Nationwide, interest in becoming a police officer is down significantly. Nashville job applications dropped from 4,700 in 2010 to 1,900 last year. In Seattle, applications have declined by nearly 50 percent in a department where the starting salary is $79,000. Even the FBI had a sharp drop, from 21,000 applications per year to 13,000 last year, before a marketing campaign brought an upswing, the Washington Post reports. Retaining officers also is harder. In a Police Executive Research Forum survey of nearly 400 police departments, 29 percent of those who left their police job voluntarily had been on the force less than a year, and an additional 40 percent had been on the job less than five years.
At a PERF meeting in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday of police chiefs and commanders from across the U.S., many attributed their declining numbers to a diminished perception of police since the 2014 shooting and unrest in Ferguson, Mo., and an increase in public and media scrutiny of police made possible by technology and social media. “There’s an increased potential for officers to be criminally liable for making a good-faith mistake,” said Chief Terry Sult of Hampton, Va. “We’re seeing a lot more media coverage of officers being prosecuted, and that weighs heavily on a lot of officers’ hearts.” Russ Hamill, an assistant chief of police in Montgomery County, Md., said he would prefer that his kids enter another profession — “even lawyers,” he said to big laughs. The trend toward fewer police officers per capita has been steady for 20 years, says the Bureau of Justice Statistics. While the population rose from 267 million in 1997 to 323 million in 2016, the number of full-time sworn officers per 1,000 residents dropped from 2.42 in 1997 to 2.17 officers per 1,000 residents in 2016. The raw number of sworn officers peaked at nearly 725,000 in 2013 and is now down to a bit more than 701,000.