Reduction in police staffing and how it coincides with crime rates

Seattle mayoral candidate Lance Randall on Thursday raised concern over the lack of support for police officers in the city after almost getting shot while in his bedroom (edited for brevity):

“We do have a manpower problem. We’ve lost a lot of police officers and it is having a profound effect on public safety…”

A reporter for a national news network asked about the number of police officers leaving the job plus related issues. This article responds to her inquiry.

There is a challenging discussion regarding cops leaving law enforcement, the level of proactivity as to remaining officers, and whether or not this is having an impact on growing violence in the United States.

There are also concerns about funding levels.

Officer Snowflake

From the ultra-left of center Marshall Project: “Officer Snowflake. Reporters are enabling a false narrative about demoralized cops fleeing their departments in the face of criticism for their misconduct.”

From The New Republic: “The Damning Truth Behind Cop “Walkout” Stories-The New York Times and other news media are laundering an exaggerated narrative about besieged officers—one that’s meant to threaten anyone who questions police power.”

The article states that stories on cops leaving are, “part of a consistent, fairly exaggerated narrative emerging in response to ongoing efforts to end police violence: that such calls and protests have demoralized police to the extent that officers are fleeing the force and that a spike in crime is the inevitable price we will pay.”

Is There A False Narrative?

Is there a false narrative regarding police officers leaving the profession and the impact on crime?

Is rising violence more of a discussion as to police officers in reluctant to be proactive?

Are there budget issues for law enforcement?

Much of the data below is from the Police Executive Research Forum, a respected data collection agency using both private and federal funding. Other sources are offered but Bureau of Justice Statistics of the US Department of Justice data are from 2016 (latest available data).

Increasing Fear

From The Crime Report: A Washington Post-ABC News poll found that concern over crime has reached the highest point in four years amid a spike in killings in big cities and an uptick in violent crime.

The poll also showed that 59 percent of Americans who say crime in the United States is “extremely serious” has reached its highest point, says The Washington Post.  The poll also found that a sizable majority hopes that communities can find solutions to crime beyond putting more police officers onto the streets.

The poll showed that Americans gave President Joe Biden negative ratings for how he has handled the issue of crime concerning his anti-crime strategy that focused on gun crime as part of an effort to stem the rise in homicides in June. Some 38 percent approved while 48 percent disapproved.

Violence Increases

From 2015 to 2018, the total number of violent victimizations increased by 28%. The rate of total violent victimizations also increased. The number of violent incidents increased from 5.2 million in 2017 to 6.0 million in 2018, Crime in America. 

There is additional data stating that violent crime is becoming more serious in nature. Gallup states that violent crime tripled. Fear of crime is at an all-time high.

Per FBI preliminary statistics for all of 2020, there was a 25 percent increase in homicides, overall violent crime increased by 3.3 percent, and aggravated assaults increased by 10.5 percent, Violent Crime Increases in 2020.

Major American cities saw a 33% increase in homicides last year as a pandemic swept across the country, millions of people joined protests against racial injustice and police brutality, and the economy collapsed under the weight of the pandemic — a crime surge that has continued into the first quarter of this year, Rising Urban Homicides-CNN.

Police Executive Research Forum-Changes in Hiring, Resignation, and Retirement Rates

For the April 2019-March 2020 period, responding agencies on average hired 8.67 officers per 100 current officers.

During the same period a year later, agencies hired only 8.21 new officers per 100 current officers.

That is a 5% decrease in the hiring rate.

For the 2019-20 period, responding agencies reported 4.15 resignations per 100 officers.

During the same period a year later, 4.91 officers resigned per 100 officers.

That is an 18% increase in the resignation rate.

For the 2019-20 period, agencies reported 2.85 retirements per 100 officers.

During the same period a year later, 4.14 officers retired per 100 officers.

That is a 45% increase in the retirement rate.

Agencies With 250 Or More Sworn Personnel Saw The Biggest Decreases.

There was a 29% reduction in the hiring rate for agencies with 250-499 officers.

There was a 36% reduction in the hiring rate for agencies with 500 or more officers.

A 63 Percent Reduction in Hiring Police Officers

Agencies participating in the survey reported that there has been a 63% decrease in applying to become a police officer. Departments are also having trouble hiring non-white/minority applicants the most, followed by female officers, according to the survey (based on data from the Police Executive Research Forum)

Rate of Officers Decreased By 11 Percent

As of June 30, 2016, the 15,322 general-purpose law enforcement agencies in the United States employed an estimated 701,000 full-time sworn officers.

