one killer of cops, accounting for almost two-thirds of all line-of-duty deaths in 2020-21.

The issue of police reform today has also taken on a different tone. In some cities, the discussion isn’t just about finding ways to transform and improve policing.  It’s about slashing budgets and getting police out of areas where well-trained and compassionate cops often make a positive difference in people’s lives – homelessness, drug addiction, and mental illness.

All of this has taken a toll, and many cops are leaving the profession.  In June, PERF did a survey, and your responses told us that on average, the resignation rate is up 18%, and the retirement rate is up 45% compared with the previous year. 

One agency summed it up in this note to us: “Officers are depressed over the negative national narrative about the police. They also have pandemic fatigue.” Places like Minneapolis, Burlington, VT, and Asheville, NC are losing cops at a rapid pace  In Burlington, the City Council this week voted to give their officers a $10,000 bonus as an incentive to stay on the force, and newly hired cops will get a $15,000 bonus. That should tell you something about staffing shortages.

Events like the January 6 attack on the Capitol have also been traumatizing for police. Approximately 140 officers were physically hurt, with concussions, bone fractures, burns, and in one case, a heart attack. Four officers who defended the Capitol died by suicide in the months that followed. Suicide among cops is a constant concern, which PERF explored in 2019 when we wrote a report with guidance on what agencies should do to prevent suicides.  

So it seemed appropriate this week for PERF to release a new report about wellness programs in policing. This report, produced with support from the COPS Office, is a step-by-step guide to creating wellness programming in your agency. Programs can cover a range of topics, like strategies for reducing stress, the importance of good nutrition, how to maintain healthy relationships with family and friends, substance abuse issues, mental health care, and assisting fellow officers who seem to be in crisis.

The report also emphasizes how important it is to provide training on wellness issues to new recruits.  It sends the message that physical fitness and wellness should be career-long goals for officers, and early training can help prevent officers from picking up any stigma regarding mental health care and support services.  I think we’ve come a long way from the days when seeking any kind of help was considered a sign of weakness.  But we have a way to go in making sure that cops understand that policing is often a stressful profession, and there are ways to learn healthy habits that make you feel better.

After our report was released, I heard from someone you may know, Bruce Sokolove, who’s a law enforcement consultant with Field Training Associates.  In addition to his work on field training, “Coach Sok” serves as deputy chair of Badge of Life, an organization that focuses on mental health and suicide prevention in policing. Bruce told me he’s working hard to help agencies create and sustain comprehensive wellness programs.

FBI’s news of a 29% Increase in homicides is shocking, but no surprise

I’d also like to say a few words about the FBI’s announcement this week that the number of murders in the United States jumped more than 29% in 2020, compared to 2019. This is the largest single-year increase ever recorded since the FBI began collecting comprehensive statistics. There were 21,570 homicides in 2020, which is 4,901 more than the year before.

PERF saw this coming.  Almost a year ago, in November 2020, PERF reported that a survey of our members showed an increase of 28% in homicides in the first 9 months of 2020, compared to the same period in 2019.  It’s rather uncanny how our number matched the FBI’s number within 1 percentage point.

Similarly, this week’s FBI report showed a 9% reduction in robberies in 2020. PERF’s survey last November showed an 11% decline in robberies in the first nine months of 2020.

Much as Compstat changed how police agencies use local crime data in real time, PERF is working to gather and disseminate crime data on a shorter timetable.  It’s understandable that it takes the FBI 9 months to gather UCR data from 16,000 agencies, but it’s helpful if we can have information much sooner. The transition to NIBRS should be a major improvement, by providing comprehensive data in a more timely manner.

Two other aspects of the new crime numbers caught our attention:

  • Firearms:  As crime analyst Jeff Asher noted, 77% of the homicides last year were committed with firearms. That’s the highest share on record, and the largest number of firearm murders since 1993.

Source: Jeff Asher

  • Clearances:  And unfortunately, the murder clearance rate dropped from 61% in 2019 to 54% in 2020. The clearance rates in large cities were even lower.

Source: Jeff Asher

PERF’s 2019 report on strategies for reducing gun violence, and our 2018 report on improving homicide investigations, are worth reviewing for cities struggling with high murder rates and low clearance rates.

Chris Magnus to finally get his confirmation hearing

Finally, I’m pleased to report that President Biden’s nomination of Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus to serve as Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection is moving forward.  The President announced the nomination last April, but it got caught up in a dispute between a key Senator and the Dept. of Homeland Security over a completely unrelated issue. But that has been resolved, so Chris should receive his confirmation hearing soon.  It’s unfortunate that he became a pawn in a bigger chess match, but thank goodness cooler heads prevailed.  Leading CBP is a tough job, but Chris has demonstrated over almost 20 years as police chief that he is an effective problem-solver, and he builds great teams – just what this agency needs.

One last note:  SMIP 2022 registration opened yesterday, and seats are filling quickly. Registration links for each session are listed on our SMIP webpage.  Don’t delay!

That’s all for this week.  I hope you have a great weekend.