Police departments across the country have grappled with staffing shortages, from small towns in North Carolina and Minnesota to big cities on either coast.
National Police Association spokesperson Ret. Sgt. Betsy Branter Smith pointed to eleven cities that have experienced severe staffing issues after the anti-police rhetoric of 2020 and its political fallout: New York City; Chicago; Los Angeles; Philadelphia; Seattle; St. Louis; Louisville, Kentucky; Austin and San Antonio, Texas; and Phoenix and Tuscon, Arizona.
"I think this could be a generational problem," Branter-Smith said when asked how long she expects the staffing issues to last. "This could go on for years. Even if, let's say, I could flip a magic switch tomorrow, and everyone loved the police and every kid in America wanted to be a cop … it takes nine months to a year from the date of hire for a person to become a police officer. So, there's one problem. Even if we could fix this tomorrow, it'll be a year before any of those staffing issues are addressed."
The Seattle Police Department lost 400 officers between 2020 and 2022, and the city's number of deployable officers dropped to 954 this year — the city's lowest police population in 30 years, according to Mayor Bruce Harrell. The city has also seen a 40% decrease in detectives available for investigative work and an increase in overtime expenses.
Washington State Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) President Marco Monteblanco told Fox News Digital police have seen a 20% staffing reduction throughout the profession, and 86% of Washington State agencies are "experiencing some sort of staffing shortage."
"When you add to the realization that Washington state already ranks at the bottom of police officers per thousand residents in this country, you can see why crime rates have skyrocketed. Homicide rates are at their highest rates in recorded history in many cities," Monteblanco said.
"Experts will debate the root cause of this, but the [FOP] has stated before how the demonization of our profession by some politicians has negatively affected the rank-and-file officers throughout this country, and the failure to hold career criminals accountable for their actions has frustrated our officers who sacrifice their lives every day to protect the citizens they serve."
Harrell introduced a recruitment plan over the summer, including financial incentives, to encourage potential new hires to apply.
On the other coast, more than 4,000 New York City police officers are slated to leave the NYPD by the end of 2022, according to The New York Post. Some of those officers will retire before their full pensions take effect.
"We keep ringing the alarm bell louder and louder, and every month the numbers get worse. We have gone from a staffing problem to a staffing crisis and, now, to a full-blown staffing emergency," Patrick Lynch, president of the New York City Police Benevolant Association (NYC PBA) told Fox News Digital in a statement. "The city must immediately address the low pay and punishing work schedules that are driving cops out."
In Chicago, the number of active-duty officers has been steadily decreasing since 2017, according to data obtained by Fox News Digital in April. The Louisville Police Department was about 300 officers short of its total complement of officers in July, with about 100 officers eligible for retirement, according to WHAS11. Phoenix was short more than 500 officers in July, KPNX reported at the time.
St. Louis and the surrounding area of Jefferson County are experiencing similar staffing issues. The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office issued a warning on Facebook in September after a deputy sheriff resigned, opting for a new job "in the civilian world" he said he accepted for a better quality of life for him and his son.
"We ask that you please support your police," the sheriff's office said in a Facebook post, along with a copy of the deputy sheriff's resignation letter. "(Officers) locally and around the country are leaving the profession at an alarming rate. This resignation letter today is another example of what we are seeing. It's not sustainable."
Branter-Smith, who travels the U.S. to meet with police leaders and help train officers, was in St. Louis when she spoke with Fox News Digital.
"We had a big school shooting here in St. Louis. And what did the St. Louis Police Department — who is horrifically short-staffed and one of the most vilified police departments in the country — what did they do? Ran toward the shots, got up to the third floor, killed the shooter, took care of business, rescued all these kids," Branter-Smith said. "Their response was just textbook."
Branter-Smith then took aim at Democratic Missouri Rep. Cori Bush, who pushed the "defund police" narrative in 2020. Bush thanked first responders in a statement following the shooting, but Branter-Smith said the congresswoman's support for police needs to be stronger than a one-time thank-you.
"That has to stop," Branter-Smith said. "Every single jurisdiction from the tiniest town or county to the biggest of cities is going to have to basically start a marketing campaign to get police officers. They're going to have to stop the anti-cop rhetoric. They're going to have to stop the anti-cop actions."
Staffing shortages mean longer shifts for officers and increased overtime pay for taxpayers, slower responses to 911 calls and mental health crises and an unhappy public, low morale among officers who are overworked and underappreciated and a general imbalance of crime versus available officers, Branter-Smith said.
The former officer pointed to slashed police department funding, progressive prosecutorial policies and incentives — or a lack thereof — as some of the reasons departments are struggling to hire new officers and keep current officers.
What can be done to attract new officers to these cities and small towns experiencing similar issues?
Brantner-Smith suggested support for police from both politicians and their communities, more funding, financial and other hiring incentives, strong leadership and effective training. She also believes prosecutors need to be more diligent in determining which suspects can be released into the public without posing a threat to their communities so that officer morale does not continue to drop.
"I did it for 29 years," Brantner-Smith said when asked what she would say to those who might consider becoming police officers. "I never had the same day twice. I get to do everything from arresting robbers and murderers to delivering babies. It is the best job on the planet, I think."
Washington FOP President Monteblanco said, "Officers who do not feel supported are not going to stay," and agencies "will not get anyone to take this job regardless of the benefits."
"What we can do is make sure that our officers are paid accordingly, have proper time off to reenergize, the ability to have proper training and address long-term benefits with our pensions," he explained. "Most importantly, a general change in the climate towards us in the media and with many of our politicians would make the most impact on overall moral."
Fox News' Amy Nelson contributed to this report.