From 1997 to 2016, the number of full-time sworn officers in general-purpose law enforcement agencies increased by about 52,500 (up 8%). During the same period, the total U.S. population increased by about 56 million (up 21%).

As a result, the number of full-time sworn officers per 1,000 residents decreased, from 2.42 in 1997 to 2.17 in 2016 (down 11%).

The 2016 rate of full-time sworn officers per 1,000 residents was also lower than the rates in 2000 (down 7%), 2003 (down 8%), and 2007 (down 7%).

The Bureau of Justice Statistics of the US Department of Justice publishes data on the number of “local” (not all) police officers in the United States. The data is from 2016.

Local police departments employed about 468,000 full-time sworn officers in 2016.

Of the 50 largest local police departments, about two-thirds (33) had fewer full-time sworn officers per 10,000 residents in 2016 than in 1997.

The 2018 report is scheduled for release later this year.

No Growth In Sheriff’s Deputies

The Bureau of Justice Statistics of the US Department of Justice publishes data on the number of Sheriff’s agencies employing sworn police officers in the United States. The data is from 2016.

The number of full-time limited-sworn or civilian employees in sheriffs’ offices increased 20% from 2003 to 2016, while the number of full-time sworn officers was about the same in both years.

The 2018 report is scheduled for release later this year.

While the number of sworn police officers has increased by 26% since 1987, that expansion has not kept pace with the growth of the general population. As a result, there were 11.5% fewer officers per capita in 2016 than there were in 1987.

Both the number and share of female officers have increased over time. The number of female officers more than doubled from 1987 to 2016, increasing by 112%, while their share grew from 7.6% to 12.3% of local officers during that same period.

The number and share of Black officers have increased by about 60% from 1987 to 2016, at which time Black people made up 11.4% of police personnel and 13% of the U.S. population. By contrast, the share of Hispanic officers has quadrupled since 1987, rising to 12.5% of officers in 2016, but remains lower than the share of Hispanics/Latinos in the general population (18%).

In 2019, there were 697,195 full-time law enforcement officers employed in the United States. The number of full-time law enforcement officers reached a peak in 2008 with 708,569 officers, and hit a low in 2013 with 626,942 officers. The chart shows growth since 2013, with approximately the same numbers as in 2011.

Half Of Police Agencies Report Budget Cuts-USA Today

Facing the dual forces of the coronavirus pandemic and the national movement to “defund the police,” law enforcement agencies across the country are bracing for budget reductions not seen in more than a decade.

Nearly half of 258 agencies surveyed this month are reporting that funding has already been slashed or is expected to be reduced, according to a report by the Police Executive Research Forum, a non-partisan research organization.

Much of the funding is being pulled from equipment, hiring and training accounts, even as a number of cities also are tracking abrupt spikes in violent crime, the report concluded.

Few agencies, regardless of size, are being spared. It’s being called a “perfect storm” and the biggest budget cuts in a decade.

The article cites a variety of examples as to the funding crisis and how law enforcement agencies are responding.

Police Funding Has Been Flat For Years And Coincides With Increased Violence

Police spending started to decrease around 2009 after decades-long decreases in violent crime (which ended in 2015). Reduced violence coexisted with considerable increases in law enforcement funding up to that point, Defunding The Police.

Using the FBI numbers, the violent crime rate fell 48% between 1993 and 2016. Using data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (National Crime Survey), the rate fell 74% during that span, Crime in America.

Police local spending per capita (inflation-adjusted) has been relatively flat with a small decrease (0.7 percent) from 2009 to 2017 after rising considerably (30 percent) from 2000 to 2009.

15 of the 25 largest US cities decreased their percentage (inflation-adjusted) of direct general expenditures devoted to police protection between 2000 and 2017.

Violence (and serious violence) started to increase considerably in 2015 during a time of flat or decreased spending and during a time where the percentage of inflation-adjusted city expenditures for law enforcement was mostly declining, US Crime.

With the explosion of violence in a wide variety of cities affected by recent protests and a twenty-eight percent increase in violence since 2015 per the Bureau Of Justice Statistics and with serious violent crime increasing per BJS, the current and past increases in violence have a correlation with reduced or flat national police-expenditures.

Police officers in cities are no longer being appropriately proactive (per endless news reports) and proactivity is probably the only modality with a research base as to reducing crime, Proactive Policing.

