Hail to the Chief? Nation’s Top Cops Face Sagging Morale, Political Sniping

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Photo by William Johns via Flickr

It’s not easy being a police chief.

What some call one of the most difficult jobs in America takes a stiff toll on the men and women who run the nation’s 18,000-plus law enforcement agencies.

At least 32 police chiefs in Minnesota have retired this year, and another dozen retired in 2020, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Public safety officials say the unprecedented number of departures reflects the strains faced by senior police executives as their agencies cope with the COVID-19 pandemic and the pressures of policing in a post-George Floyd world.

“They’re stressed out, in some cases, perhaps slightly burned out,” said Jeff Potts, former chief of police in Bloomington, Minn. “And when they are afforded the opportunity to retire — perhaps even a little bit earlier than they otherwise would have — they’re just choosing to do that.”

Potts, who is now executive director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, added: “It’s probably one of the most difficult jobs to do in this country today.”

Communities across the country are seeing a similar exodus. A survey of 200 agencies this summer by the  Police Executive Research Forum,  found a 45 percent increase in the retirement rate nationwide.

“It’s a stressful job in the best of environments,”  said Scott Nadeau, former chief of police in Maplewood, Minn. “In the post-George Floyd environment, in the pandemic environment, it became much more stressful…There are a lot of things going on societally. You now have new issues. You have recruiting and retention. You have staff morale.”

Worries about the ability of police executives to withstand the strain have even seeped into the unofficial sweepstakes to lead the nation’s largest police force: the New York Police Department (NYPD), reports the New York Daily News.

Sagging morale in the ranks, limits on the use of force, and worsening police-community relations since the protests over George Floyd’s death make a tough job even tougher, said Eugene O’Donnell, a former cop and a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

“I think the Police Department has been irreparably damaged,” said O’Donnell. “Cops have no one supporting them, and scores of officials, literally from the president on down, have been blasting the cops.”

Some of the names mentioned as potential successors to current NYPD boss Dermot Shea illustrate how political skills may be as important as management and law enforcement background in running a department with 36,000 uniformed and 19,000 non-uniformed personnel.

Nearly all of the prospects identified by handicappers are women, fulfilling a commitment made by Eric Adams, the likely successor to Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Adams is a former cop himself. He led dissident Black officers protesting NYPD bias and racial profiling in the 1990s.

Among the leading candidates is former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, whose experience as the nation’s top justice officer could serve her well in creating a bridge between rank-and-file officers and civilians.

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Loretta Lynch. Photo by Casino Collection via Flickr.

As a Black woman, she can also step into a job that has been a lightening rod in the city’s tangled race relations.

“She’s certainly qualified,” said one source. “She has the resume.”

Another leading candidate is Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, who is now working at a private law firm.

Other outside prospects include former Seattle police chief Carmen Best.

Handicappers also point to some internal candidates, such as NYPD Chief of Patrol Juanita Holmes, Chief Judith Harrison, who oversees precincts in north Brooklyn, Chief of Transportation Kim Royster, and Assistant Chief Donna Jones, who runs the Criminal Justice Bureau.

Adams has refused to give any indication of which way he’s leaning.

The new NYPD Commissioner must possess “the law enforcement and emotional intelligence it takes to run the NYPD and protect New Yorkers,” said his spokesman Evan Thies.

Left unspoken may be the most important requirement of all: the ability to keep a cool head when everyone else wants yours.

Editor’s Note: This version corrects an error in previously published story to make clear Danielle Outlaw is still Philadelphia Police Commissioner.

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