Alabama police departments struggle to retain and hire officers

Published: Nov. 18, 2022 at 7:20 PM CST
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Police departments across the country are struggling with widespread staffing problems and Alabama is no exception.

Paul Irwin, president of the Alabama Association of Chiefs of Police, says retaining and recruiting officers has become increasingly difficult at every department.

“Until we get enough officers on the streets in every city, we’re really going to have a problem,” Irwin said.

Chief Irwin estimated that over the last five or six years, the larger departments in the state are down officers as high as 40 to 50 percent. He blames the decrease in applicants on the current political climate and an increase in violence nationwide. He said that has made policing a less attractive career.

Irwin said trends show a growing number of officers leaving larger departments for smaller ones where some feel more valued and less overworked.

“The pay in smaller departments has increased a lot as well as the benefits,” Irwin said.

Larger cities will try to recruit with higher pay and incentives, but Irwin says officers are working longer hours with minimal staff. He says some departments are even hiring officers with less than desirable qualifications.

“Some people have been hired that probably shouldn’t have been, and that’s because we don’t have an applicant pool,” Irwin said. “My prayer is that what’s going to happen is that all of our agencies are going to uphold the APOSTC (Alabama Peace Officer’s Standards and Training Commission) standards for hiring employees and doing thorough backgrounds on them and doing psychological evaluations on people who are entering this profession.”

He says the biggest issue though is funding. Departments statewide need more money for salaries, take-home vehicles and better insurance coverage.

“If they have an officer that’s wanting to leave they need to find out why. They need to start appreciating them and valuing them more and I’m not saying the police chiefs, I’m saying everyone, I’m talking about the mayor and the city council, they’ve got to get on board and start funding these officers so that they can start protecting these communities from the violence they are experiencing,” Irwin said.

Chief Irwin says a lack of officers is now affecting quality of life in some communities. Having more officers usually means less crime.

Police departments are offering bonuses to new officers and, in some cases, those already on the job. Also, educational stipends, higher salaries and other incentives in an attempt to fill their ranks.

MPD is offering a starting salary of $46,000 after graduation from the police academy and additional pay incentives for those with associates, bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

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