From Boston to San Diego and from Seattle to Miami, the story is the same. Cities can't fill the ranks of their police departments, and the problem is only getting worse.
If that was the goal of protests across the country at this time last year over the death of Minneapolis suspect George Floyd in the hands of that city's police, they succeeded.
Police are retiring or taking other jobs, and big-city forces are left hundreds of officers short. Fewer people are applying to be a part of the often thankless profession, and crime is up as a result of the shortages and of a lessened desire to confront suspects.
Some of the stark numbers locally were revealed at the Hamilton County Commission meeting earlier this week when Sheriff Jim Hammond noted he was short nine school resource officers (with five in the hiring process). Sheriff's office officials also said the department lacked 30 correctional staff members and 12 officers in patrol, including three openings that occurred this week. Those patrol openings, they said, would grow to 20 once the positions in the now-passed budget are added.
The shortages are similar in the Chattanooga Police Department. The department is budgeted for 500 officers and currently has 468, 19 short of the department's 2019 total. The force, according to communications coordinator Elisa Myzal, typically loses about three officers per month from resignations, retirements or terminations.
Here's a sampling of what it looks like in larger cities:
* Chicago: 560 officers retired in 2020, a 15% rise over 2019; the 2019 retirements were a 30% rise over 2018.
* Louisville, Kentucky: 43 officers have left the Louisville Metro Police Department so far in 2021, following nearly 190 retiring or resigning in 2020.
* Portland, Oregon: 115 police officers have left the force, including more than a third resigning, since July 2020; the force now has nearly 140 vacancies from a staff of under 1,000 officers.
* New York City: About 15% of its force — more than 5,300 officers — left in 2020, a 75% rise from 2019; recent data has the force at 34,974, down from 36,900 in 2019.
* Philadelphia: 268 vacancies, as of May, existed for a force of 6,380; 79 were admitted to a deferred retirement program, meaning they plan to retire in four years; last year, 13 were admitted to the program.
* Seattle: 66 departures in the first few months of 2021 brought the total number of police that have left the force since last summer to more than 200.
"We're running into a real crisis here," Betsy Brantner Smith, a spokesperson for the National Police Association, told Forbes in an April interview. "One of the things people need to understand is that a lot of these officers are not leaving police work, they're going to places where they're appreciated and where their job is not so politicized."
"I got on in June of 1992," Jim Calvino, president of the Chicago Police Sergeants Association, told the Chicago Sun-Times recently, "so I'm almost at 29 years at the end of the month. I personally have never seen morale be this low in the department."
The reasons are many and varied. Perhaps, above all, the occupation's pay isn't commensurate with the danger and hassles inherent in it. Plus, its work hours are rarely conducive for family life.
With last year's protests, the anti-police climate in some cities, the declaration of some cities to defund or re-prioritize their departments, the feeling from officers that city administrations no longer have their backs and the decision of some cities to strip officers of qualified immunity, the list has lengthened.
"When you vilify every police officer for every bad police officer's decision," Pat Colligan, president of the New Jersey State Policeman's Benevolent Association, the state's largest police union, told the Associated Press in May, people "don't want to take this job anymore. It's been a very trying and difficult time to put on the badge every day."
Jack Rinchich, president of the 4,000-member National Association of Chiefs of Police, told the Associated Press many law enforcement officers may decide to get out before they get caught up in a situation doing what their training has taught them but winding up on the wrong end of a tragic situation.
"A lot of cops right now in view of the environment are saying, 'Hey, I've gone 20, 30 years without being sued, shot, or divorced. I'm going to get out while I have an opportunity,'" he said.
All of the above, of course, is in spite of polls that say people want more policing, not less. A 2021 Ipsos/USA Today poll, for instance, found only 18% supported a "defund the police" movement, while a 2020 Gallup poll said 81% of Black Americans surveyed wanted the same amount or more of a police presence in their community.
The result, after all, as people in many large cities already have seen, and people in Chattanooga will see if police are unable to fill their ranks, is — as Brantner Smith of the National Police Association noted — "who gets harmed is the most vulnerable."