Published September 28, 2021
Murders in the United States rose by 30 percent in 2020, the largest one-year increase on record. There are likely many factors that contributed to the spike, but there’s one thing that clearly did not help: the blanket anti-police mantra adopted by many urban and national leaders after the killing of George Floyd.
That mantra, typified by high-profile calls to “defund the police,” is in response to real problems in law enforcement, but it has created a crisis in police staffing. Police are retiring or quitting in droves, often because they do not want to take the daily abuse unleashed by the mobs unfairly blaming average cops for the racial problems that the Floyd case revealed. The surge in departures is particularly acute in cities where police were not supported by mayors or city councils. Seattle, for example, saw resignations nearly quadruple and retirements double from 2019 to 2020, leaving the force short by more than 100 officers. The remaining personnel were stretched thin, causing response times to calls for help to soar.
Police recruitment is also significantly down, as the same factors that lead cops to quit discourage those who might want to become cops from trying to join the force. This trend is especially pronounced in larger police departments that serve our nation’s biggest cities, which are most likely to be under the political microscope. A June survey from the Police Executive Research Forum found that recruitment had declined by 29 percent among departments with between 250 and 499 officers and by 36 percent among those with 500 or more officers. The result is that most departments have staffing shortfalls, although not as acute as Seattle’s, and have fewer cops available to protect citizens who need their help more than ever.
Henry Olsen is a Washington Post columnist and a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
Henry Olsen, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, studies and provides commentary on American politics. His work focuses on how America’s political order is being upended by populist challenges, from the left and the right. He also studies populism’s impact in other democracies in the developed world.