PERF survey shows steady staffing decrease over the past two years

 

Reports from individual agencies and a previous PERF survey show that many police agencies have experienced staffing challenges over the past two years.

To better understand these trends, PERF surveyed its members regarding staffing, hiring, retirement, and resignation trends among officers from 2019 through 2021.

The survey found that agencies still face serious staffing issues. Hiring of new officers seemed to rebound in 2021 after falling sharply in 2020. However, increases in resignations and retirements continued to put pressure on overall staffing levels of officers.

 

About the Survey

The survey was sent in mid-January to all PERF members who are chief executives of their agencies (chiefs, sheriffs, commissioners, superintendents, etc.) PERF received a total of 184 responses. There were 179 U.S. respondents from 37 states and the District of Columbia. There were five Canadian respondents from three provinces. The chart below shows the number of responses received from each region.

PERF received 172 responses from local law enforcement agencies, 8 responses from university or college law enforcement, 2 responses from transportation law enforcement agencies, and 1 each from state law enforcement and federal law enforcement.

The responses came from agencies of varying sizes, as shown in the chart below.

In total, responding agencies employ more than 130,000 officers.

By the nature of PERF’s membership, large agencies are overrepresented in the survey. Still, the survey captures the experiences of a cross-section of PERF member agencies.

 

Key Findings

Total numbers of officers

  • The total number of officers in responding departments decreased 1.75% during 2020.
  • The number of officers decreased again during 2021, by 1.76%.
  • Thus, there was a total decrease of 3.48% in officer staffing levels over the two-year period of 2020 and 2021.

Hirings

  • Hirings of new officers during 2020 decreased 20.5%, compared to the year before.
  • However, hirings then increased 20.8% during 2021.
  • The number of hirings during 2021 was 3.9% lower than in 2019.

Resignations

  • Resignations increased slightly (1.7%) in 2020, compared to 2019.  
  • Resignations increased significantly (40.4%) from 2020 to 2021.
  • Thus, there were 42.7% more resignations in 2021 than in 2019.

Retirements

  • Retirements increased sharply (31.0%) from 2019 to 2020.
  • Retirements decreased slightly (5.7%) in 2021.
  • Thus, the overall two-year trend was that there were 23.6% more retirements in 2021 than in 2019.

 

Authorized positions filled

As of January 1, 2022, 94.1% of the total authorized officer positions in responding agencies were filled. Agencies with more than 500 officers and agencies in Canada and the Northeast had higher percentages of their officer positions filled.

  

Overall staffing

The total number of officers employed by responding agencies decreased by 1.75% from January 1, 2020 to January 1, 2021. The number of sworn officers decreased by another 1.76% from January 1, 2021 to January 1, 2022, for a two-year decrease of 3.48%.

Staffing at agencies in the Midwest and West decreased more than the overall average, as did staffing at agencies with more than 500 officers.

 

Hirings

The total number of hirings at responding agencies decreased by 20.5% from 2019 to 2020. The number of hirings largely rebounded in 2021, increasing 20.8%. Still, almost 4% fewer officers were hired in 2021 than in 2019.

Respondents from agencies with 0-50 officers reported an increase in hirings during both 2020 and 2021. All other groups reported a decrease in 2020, followed by an increase in 2021.

 

% Change, 2019-2020

% Change, 2020-2021

% Change, 2019-2021

All agencies

-20.5%

+20.8%

-3.9%

0-50 officers

+11.5%

+50.5%

+67.7%

51-250 officers

-31.5%

+25.8%

-13.9%

251-500 officers

-6.4%

+23.8%

+15.8%

>500 officers

-20.5%

+19.5%

-5.0%

 

Officer Resignations

The total number of resignations at responding agencies increased 1.7% from 2019 to 2020. The number of resignations then shot up by 40.4% in 2021.

These resignations include officers who left an agency prior to reaching eligibility for retirement; but they do not include terminations.

It is unknown from this survey how many of the officers who resigned over the past two years went to work for another law enforcement agency, and how many left policing altogether. A 2018 PERF report found that approximately half of the sworn personnel who resigned accepted a job at another agency, and nearly one-quarter left the profession. (The remainder cited other reasons for leaving.)

Agencies of all sizes reported substantial increases in resignations from 2019 to 2021.

