There is no exodus of police officers
Police unions said their members are getting fed up and leaving the force. Tired of the scrutiny, the low pay, the danger, and the final insult – the post-George Floyd backlash against police brutality – cops are turning in the badges and leaving communities to fend for themselves.
But the Marshall Project looked closer at the employment data to see if such tales were true. Turns out they may be fairy tales:
According to federal data, those worries are unfounded. Last year, as the overall U.S. economy shed 6% of workers, local police departments lost just under 1% of employees after a decade of steady expansion, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s about 4,000 people out of nearly half a million employees in municipal police departments and sheriff’s offices nationwide. State and federal law enforcement departments actually saw a slight increase in the number of employees.
So where does the myth of blue resignations come from?
Many of the most worried officials have latched onto recent data from a non-scientific survey conducted by the Police Executive Research Forum think tank, that shows a 45% increase in the law enforcement retirement rate and other “dramatic” losses. The survey of 194 departments compares 2020 with the previous year, but 2019 came at the end of a long period of steady police job growth. Compared with the previous year, the 2020 numbers appear dramatic.
Looking across the past decade, police employment in 2020 was roughly the same as in 2018.
Law enforcement’s employment numbers tend not to fluctuate dramatically. Policing is a secure job, according to Peter Moskos, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, which explains the relatively small increase in retirements and resignations over 2020. Police jobs are often last on the chopping block when cities are considering budget cuts. Pensions and relatively high pay make it appealing to stay. Many of the officers who retired in 2020 were probably going to retire in a couple of years anyway, says Moskos, who suspects very few police would quit outright. Morale may be low, but, in Moskos’s view, that’s always been the case.
“They are financially locked in,” Moskos says, “If you quit, you don’t get your pension. Cops are human, too. They have a mortgage to pay. You can’t quit.”
In other words, there’s no manpower crisis. The accountability crisis, however, is as big as ever.