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Will Police Recruitment Crisis Prompt Change in Behavior?

by Douglas Ankney

When schoolchildren were asked what they wanted to be when they grew up, a frequent answer used to be “a policeman.” But apparently that’s no longer true. Sixty-six percent of police departments across the U.S. reported a decline in applications, according to a survey of 400 law enforcement agencies by the Police Executive Research Forum (“PERF”).

And the FBI’s number of special agent applications plunged from 68,500 in 2009 to just 11,500 last year.

According to Chuck Wexler, executive director of PERF, “The very essence of policing is being debated in many cities, often because of controversial video recordings of police officers’ actions. Community trust has eroded, and the professionalism of the police is being questioned.”

Public opinion of law enforcement skidded to a 22-year low in 2015, according to a Gallup poll. Even though those numbers have since risen, they emphasize a racial gap in police perception. Due to publicized racist incidents and owing to the police terrorizing minority communities, African Americans tend to view cops as government enforcers rather than protectors.

“This militarized transformation of American law enforcement and all that comes with it ... should not be a part of the American landscape,” former Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief of Police Stephen Downing wrote five years ago.

Downing proposed, among other things, doing away with the provision of military equipment and training to local police departments, getting rid of civil asset forfeiture that allows cops to rip away people’s property, and establishing effective civilian oversight. When cops treat the public as enemy combatants, children (and adults) no longer admire them as “the good guys.” 



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