Anybody who wasn't living under a rock last summer surely remembers the wave of anti-police sentiment that swept across the US. The end result, as we have reported before, is that thousands of cops from departments across the country have been quitting in droves. Now, a survey of nearly 200 police departments indicates that retirements rose 45% and resignations rose by 18% in the year between April 2020 and April 2021.
The survey data were disclosed to the NYT, which published them as the centerpiece of a lengthy story about the trials and tribulations facing police departments across the US.
During the period in question, the NYPD saw 2,600 officers retire, compared with 1,509 the year before. Resignations in Seattle increased to 123 from 34, and retirements have risen to 96 from 43.
Minneapolis, the former department of Officer Derek Chauvin, had 912 uniformed officers in May 2019. They're now down to just 699 sworn officers, and the department is struggling to find suitable recruits for its next class at the police academy.
All of this is happening amid a backdrop of worsening violent crime in America's cities.
According to the NYT, one of the hardest-hit urban departments is the Asheville Police Department, a hip and deep-blue speck in mostly-red western North Carolina. Asheville is a growing community of 90K ticked into the Blue Ridge Mountains. Some have described it as the Portland of the South. Asheville became the locus of anti-police protests in the area last year. In June, the city council agreed to earmark $2.1MM to start paying reparations to the black community (about 10K of the city's 90K residents).
Asheville Police Chief David Zack, 58, told the NYT that the surge in contempt from the community pushed many officers to quit. "They said that we have become the bad guys, and we did not get into this to become the bad guys." The sense that the city "did not back its police" was inescapable.
Another issue is low pay: with a starting salary around $37K, most officers can't even afford a house in Asheville, where prices have sharply increased in recent years as more outsiders have moved to the community.
One sergeant who quit after a decade on the force, who did not want his name published because of the attacks online, said last summer had chipped away at his professional pride and personal health. He could not sleep and drank too much.
In September, somebody dropped a coffin laden with dirt and manure at the front door of Police Headquarters. “The message was taking a different turn,” Chief Zack said. “The message was not about police reform, but, ‘We endorse violence against police.’"
Of the more than 80 officers who left, about half found different professions and the other half different departments, Chief Zack said. New careers included construction, real estate and pharmaceutical sales.
Alec N. Dohmann, 30, said he ended up leaving Asheville for another position in Greenville, SC. He was able to afford a house, and he described the relationship with the community as "night and day". "I can't tell you how many times I'll be in uniform and someone comes up and shakes my hand, thanking me for what I do."
Meanwhile, back in Asheville, the department is worried that even more veteran officers might be heading for the exits.
“A lot of our experience is walking out the door,” Chief Zack said.
One of the worst betrayals offices faced, however, came from the public officials in the city who appeared to use the officers as a political punching bag.
Mayor Esther Manheimer dropped into one daily police briefing, lauding the department’s efforts. The very next day, she publicly accused the police of mishandling events, several officers said.
Ms. Manheimer, mayor since 2013, said in an interview that the city was facing a "clash of cultures," and that she had "obviously not perfected" her efforts to "thread the needle of supporting law enforcement employees, but at the same time demanding and calling for needed change."
For Asheville, the personnel situation is getting worse. Of 7 new officers who started training in December, six have already quit. The city, meanwhile, is suffering from an increase in everything from murder to aggravated assault. A squad that investigate sexual assault and domestic violence cases have been winnowed down to a single officers.