Police officer shortage raises questions about public safety

Published: Oct. 6, 2022 at 7:10 PM CDT
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JEFFERSON COUNTY (KMOV) -- There are labor shortages in St. Louis and around the world. The shortage of workers stretches from restaurants to factories to construction sites and law enforcement.

Locally, there are more police officer jobs in the St. Louis region than there are qualified officers to fill them. In a tweet Thursday, Lt. Col. Troy Doyle with the St. Louis County Police Department raised concerns that a shortage of officers could impact public safety.

“The overall state of public safety is threatened by the ongoing trend of reduced staffing levels. Outside of officer safety issues, what this means to you the community is longer response times, fewer crimes being solved, and overworked stressed-out police officers,” Doyle said on social media.

Wednesday evening Bellefontaine Neighbors Police Chief Jeremy Ihler asked the city’s board of aldermen to give officers a 10 percent raise. He told the board that the city’s number of officers had dwindled to just five. He said a community the size of Bellefontaine Neighbors should have 32 officers.

The reason fewer are going into police work are varied. Webster University Associate Professor of Management, Julie Palmer, told News 4 that workers in Generation Z don’t want to be married to their jobs, especially jobs where the days are long and the schedules are lousy.

“They want to be able to clock out and go home when all their friends go home. So we’re now facing the reality that that generation of workers is not fitting in with what the needs are of some of these service industries,” she said.

And Palmer said the stigma of leaving a job is no longer what it once was. So, Gen Z workers might start working in law enforcement but won’t hesitate to leave.

“They know if they don’t like the hours, if they feel like they’re being asked to do too much, they’ll walk away. And they maybe won’t walk into a job if they perceive that to be the conditions. Which with the police department and working nights, working evenings, in some difficult situations, they’re probably not going to consider it,” said Palmer.

Doyle said political and social pressures are also turning some away from police work. In a statement, he said:

“The vast majority of police officers are in the profession for the right reasons and are upholding their oath honorably. However, words matter and the seemingly non-stop rhetoric to place us all in the corrupt box has negatively impacted recruitment and retention efforts.”

The shortage of police officers has increased the competition among area police departments to attract qualified officers.

Several years ago Jefferson County voters approved Prop-P to give officers a raise, but the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department has added new benefits. All deputies are now given a take-home car and the county will cover the cost of police academy training for new recruits.

Lt. Col. Tim Whitney is the undersheriff.

“That is a public safety issue for our community and so we’re constantly re-evaluating what that looks like. And we’re constantly competing with other organizations to recruit and retain those people. We’re committed to doing that for the safety of our community,” said Whitney.

Here is a look at the number of vacant officer positions at some area law enforcement agencies:

  • St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department: 83
  • St. Louis County Police Department: 85
  • Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department: 9
  • Franklin County Sheriff’s Department: 9
  • Missouri State Highway Patrol: 108 (statewide)