Proactive policing prompts officers to take action (i.e., a person with a history of violence suspected of carrying a gun) when they have a legal right to investigate. But proactivity requires enormous risks and is the center of endless complaints against law enforcement. Many if not most big-city cops don’t want to end up on the front cover of the local newspaper if proactivity goes wrong. Proactivity required tremendous risk.

Data states that (72%) of officers are now less willing to stop and question suspicious persons, Pew.

Media Reports Of Officers Leaving

Media reports of police officers leaving the job are endless. For those of us who read multiple feeds about cops and crime, articles about the diminishing number of officers are almost daily experiences.

Cities like Minneapolis are borrowing officers from other cities. Others are recording long wait times for 911 calls. People are leaving cities. Firearm and security sales are going through the roof.

Rather than offer a list, search for “police officers leaving” and you will find endless articles from mainstream media providing examples.

In Minneapolis, a judge ordered the city to hire more officers, “Anderson’s ruling, delivered on Thursday, said Mayor Jacob Frey and the council in understaffing the police force “failed to perform an official duty clearly imposed by law,” CNN.

See Forbes for one of many examples.


It’s safe to say that there are fewer police officers due to hiring, resignations and retirement issues. The question is whether or not decreasing numbers or budgets have an impact on violence or the provision of police services.

The evidence indicates that in some cities, they reduced both budgets and numbers of officers via problems with recruitment and retention. Data indicates that resulting increases in violence are most impactful in cities.

Per USA Today, violent crime surged after police across America retreated, USA Today. The topic of messaging to offenders and reform was addressed by PBS, PBS News Hour.

News reports suggest that the cities where protests and or riots have occurred are being hit the hardest, Governing.Com.

It’s African American communities that are bearing the brunt of the violence, NBC News.

There are articles linking police defunding and lack of proactive policing to increased homicides and violence, Washington Times.

There were 722 more homicides in nine U.S. cities last year, according to police data. More than 85% of the increase was in predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods, The Marshall Project.

The data also indicates flattening or decreased police budgets regardless of discussions as to defunding the police.

We need to recognize that there isn’t a national plan for the reduction of violence because of serious gaps in the research. There isn’t an off-the-shelf strategy from the Department of Justice that allows those in charge to pick evidence-based strategies for their location.

There isn’t a national standard as to the number or rate of police officers although we have averages provided by Department of Justice research.

The best research-based plan at the moment is proactive policing; the modality that led us to numerous charges of excessive force and over-policing leading to massive disturbances with over two billion in insurance claims.

Under these circumstances, why would police officers willingly engage in proactivity? If you ask them, they will tell you that they are doing exactly what protestors and citizens demanded.

Violence reduction depends on sufficient numbers of well-trained proactive police officers with supportive communities. Although there was a consensus in most cities during past periods of high crime, it doesn’t exist now.

A lack of consensus as to what cops should do plus demoralized officers leaving plus hiring problems plus reduced budgets plus a lack of proactive policing plus messages telling criminal offenders that cops are now retreating and accountability is greatly reduced has led us to exploding violence and fear, Sending The Wrong Messages.

When citizens believe that there is a breakdown in the ability of government to protect them, they purchase firearms, which is happening at alarming numbers.

No, we don’t empirically know with precision the correct ratio of police officers or precisely what they should do, but in the minds of many, we are creating a perfect storm for increased violence.

Yes, we within the justice system understand that undue or illegal use of force or disrespect issues greatly hampers our cause. We acknowledge that proactive policing probably went too far in terms of the numbers stopped. We know that without the cooperation of the public we can do little to reduce crime.

We have to rededicate ourselves to equal treatment of everyone regardless of who they are.

Yet there are few institutions having higher trust and respect ratings from the public regardless of demographics. Data indicates that use “or” the threat of force by officers is between two and three percent based on citizen surveys, dramatically less than what critics state.

It’s understood that cops have taken a massive public relations beating over use of force issues. Some of that publicity was justified.

But taking an institution that has an 81 percent trust-approval rating vis polls where the data shows that use of force is very limited indicates that the current narrative is massively skewed.

The New Republic states, “Reporters are enabling a false narrative about demoralized cops fleeing their departments in the face of criticism for their misconduct…”

Based on the data, it’s my opinion that it’s the New Republic and similar publications who are creating a false narrative.

My book based on thirty-five years of criminal justice public relations,” Success With The Media: Everything You Need To Survive Reporters and Your Organization” available at Amazon and additional booksellers.

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