Law Enforcement Department Staffing & Hours Changes
Reduced manpower. Forced overtime. POAM President Tignanelli and Dr. Ken Wolf, POAM Director of the Members Lifeline Program, discuss how the job has changed, including law enforcement department staffing and hours, and the psychological effects that it has had on some police officers. Listen to the entire podcast or read the transcript below.
Discussing how this impact of the pandemic has been on the general public and then maybe multiplied somewhat on how it impacts the law enforcement officers. And one of the things that are becoming common knowledge out there is how hard it is to hire police officers. How hard it is to hire good police officers. And I guess they all have good intentions, but when you have fewer candidates, you find yourself at the bottom of the list quicker. And give an example, one really nice department that I deal with.
Lately, they had 64 applications get picked up for job applications for a police officer, and only three of those people will actually get interviewed. Most of them never showed up or most of them didn’t finish the application, and a few of them couldn’t pass a simple background check. So 3 out of 64, and believe me, 64 applications feel like a record.
I have places that if they get four or five applications picked up that it’s good. So, I have to ask myself, where do some of that come from? And we talked a bit earlier about the loss of status. There used to be a police officer in your family. Maybe it was your grandpa, an uncle, a brother, a neighbor. That impacted you, caused you to think, boy, that’s a job. I want to be just like him or her someday.
And now all of a sudden those people that have that job or had that job that you used to rely on as that role model or that inspiration, now they say whatever you do, don’t go there. Don’t do that. It’s a bad idea. We’d never would’ve heard that 10, 15 years ago. Because it had this… The loss of benefits had a lot. In the last 10, 15 years.
So 3 out of 64, and believe me, 64 applications feel like a record.
Loss of Benefits
There are no pensions. There’s no retirement healthcare. So unless you want a police officer to work till he is Medicare eligible at 65, you’re not going to be able to get too many people. They’re going to have to go get a job when they get off because there won’t be any healthcare to bridge them from age, say 50 or 55 to 65. The pensions became defined contribution pensions. And that’s pretty typical in the private sector and it can be a good pension, but we don’t want police officers that work three or four years out of place. We want them to come in and… Our goal is that they come here and they retire from here. That we give them a reason to stay, and then we give them a reason to feel comfortable after they have become eligible to retire. Well, that’s gone now too.
So this loss of status, this loss of benefits. We talked earlier about the media attention and watching police officers get evacuated from a roof of a police station in Portland by a helicopter because of a bunch of people that had torches in their hands down on the ground. Who’d want to… Could you go find some 13, 14-year-old kid that’s really a pretty sharp young dude and say, you want to be a police officer? He’s watching this on TV. And he’s thinking, Jesus all they do is beat people up. And they don’t get a job and these kinds of things happen. So it’s really made hiring police officers difficult. And then for the guys that are on the job that maybe feel captured on the job, because they’ve been here long enough that it’s, they’re too old to move on, or they’re too young to know better.
We have this reduced manpower. And it’s not only because of the difficulty in hiring, it’s not really even because of the ability of the local governments to have the money to hire people. The reduced manpower is because of people being quarantined, people being sent home, people being sick because of what’s occurred in this pandemic. I mean, I guess we have to err on the side of caution, but we send a lot of people home that feels okay. You know, I understand to some extent why that occurs. But that then means that when they go home, they have to quarantine themself from their own family. And I guess I’d like to hear some of your thoughts on how this might impact an officer that has to maybe homeschool.
These aren’t all stay-at-home teachers. These are people that were working in an injection mold shop or at the police department and suddenly have to be the math teacher and spend an extra six or seven hours with their kids. That might be a long day for some of them. So then we want them to come back to work. Maybe that’s half of their time off is homeschooling because they don’t get the day off. They don’t work from home. How do you think that might impact the law enforcement officer in general?
Dr. Ken Wolf
Well, you know you raised a lot of issues and I’d like to break them out. The first one is to reduce manpower, how tough it is to recruit. Let’s take a look at the officer impact and officer implications of that statement. So the department doesn’t have enough bodies to put on the street. So what do they do? They start demanding forced overtime. And forced overtime is going to have a ripple effect on the officer and his or her family.
Once when they come home, they’re going to be depleted. So they’re going to need to rest. They may have a sense of exhaustion. And the fatigue factor when they’re resting is going to some of the expectations of family participation they had and their significant others and the kids are going to have. Hey dad, why don’t we do something? I’m too tired, leave me alone. Or the significant other says, well, I need you to do this. I need you to go shopping. And over time that fatigue says, you know what? I just got to get myself together.
And then sometimes the forced overtime courses them to miss important family events. A kid may be doing something with a team, something with a play. And then there’s the anger perhaps from the significant other. I mean, I understand the paycheck’s going up, but the participation is going down and this isn’t what I want in the marriage. And when you’re not sure when this is going to stop. Is this a time-limited problem? Or if they don’t get sufficient manpower through enhanced and successful recruiting, what is going to be the long-term issue of physical wear and tear and emotional wear and tear that the officer and their families are going to have to deal with?
And again, this lowers the threshold of vigilance and preparedness they may have when they go back on the street. And then when they have encounters and the flashpoint for the citizen, because of all the impact of COVID issues we talked through has raised their reactivity, it’s also possible it does the same thing for the police officer because they have the same issues of fatigue, concern about wages, uncertainty about their job. And they bring that to the street too when the encounters occur.
