The staffing challenges facing police departments and their communities

Focus on talent, culture and training could help improve staffing, according to law enforcement experts.

Michigan State Police car parked on the grass

Between January and September of this year, the Detroit Police Department lost 223 officers – a rate of nearly one per day. This is despite the city announcing incentive bonuses to prevent losing officers earlier in the year.

The shortage is not unique to Michigan, with police agencies nationwide facing severe staffing shortages coinciding with a spike in crime. As a result, agencies are looking for new ways to shore up their ranks.

“I think, to a large extent, the profession has been slow to adopt to a changing landscape.” — Jerry Clayton, Washtenaw County Sheriff

Listen: What police departments can do to improve staffing while serving their communities.



Ivonne Roman is the former chief of the Newark, New Jersey, Police Department, current PhD candidate at Rutgers University and co-founder of the 30×30 Initiative. She says increasing the number of women in policing improves staffing and enhances departments.

“You have to have staffing at appropriate levels to provide the service that communities need and deserve,” says Roman. “I advocate for increasing the number of women in policing because so many of the qualities that align with female officers are those same qualities that are demanded by communities.”

Jane Wiseman is an Innovations in Government Fellow at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University. She is the author of “Recruiting for Diversity in Law Enforcement: Selected Recent Research Insights,” which seeks to assist law enforcement agencies in hiring a diverse force to improve trust and confidence in their organizations.

She says one way police departments may be able to improve internal culture and reduce turnover is by adopting a different training model. “In medicine, it’s years of training in the job — medical residence — under different supervisors,” says Wiseman. “That’s something that I think should be looked at — completely rethinking the culture and acculturation.”

Jerry Clayton is in his fourth term as Washtenaw County Sheriff. He says the profession must be more intentional and willing to change organizational culture to reflect the modern workforce.

“I think, to a large extent, the profession has been slow to adopt to a changing landscape,” says Clayton. “We have to change where we go to recruit, how we recruit, who we recruit.”

Chuck Wexler is the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, an organization of law enforcement officials and others dedicated to improving the professionalism of policing.

“I would be a proponent for raising the standards, raising the salaries, and I’d rather have more highly qualified, better paid police officers,” says Wexler. “The challenge is, in this market, competing with the private sector.”

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