Law enforcement leaders look to Capitol Hill for staff shortage fix

Published: Apr. 12, 2023 at 3:42 PM EDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Law enforcement agencies are calling it a crisis in recruitment. Staffing shortages around the nation are leaving some communities under-protected according to agency leaders. Some on Capitol Hill are hoping to address the gaps.

“It’s not going to get better anytime soon,” said Jonathan Thompson, executive director of the National Sheriffs Association.

Thompson cites an aging workforce, public image problems, and low pay as reasons for the serious hiring problem facing the nation’s law enforcement agencies.

“You can’t snap your finger like you’re looking for unskilled labor and put a gun or a badge or a star on them and hope it works out right,” said Thompson.

Thompson says some agencies are experiencing 10 to 35 percent vacancy rates. He says the problem was brewing before the pandemic but believes it is now at a full boil. Thompson adds the dangerous nature of the job and people from both political parties attacking law enforcement damages recruitment.

“It’s causing them to say, ‘Wait a minute. I’m not going to get rich, I’m going to have so-so benefits, and I’m going to be hated just because I believe in the rule of law,’” said Thompson.

Senator Jon Ossoff (D-Georgia) introduced bipartisan legislation that would boost funding for a program that local agencies can use to hire more personnel.

“Right now, what communities need are the personnel necessary to ensure public safety and policing that is accountable and professional,” said Ossoff.

The legislation calls for more funding to the so-called COPS Hiring program. Local agencies can apply for this money that they can use to make more competitive salary offers. The bill also requires more stringent background checks to ensure quality hires.

“We want to make sure only the most highly qualified and suitable candidates are in these roles,” said Ossoff.

But the legislation comes as the Atlanta area sees a fraught relationship between police and citizens protesting a new law enforcement training facility deemed “Cop City”. Protestors say the new facility would further militarize police, endangering marginalized people. Supporters of the facility say it will help with recruitment and quality of personnel - something Ossoff says is desperately needed.

“Whether it’s metro Atlanta, or any other part of Georgia, or any state in the nation, these shortages of officers are impacting public safety,” said Ossoff.

The legislation has bipartisan support but it is unclear if or when it will come up for a vote before the full Senate.