Smaller cities across the country are struggling to increase the size of their police forces as violent crime rates soar after more than a year of politicians and activists calling for police departments to be defunded.
"The citizens tell me they want more officers in their community, in their localities," Roanoke, Va., Democratic Mayor Sherman Lea said in June. "So we are looking at a lot of things."
The Roanoke City Police Department has reported a 400% increase in homicides this year after the city notched its eighth murder in July. The city approved a budget this summer to increase pay for officers and hire more police to fight the "epidemic" of gun crimes in the city, according to the mayor.
"This is going on everywhere," Chief Howard Hall lamented this summer. "It’s going to take a long time to catch up in terms of where we are from a vacancies perspective."
Democratic leaders in large cities such as New York, Seattle and Los Angeles cut funds to police departments last year, and the move has trickled down to smaller cities, metro areas and counties. Departments in less densely populated areas including in Indiana, Texas and Massachusetts are now grappling with how to remedy the anti-police sentiment and beef up staffing.
There has been a 45% increase in the retirement rate and a nearly 20% increase in resignations from officers in 2020-2021 compared to the previous year, according to a June survey from the Police Executive Research Forum.
In Indianapolis, for example, the Metropolitan Police Department has seen 93 officers retire or resign this year, and the department is expanding recruitment efforts outside of the state to get more people on the force. IMPD was given an additional $7 million in this year’s budget, with some of the money going to recruitment efforts.
"I’ll say anytime we lose someone when it comes to manpower, it can be, I won’t say disturbing, but concerning," IMPD officer William Young said in July.
In Texas, the executive director of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations said there’s a statewide shortage of officers this year due to people leaving the force and people not joining the force in the first place.
"So we lost that one thing in law enforcement that we had going for us, and that was the character, honor, and service that officers felt that they were bringing to do that job into their lives," Charley Wilkison told KSAT last month.
Other officials in the state have lamented that it is more difficult this year than before to recruit cadets.
"The problem has been just getting qualified applicants," Atascosa County Sheriff David Soward said. "You know, sometimes you can get applicants, but we do a pretty thorough background check, and sometimes applicants don’t make it through the background check. So the quality of applicants has certainly dropped off, as well as the quantity of them."
The Comal County Sheriff’s Office, Cibolo Police Department, Kerrville Police Department and New Braunfels Police Department have all tried to increase their staffing in recent days, KSAT reports, with the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office also offering a $2,000 signing bonus for detention deputies.
"We’re trying to hire, you know, just like every other law enforcement agency in the country right now. Manpower is an issue," Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said last month.
Crime in Bexar County, where San Antonio is located, has also ticked up over the last year, with Salazar saying domestic violence and child abuse cases are most notably increasing.
"What we’re seeing now is we are seeing a slight uptick in violent crime. We’re seeing a lot more guns on the street. And so we just ask people to continue to call in activity and let us handle it as needed," Salazar said.
In Massachusetts, police leaders have reported more of the same.
"It seems like this is the early phase, and certainly if two years ago was any indication, the numbers are down," Chelsea Police Chief Brian Kyes, who is also president of the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs of Police Association, said of recruitment in March. "Springfield, Worcester, Boston are down significantly — over 50%."
As smaller cities across the nation grapple with recruitment and retaining officers, larger cities have reversed course – with far less media hype than when the police reform initiatives were adopted. Democratic mayors are now calling for police to be added to the force.
"We saw shooting incidents escalate last year during the pandemic. This year we’ve continued to experience an unacceptable level of gun violence," Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser said in a press conference last week. "While we’ve actually seen a slight dip in where we were with gunshots, those gunshots have proven to be more fatal."
Bowser, however, has vocally supported the Black Lives Matter movement and even designated a permanent section of D.C. as Black Lives Matter Plaza. - adding to the chorus of liberal, big-city leaders who set a national tone of supporting the movement that pushes to defund the police.
While Bowser has put on national display her support for BLM, she has also been criticized by the group after she denounced the city council's vote to slash police funds last year. The cuts left the department short 200 officers this year and the police chief "mad as hell" about the spike in crimes.
A similar backtrack occurred in Seattle, with liberal Mayor Jenny Durkan also pushing for the city's force to be beefed up after she called for a slash to the police budget last summer - though not as steep as the city council advocated for.
"As a city, we cannot continue on this current trajectory of losing police officers," Durkan said during a press conference at the end of last month. "Over the past 17 months, the Seattle Police Department has lost 250 police officers, which is the equivalent of over 300,000 service hours. We’re on path to losing 300 police officers."
Seattle was at the forefront of ushering in the defund movement last summer, when rioters took over an area of the city and declared it an "autonomous zone," free from police interference. Durkan initially passed off the zone as Seattle witnessing a "summer of love" shortly before shootings broke out that left two teenagers dead, and four others injured.
The apparent lack of support for officers in the city eventually sparked its first female Black police chief to resign last August, citing "overarching lack of respect for the officers."
Fast-forward to this summer, the city is grappling with a gun crime problem, as the number of people shot in Seattle increased by 61% this year compared to the same time period years prior.
"I need more officers," Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz said, adding that he needs support from the city, "making it clear to officers, current and prospective…that they will have our support, financially and otherwise, to do this job well and know they will not be laid off due to budget cuts."
The Major Cities Chiefs Association, which combines crime data of 63 metropolitan areas across the U.S., also found homicides are up by 30% in the first quarter of 2021 when compared to the same time period last year. Murders have most notably spiked well above the national average in the five cities that reduced their police budgets the most last year: Austin, New York, Minneapolis, Seattle and Denver.
The data has again called into question the defund movement, with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott saying the increased murder rate following liberal pushes to defund is "exactly why I signed a law to prevent cities from defunding police."