University of Oklahoma Police Among Departments Struggling to Fill Positions

Only 27 out of 40 allocated positions within the University of Oklahoma Police Department were filled as of September.

University of Oklahoma Police Among Departments Struggling to Fill Positions

(Photo: Victor Moussa, Adobe Stock)

NORMAN, Okla. — In May 2022, for every American who is unemployed, there were two job openings. The number of people quitting their jobs also remained near record highs at 4.4 million in April.

Like many industries in the United States, campus police and security departments are struggling to fill job positions, including the University of Oklahoma (OU). According to OU Police Department Chief Nathaniel Tarver, only 27 of 40 allocated positions at the OU-Norman campus police department were filled as of September, OU Daily reports.

An OUPD employee who spoke to OU Daily on the basis of anonymity said the labor shortage has left the school less prepared to protect students and faculty from crimes, including thefts and assaults. Since 2017, department staffing has declined while the campus continues to grow its student population.

There is currently one officer for every 1,056 undergraduate students at OU. OU is the only university in the Big 12 Conference with a ratio of more than 1,000 students per officer. The second highest ratio is at Oklahoma State University with 705 students per officer.

According to the OUPD employee, 35 officers have left the department since 2017 and the department’s total retention rate since then is 55.5%. Of the 22 officers hired in the past five years, 16 have left. Tarver told OU Daily that part of the challenge of employing officers is the lack of competitive pay. OUPD has a starting salary of $51,563 which is $4,360 less than the Norman Police Department and $8,864 less than the Oklahoma City Police Department.

Tarver also said the recruitment process is slow, taking around a year for officers to complete courses at the police academy and training on campus protocols and culture. OUPD only has enough resources to recruit two to three new officers at a time, meaning it would take four to six years for the department to fill all of the vacant positions if no other officers leave.

Back in September, OU President Joseph Harroz Jr. told OU Daily that he spoke with Tarver about how to combat these hiring obstacles. Harroz suggested reallocating $491,000 from the salaries of open positions to the OU-Normal Campus and Health Sciences Center police departments.

“The positions we have right now that are empty, that’s basically what we’re using to fold into (the budget),” Tarver said. “(We will) cannibalize those to raise salaries of the existing people here now.”

Police Departments Across the Country Deal with Staffing Shortage

OUPD is hardly the only law enforcement agency struggling with retaining officers. A June 2021 national survey from the Police Executive Research Forum found police departments across the country on average were filling 93% of available budgeted positions. On average, officers spend eight months training before they can patrol the streets alone.

The reasons for the recruitment and retention crisis are attributable to “multiple social, political, and economic forces,” including generational differences, negative perceptions of policing, and the long hiring process of many agencies, according to a Sept. 2019 survey by the International Association of Chiefs of Police. The survey said the effects the staffing shortage has on cities include longer wait times for calls for service, fewer crimes solved and cleared, and on-duty officer burnout.

In July, the Kansas City Police Department was down about 200 officers and 100 crucial non-law enforcement positions, including 911 dispatchers, mechanics, and analysts, according to CNN. Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said the city’s police department was looking to hire 250 officers. The Dallas Police Department was down 550 officers, and Portland (Ore.) Police were down more than 100 officers.

Some police departments in smaller cities and towns appear to be faring even worse, reports Police 1. Many officers prefer opportunities in the metro because it offers more chances for advancement and to specialize in an area of interest.

“It’s probably definitely less attractive to work in a smaller city like this, mainly because you’re usually stuck on night shifts for most years of your career, there’s really not as many opportunities as far as like getting into like a school resource officer or a SWAT team or investigations,” said Le Center (Minn.) Police Chief Derek Carlsrud. “Once you get into a job in a small town, you’re kind of stuck there for a while until somebody retires, which, if you only have three or four officers, doesn’t happen very often.”

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