Police Officer Hiring Increased in 2023

After four years of decline, U.S. police departments have reported a year-over-year increase in sworn officers.
Published: April 29, 2024

Police departments across the United States are reporting an increase in hired officers for the first time since the start of the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd.

More sworn officers were hired in 2023 than in any of the previous four years, and fewer officers resigned or retired, according to the newly released survey from the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF). However, the growth differs depending on various department factors, including size.

The survey, taken by 214 law enforcement agencies, shows that while small and medium departments had more sworn officers than they did in Jan. 2020, large departments are still more than 5% below their staffing levels from that time, even with a year-over-year increase from 2022 to 2023.

The survey shows a more than 20% drop in resignations overall, from 6,500 in 2022 to fewer than 5,100 in 2023. The rate is still higher than early pandemic levels in 2020 when just over 4,000 officers resigned. The survey found a large drop in resignations at large agencies with 250 or more officers and medium-sized agencies with between 50 and 249 officers. Smaller departments with fewer than 50 officers still struggle with higher resignation rates.

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Chuck Wexler, executive director of PERF, told AP News that since the survey only asked for numbers, it’s difficult to say whether officers who resigned left for larger departments or left the profession altogether. He also noted smaller departments, which account for 80% of agencies nationwide, were underrepresented in the responses received.

As for retirements, the rate of decrease tended to depend on the size of the departments as well, according to AP News. There were fewer retirements in 2023 than in 2019 within large departments, slightly more retirements within medium departments, and elevated retirements within small departments.

Schools, Colleges Impacted by Officer Shortage

The death of Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) officers led to nationwide protests against police brutality and demands to defund police. Officers left the profession in droves and many K-12 schools and college campuses disbanded their police departments. Others have had to rely on already short-staffed municipality departments to meet their campuses’ needs, including the recent partnership between the University of Minnesota Police Department (UMPD) and the MPD.

Many have also been forced to hire officers during the nationwide shortage due to state requirements. In Kentucky, 43% of schools don’t have an assigned school resource officers (SROs) despite legislation passed in 2022 requiring all campuses to have at least one SRO.

Police Department Methods for Hiring and Retention

To combat the dwindling numbers, many larger departments have increased officer pay or offered incentives such as signing bonuses for experienced officers willing to transfer from smaller departments. At least a dozen smaller departments have disbanded over the last few years, according to AP News, forcing the municipalities they once served to rely on state or county law enforcement.

Other departments have revised their application requirements and hiring processes, such as allowing officers to have visible tattoos or facial hair. Even still, some of the highest-paying departments are struggling to get new hires.

“I don’t think it’s all about money. I think it’s about the way people perceive their job and feel they are going to be supported,” Wexler said. “You have West Coast departments that are paying six figures, but still seeing major challenges in hiring.”

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