 

% Change, 2019-2020

% Change, 2020-2021

% Change, 2019-2021

All agencies

+1.7%

+40.4%

+42.7%

0-50 officers

+46.9%

+30.6%

+91.8%

51-250 officers

+18.6%

+29.0%

+53.1%

251-500 officers

-5.0%

+26.4%

+20.1%

>500 officers

-0.8%

+44.1%

+43.0%

 

Retirements

Responding agencies reported a 31.0% increase in retirements from 2019 to 2020.

In 2021, retirements decreased 5.7% from 2020, but were still 23.6% higher than in 2019.

Agencies of all sizes reported an increase in retirements from 2019 to 2020. Agencies with more than 500 officers saw the largest increase.

However, in 2021, agencies with more than 500 officers saw a slight decrease in retirements, while all other groups reported an increase.

 

% Change, 2019-2020

% Change, 2020-2021

% Change, 2019-2021

All agencies

+31.0%

-5.7%

+23.6%

0-50 officers

+13.6%

+36.0%

+54.5%

51-250 officers

+26.0%

+7.7%

+35.8%

251-500 officers

+0.4%

+2.1%

+2.6%

>500 officers

+33.1%

-7.0%

+23.8%

 

Hiring policy changes

PERF asked its members an open-ended question about whether there had been any changes to their agency’s hiring requirements over the past year, either due to a change in state or local law or a change in agency policy.

The large majority of agencies reported that they had not changed their hiring requirements.

Of those that did make changes, most took steps to open the recruiting process to a larger applicant pool.

  • The most common change was to ease restrictions on prior marijuana use, which occurred in 13 responding agencies.
  • Two agencies eased their restrictions on prior use of other drugs.
  • Seven agencies reduced their minimum education requirements.
  • Six agencies added a path for lateral entry from another department.
  • Two agencies reported raising their maximum age for applicants, allowing older people to apply for officer positions.  
  • Two agencies eased their tattoo restrictions.

The following approaches to opening up the applicant pool or application process were also cited once each in the survey responses:

  • Lowered the minimum test score
  • Eliminated the physical ability test
  • Eliminated a typing test
  • Eliminated the written test for those with a four-year degree
  • Eased residency restrictions
  • Eased nepotism restrictions for those with a family member currently employed at the agency
  • Allowed the agency to rehire former officers
  • Made conditional offers earlier in the hiring process
  • Offered virtual interviews for applicants from outside the area.

Several agencies took steps to raise their hiring requirements:

  • Two agencies added a residency requirement.
  • Two agencies added a psychological and/or polygraph exam.
  • One agency raised its education requirement.
  • One added a physical ability test.

 

Conclusion

The total number of police officers in the agencies responding to PERF’s survey dropped more than 3% during 2020 and 2021. Hirings decreased, and resignations and retirements increased over that two-year period.

These negative changes almost certainly were caused largely by the extreme stresses that the COVID-19 pandemic brought to policing in 2020 and 2021, and by the thousands of protests and demonstrations following the murder of George Floyd in 2020, which in many cases involved acts of violence and hostility toward police officers.

Budget issues also may have contributed to cuts in hiring in 2020, as the COVID pandemic resulted in an economic crisis and revenue shortages for city governments, and police agencies in some cities faced “defunding” campaigns.

As part of PERF’s survey on these trends, we included an open-ended question about any changes that respondents had observed in the police workforce over the past two years. Many cited a decline in the number of qualified applicants, as well as an increase in officers resigning or retiring after reconsidering whether they want to work in policing.

Many brought up the decline in police officers’ morale over the past two years. Respondents cited the protests and public sentiment towards the police over the past two years. Some also cited the impact of COVID protocols and mandates.

Other respondents said that officers are now more willing to leave for another agency if they are offered higher pay, a lower cost of living, or if they see the other jurisdiction as being more supportive of police.

Numerous respondents said their workforce is now significantly younger. They listed some benefits to a younger workforce, such as officers being more adept at using technology and more open to change. But they also cited drawbacks, such as a loss of institutional knowledge, supervisors having less experience, and an increase in vehicle crashes with younger officers.

Some said that the workforce is less interested in working overtime and night shifts than in the past.

Law enforcement agencies will need to consider these factors as they work to recover from the staffing crisis of 2020-21. Hopefully, the COVID pandemic will recede, and public sentiment about policing will shift as many police agencies and their communities work together to identify and implement reform measures that have broad support. PERF will continue to monitor staffing trends and these related issues.