Mar 20, 2024 - News

Power Check — Parker's bold police hiring goal

Illustration of an eye inside of a megaphone.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Mayor Cherelle Parker says the city will hire 400 police officers each year of her four-year term, but a review of hiring records shows the department hasn't come close to bringing in that many officers over the last decade.

Why it matters: The police department has hundreds of vacancies and has struggled to recruit new officers years after a social reckoning over George Floyd's murder in Minneapolis.

Driving the news: Parker unveiled a spending plan last week to boost the police budget to $877 million, up from $855 million last year.

  • The proposal doesn't call for increased spending to fund new police officers because those positions were funded in previous budgets and went unfilled.

By the numbers: Police have graduated 255 cadets in 2024, per police data provided to Axios.

  • They hired 234 officers between 2021 and 2023, but police say they didn't hold classes in 2021 because of the pandemic.
  • Between 2015 and 2024, the department hired a minimum of 400 police officers only once; in 2018, 481 recruits graduated from the academy.
  • The department hired an average of 219 police officers a year over the same period and brought in only 68 new officers in 2023.

What they're saying: Police union president Roosevelt Poplar tells Axios officers see Parker's "unwavering support and planned investments" as a vote of confidence in the department.

  • However, law enforcement experts tell Axios that her ambitious goal is unrealistic, considering how the public views police officers post-Floyd.
  • "We grew up in an era where it wasn't uncommon to have to apply three or four times before you got accepted," Darren White, a former Bernalillo County sheriff in New Mexico, tells Axios. "The younger generation doesn't have that desire."

The other side: Parker spokesperson Joe Grace tells Axios the mayor has "every confidence" the department will meet her goal.

  • The administration says it'll "do things differently" but didn't provide details about efforts to attract more officers.

Zoom out: Much like departments nationwide, Philadelphia has looked for ways to solve its staffing shortages.

The latest: Philadelphia police Capt. John Walker tells Axios the department has restarted a program that allows police officers from other states and cities to transfer to Philadelphia after going through a condensed, 10-week training academy.

  • Philly police brought in 10 new officers through the program in 2023, Walker says, and hopes that number rises this year despite a wave of officers leaving for departments in less-violent cities.

The bottom line: Police must weigh the pros and cons of relaxing standards and conduct rigorous background checks on transfers so they don't bring in "baggage" from other departments, White of New Mexico says.

  • "If we're so desperate to put people in police cruisers that any of those characteristics are compromised, it'll be disastrous," he says. "Then it'll only make the recruiting problem worse."

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