Philadelphia police struggle to find new recruits, union president says: Facing 'an uphill battle'

'We're not going to have the cops on the street we need to protect the community,' McNesby said

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Philadelphia police are having trouble finding and training new recruits, according to Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Lodge No. 5 President John McNesby.

The issues facing the Philadelphia Police Department stem from several issues including a new city council bill that passed last June requiring city employees to have at least one year of Philadelphia residency under their belts before being hired.

"It's hurting us big-time," McNesby, 55, told Fox News. 

Previously, the Philadelphia Police Department was able to recruit new hires from outside the city, including military bases.

"We had a great response. We had a great group of diverse people from all backgrounds working for us," the union president, who has worked in law enforcement for 35 years, said. "...People aren't going to move to the city of Philadelphia hoping they get a job. They're going to move knowing they have secure employment before they make that move."

Philadelphia police officers form a line during a demonstration in Philadelphia, late Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)

Philadelphia police officers form a line during a demonstration in Philadelphia, late Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)

Because of Philadelphia City Council Bill 200363, however, McNesby says the department's prospective hiring pool has shrunk, and employers only choose to move forward with "two or three" candidates out of every 10.

Additionally, new officer training requirements, which take about 10 months to complete, have been backlogged due to COVID-19 shutdowns and only recently restarted, meaning new hires may not "get boots on the ground" until next spring. 

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That, on top of the 20 or so officers who retire or leave due to injuries every month, has put the department in a fragile position, according to McNesby.

Before 2008, Philadelphia had for decades required city employees to be residents of the city for at least a year before being employed, according to the city council.

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That changed when Councilman Jim Kenney removed the requirement, saying it "would expand the number of potential applicants and increase the competition for job openings, thereby improving the quality of the job applicants and enhancing the diversity of our workforce."

Then, in June, about a month after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd and sparked police reform legislation on local and federal levels across the country, the Philadelphia City Council passed Bill 200363 in a 16-to-1 vote.

Smoke rises from a fire on a police cruiser in Center City during the Justice for George Floyd Philadelphia Protest on Saturday, May 30, 2020, in Philadelphia.

Smoke rises from a fire on a police cruiser in Center City during the Justice for George Floyd Philadelphia Protest on Saturday, May 30, 2020, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

"Twelve years after the bill’s adoption, it’s worth reviewing whether the diversity of our workforce has been enhanced," the city council said in a June 24 statement. "Philadelphia is a 'minority-majority' city, where about two-thirds of residents are non-white."

The council noted that during the first two quarters of fiscal year 2020, the city's police force was "43% minority," which was "not reflective of city demographics" and "woefully short of the Department’s goal of 58.4%."

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"The idea that the city cannot recruit from within and find a ready, willing and able pool of police recruits is repugnant, and a slap in the face of the quality of our education system that we refuse to accept," the council wrote.

McNesby, however, says the department is now facing "an uphill battle" as it tries to "keep the community safe" every day.

"The council here took action when everybody was trying to jump on some kind of reform back in the summertime, and they passed this bill, which is going to hurt them," he said. "We're in opposition to it. Our command staff is not pleased with it. It really hampers the progress of the police department."

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Plus, being a police officer "isn't an attractive job right now" due to low morale and support, McNesby added. 

Philadelphia has seen a record number of shootings and homicides so far in 2021, and police are worried numbers will get worse.

"The bottom line is: We're not going to have the cops on the street we need to protect the community. It's as simple as that," he said.