Over the past couple of years, WFMY News 2 has heard from different police departments about officer shortages. Most recently, the Winston-Salem Police Department said they had 50 open vacancies. But, after running a series of commercials during the ACC tournament, they managed to fill 13 positions.
Sergeant Rhoneek Readus listed retirement and pay as reasons for the openings, but also said a lack of interest in the profession overall was hurting recruitment.
“Negative images have definitely hurt us. Some of the officer involved shootings, the protests, that’s certainly hurt law enforcement because it’s turning away people from the profession,” said Readus.
We wanted to verify if other departments were having the same experience.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the police and sheriff departments in the Piedmont-Triad, that responded to our request, including the NC Highway Patrol.
Burlington Police Department: Greensboro Police : High Point Police:
Sworn Positions: 137 Sworn Positions: 675 Sworn Positions: 247
Open Positions: 9 Open Positions: 27 Open Positions: 8
Thomasville Police: Winston Salem Police:
Sworn Positions: 69 Sworn Positions: 570
Open Positions: 4 Open Positions: 37
Alamance County Sheriff: Davidson County Sheriff:
Sworn Positions: N/A Sworn Positions: 185
Open Positions: 5 Open Positions: 17
Guilford County Sheriff: Rockingham County Sheriff’: NC Highway Patrol:
Sworn Positions: 266 Sworn Positions: 101 Sworn Positions: 1,769
Open Positions: 8 Open Positions: N/A Open Positions: 196
*N/A- Department did not provide this information upon request.
We also checked statewide student enrollment into Basic Law Enforcement Training at colleges. Enrollment declined 20 percent from 2013-2015, per the North Carolina Criminal Justice Education Training Standards Commission. Twenty-three training classes canceled statewide due to low enrollment from 2015-2016.
It’s important to note, not every department considered the openings a “shortage.” High Point PD added eight positions at the beginning of their budget year and haven’t had the chance to fill them. GCSO said their eight open positions were for jail employees and Greensboro PD said they have 20 new officers in field training and 19 in the Police Academy, making these positions technically vacant until the officers are ready to perform field duty.
However, Winston-Salem called it a shortage, as did Highway Patrol. Burlington PD said they’ve averaged nine open positions for the past couple of years.
Even without using the word “shortage”, almost every agency listed said they’ve had less applicants than in previous years. The three main reasons? Low pay, high risk and little interest.
Susan Danielson with GPD said, “We are not seeing the surge of applicants that we have in years past. Certainly, the pervasive climate about police has made a career in law enforcement less appealing to some. Other people shy away from the profession because of its risks and low pay.
“Some of the reason for the shortage is due to retirements and officers leaving the profession. I think this is a statewide/national issue. I can speculate that many young people see in the media how law enforcement is treated and they choose a different career,” said Burlington PD Assistant Chief Chris Verdeck.
Randy Jones, with Alamance County Sheriff’s Office said, “The candidate pool has shrunk over the years and with the national tone towards police, people don't want to do the job. Low wages don't help either. A common opinion among police is that we have had little support from politicians in recent years, especially from D.C.
Similar statements came from the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office and the NC Highway Patrol.
So, yes, it appears people are less interested in becoming officers, deputies and troopers, at least in the Piedmont-Triad.
It doesn’t stop agencies from trying to recruit. Many departments offer incentives, such as paying for college courses. Many agencies have recruiters at job fairs, on college campuses and reach out through social media. Also, many departments said they work to improve relationships in the community to help address misconceptions.