TRI-STATE (WFIE) - It’s alarming. a Tri-State police department says there are 60 percent fewer troopers on the streets in the last 18 years. Another department has seen a 90 percent decrease in applicants over the years. Why is this happening, and what does this mean for our community? There’s really no simple answer.
You hope to hear sirens when you need help, but can you imagine a world where police can’t get to you fast enough because there aren’t enough officers on duty? That could soon become a reality, and it already is real across the nation because of the difficulty of recruiting and retaining officers.
“We had 42 troopers and detectives that worked the post district (in 2000). Now, we’re at about 15-17. We hover around that. That is a huge, that is a substantial reduction," Corey King with the Kentucky State Police said.
“Our last four hiring processes we’ve averaged 37 applicants. When I came on, it was 340 or 50," Jeff Speed the Deputy Chief for the Owensboro Police Department said.
Kentucky State Police and the Owensboro Police Department have seen a substantial decrease over the years. They say it's because of a variety of factors from salary,
“The first question I get is pay," King said.
To the pension,
“The benefits, the pension, it really hurts, it really did," King said.
To the public scrutiny of officers,
“The perceptions of law enforcement and the scrutiny that’s placed on these officers, these young men and women that come out here and want to do the job, a lot of them are called to do the job, and love doing the job," Speed said. "But they’re going into danger and then they’re scrutinized with each and every move by a lot of people.”
And not only are those deterrents keeping many from applying, it’s also holding back the right person from applying.
“The idea of making these split second decisions that could ultimately land you public scrutiny, that deters so many people right there," King said. "That deters the people we really want.”
Speed says their biggest issue is retaining officers- especially when company’s in the private sector in the area seek police officers as potential employees.
“You have someone come in as a police officer, they’re upholding the law, they’re showing they have integrity, they’re dependable, they’re handling conflict, they’re very marketable," Speed said. "And I think they find that that and in this day in age and especially with the status of our retirement system and the unknown and where’s it gonna be, so that’s what we’re faced with and so people will pluck from us.”
“If you start seeing the continued trend of less and less service minded folks that are going to come into work to be a police officer, unfortunately, you may very well see a substantial uptick in crime," King said.
“Is it concerning? Yes, it is concerning about a mas exodus with people leaving that’s why we’re looking to implement changes like the bonuses," Speed said.
Those bonuses are a new way OPD is working to retain more of their officers, a bonus every three years for staying. KSP is also looking at getting rid of the ban of visible tattoos and redesigning the entry level exam to get more of the right people through the door. But at the end of the day, both agencies agree, they’ll stop at nothing to protect their communities, no matter how many officers they have.
“It’s a safety issue, we want to be able to be able to respond effectively to the community," Speed said.
If you think you may be a good candidate as a police officer, many agencies in the Tri-State are hiring. Reach out directly to them to start the process.