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“Defunding the Police” Movement Taking Toll on Quality of Recruits

Posted on Wednesday, March 22, 2023
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by Andrew Abbott
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AMAC Exclusive – By Andrew AbbottDefund the Police


In a desperate bid to fill their ranks amid continued fallout from the “Defund the Police” movement, many police departments throughout the country are being forced to lower hiring standards, raising fears that negative and even deadly interactions between police and citizens could become more likely.

Late last month, Washington, D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee testified that it could take a whole decade to get his department back to full strength. The department – which is currently 800 officers short of its staffing goal – was one of the most high-profile targets of the “Defund the Police” movement, and police work has been vilified by many radicals in the D.C. government.
Contee noted that because of the 2020 protests and the aggressive scrutiny police officers face daily, “it’s just not an attractive industry anymore.” After cutting $15 million from the city’s police budget in 2020, D.C. City Council members are so desperate to hire new cops that they’re offering a $20,000 signing bonus to recruits.

Other cities throughout the country – many of which also siphoned money away from law enforcement in 2020 and 2021 – have taken similar steps to attract new officers. But these measures have not been enough to offset the wave of resignations and early retirements plaguing departments large and small.

As a result, many departments have been forced to lower recruiting standards as well as offer lucrative sign-on incentives – a combination that has led to concerns about police quality.
A Wall Street Journal opinion piece last month from Jason Johnson, Baltimore’s deputy police commissioner from 2016 to 2018, notes that “a majority of departments are accepting recruits who admit to having used illegal drugs. Visible tattoos were once a no-no, but a third of departments now allow them. And many departments are granting exemptions to rules against hiring applicants with criminal convictions.”

Not all of the recent changes to recruiting requirements are bad. In Chicago, for example, the police department last year waived a college credit requirement for individuals who have two years of military or peace officer experience, or three years in corrections, social services, health care, trades, or education. Allowing this valuable life experience to act as a substitute for college led to 400 new applicants to the Chicago police department the same day the change was implemented.

Yet some other departments, including in cities like Philadelphia and New Orleans, have simply eliminated college credit requirements entirely without requiring applicants to have some sort of requisite background experience that indicates they likely have what it takes to do the job. As Johnson warns, “Police officers who can’t handle the physical and ethical rigors of the job risk achieving through their actions what the ‘defund the police’ movement never could by debasing the profession in the eyes of the American people.”

Americans have already seen instances of this playing out in a high-profile cases of police brutality. Four of the five officers involved in the tragic killing of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee, in January had earned official reprimands during their careers. One of them was sued for beating an inmate while working as a prison guard in 2016.

The unintended consequence of these relaxed standards is that the chances of a negative interaction between a police officer and the community he or she is sworn to protect rises significantly. When fewer officers with fewer qualifications are policing larger areas with less support, mistakes, conflicts, tragedies, and disasters become more likely.

Johnson refers to this as the “deprofessionalization” of policing – another devastating and direct consequence of the Defund the Police movement.

During the 2020 George Floyd protests, left-wing activists asserted that the entire law enforcement profession did more harm than good and could easily be replaced. They stated as an immutable fact that if you cut police budgets and shifted the money into community outreach, you would eliminate any need for policing.

None of this turned out to be true. The few cities that did defund their police departments shifted the money into ill-defined social programs of questionable utility. Within a year, every one of these departments increased their budgets to pre-2020 levels.

Yet the damage could not be undone. Now, communities will be forced to reckon with the reality of fewer officers who are less experienced – creating a whole new host of challenges.
Andrew Abbott is the pen name of a writer and public affairs consultant with over a decade of experience in DC at the intersection of politics and culture.

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