ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- Each year, officers with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department leave to take better paying jobs at other law enforcement agencies.
In recent years, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department has hired 11 former city officers and three more will be starting soon. Other officers leave SLMPD to take jobs in a different career field, while others leave because they retire. But in 2021, officers are leaving at a faster pace.
"I called it a crisis because that's what it is," said Jeff Roorda with the St. Louis Police Officers Association.
In 2019, there were 95 commissioned officers that left the department, for whatever reason. In 2020, the number was 92. But in 2021, there were 92 officers that had left by July 19. If the departures continue at the current rate, the police department could lose 168 officers by the end of the year. That would be an 83% increase over the previous year.
"It's hard to keep the officers that we have happy with the current situation and I think morale is low, morale is low," said President of the Ethical Society of Police Sgt. Donny Walton.
Voters approved a sales tax increase in 2017 that gave St. Louis police officers a raise, but the department is still one of the lower paying law enforcement agencies in the metro.
According to Walton, better pay and better hours were two of the top reasons given when officers leave.
The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department has been operating with fewer officers than it's authorized to hire for a number of years. A staffing report from the department dated July 19, 20221, obtained by SLPOA through informal channels, shows the department is down 178 officers and 175 of those are in the community policing bureau.
In the past, Police Chief John Hayden has said the department was able to recruit enough new officers to keep up with attrition. The department has made significant efforts to recruit new officers, including the launch of a new website for recruitment.
According to Roorda and Walton, the latest class of recruits at the police academy started with only 13 and is down to just 11. That, combined with the rate at which officers are leaving, could lead to fewer officers on the street.
"It concerns me but it doesn't surprise me," said Ward 23 Alderman Joe Vaccaro and chairman of the public safety committee.
There are also many more officers who are poised to leave the department this year. According to the St. Louis Personnel Office, there are 371 commissioned officers who are eligible to retire.
Chief Hayden was out of town and unavailable for an interview. And interim public safety director, Dr. Dan Isom, turned down our request for an interview, but did release a statement:
The administration and public safety director, Dr. Dan Isom, support police who do the right thing. The administration is committed to reducing violent crime and crime in St. Louis, which will make both citizens and police safe. And the administration is committed to raising the economic conditions for everyone in the city, which will raise salaries for everyone including police.