Or if they don’t get sufficient manpower through enhanced and successful recruiting, what is going to be the long-term issue of physical wear and tear and emotional wear and tear that the officer and their families are going to have to deal with?
You know, that’s really helpful. I’m glad to hear all those things. It means a lot to me because these are the people that I deal with out there. And it’s not uncommon for an employer to say to me, how do you defend this kind of behavior? How can you make excuses for this person? And it’s only recently and even more so today after our discussion here that I’m starting to realize, well, here’s why. Have we asked? Have we looked into this?
It’s not the same guy. Had one here where they said 21 years on a job, an unblemished record that all of a sudden you don’t even recognize what he just did. And you think, well, how does that happen? Well, it’s not because he was always a bad person and this suddenly surfaced. It’s because he’s confronted with all these things that you described. Whether it’s lack of sleep, the compassion from the spouse, or the kids playing around. And the other thing, the mandated overtime you mentioned and I have heard these stories where somebody misses the soccer game, somebody misses the swim meet. Maybe it’s somebody’s wedding.
I’ll tell you how I’ll give you a good example of a mandated overtime story where a young lady had a good time on a job. Good employee. Had worked 12 out of 16 days, 12 hours a day. Three of those are mandated overtime. Mandated, meaning that you must appear. They don’t call you at home and say, come in. They tell you a few days in advance, you’re going to stay. Some of those become 16 hour days. And in this particular case, she had made an error, no one harmed, a bookkeeping error. Something that should have been done normally was done, but she missed it. And they wanted to give her two days off. And I went in and I talked to the employer about it and I say hey, cut her a little slack. She’s been a good employee. She made a mistake, a normal thing.
And they were willing to give her the time back. And when I went and mentioned it to her, she said, please don’t get me the time back. I literally would rather be home without pay for two days. I’ve been here for 12 out of the last 16 days, some of those 16 hour days. And she said, “I’d rather stay home.” And I’ve never heard somebody say to me in the past, thanks for screwing up my weekend now I have to get my days back. And that’s the kind of thing that we’re seeing out there.
These people that are missing the events, I think that’s something that we need to see, we need to look into more. That it’s not just the fatigue. Fatigue’s a big part of it and maybe that’s why we become less patient. But it is missing something that you planned a long time to do. You know, being at somebody’s wedding or a graduation or something like that.
Dr. Ken Wolf
You know, I think there’s another issue, maybe less so now than a year ago. But this was generating a lot of stress in offices that I was seeing. And there were issues in terms of tactical training. When there were the social unrest meetings, shall we say, officers were putting on helmets and standing arm in arm. And people were very angry and coming up upon them. And they weren’t trained, they weren’t all from Fort Brad where you learned how to deal with civil insurrection.
And in their heads, they say, we got to stand tough. We got to keep our line. In their heads they’re saying, what the heck am I going to do if they attack me? If they start taking us down, we don’t want to shoot them. On the other hand, we’re not really trained in how to constrain them. And it generated a lot of anxieties of if this happens, what do I do? What do I do?
And I think at that time, the level of training in terms of crowd control was not at a level that inspired officers that they knew how to manage these kinds of situations. The other thing is when you had these citizens coming up to officers and everybody was concerned about COVID and people said, I’m going to kill you. I’m going to spit on you. You know? And a lot of citizens did that.
And then if the officer gets really angry because they’re reacting, what if the breathing, the spitting gets me full of COVID, how can this person have a license to in a sense, threaten me. You want to curse me, you want to do that, I understand. But if this behavior may really get me sick or my family sick, they may be having a flashpoint to react with more intensity than they might have done in the past. So I think there’s a training issue of how do we empower our police to respond to these new threats, given this new risk.
That’s, going to be a tough one. And you think about the spitting and the fear that they might have. And then you look at 2021 where you had 358 lines of duty deaths that were COVID related as they said. So it’s not a fear that you should ignore. When I was on the job, it was AIDS that was the big thing. And we got those same types of deals where people would spit on you that weren’t infected.
But in those days, not unlike this, would take days, maybe weeks, maybe months before we knew we were actually okay. We didn’t have any symptoms, but it wasn’t something that you certainly developed a cold or a fever or a week later, it could be months. And you might pass that on to other people as well.
And so guys used to use that as a threat to us. And probably 90% of the time they hadn’t ever gotten aids themselves, but how do we know? And then you go home again, you’ve got a spouse and children. And that made us react differently then, but it went away. This one here, it never went away completely, but we knew that it was a fluid exchange type of a thing.
So it wasn’t like we could be sitting three feet apart and get it. And so it was, it was a different type of exposure. Whereas this one, now you can be really driving along, driving someone to a bus stop or driving them home after their car breaks down and really not being in any trouble at all and be exposed and not even know it until it’s too late.
I think that concern for the exposure. And I, again, had to go back to March 16th of 2020, but we all thought that it was you over in two weeks, it was going to be no big deal. And here we are in February 2022 and we’re still talking about it and still concerned about it. And in spite of double vaccines and boosters, it’s all those things that we thought would put this into the history book, just haven’t been successful.
I appreciate that input. And I think maybe we can, next time we talk, we can talk a little bit about how officers can learn to deescalate a little bit, and how the old-style de-escalation might not be as good as it used to be. Thanks.
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