When Frank Williams was a kid in Akron, Ohio, people respected the police, he said. Back then, applying to become a member of city's police force was a huge draw, he remembered. But times have changed, the now-president of the Fraternal Order of Police Akron Lodge 7 said, and that sense of respect for police officers has been reduced to a mere distant memory.
“I can see where recruitment has dropped down significantly; we don’t have the numbers signing up to be a police officer in Akron,” said Williams, 48, a sergeant with the Akron Police Department who joined the force in 1991. “Twenty-five years ago, we would have thousands of people signing up to be an Akron police officer; now we're barely in the hundreds.”
That lack of respect could be causing more than just a reduced waitlist for people wanting to become police officers.
After an FBI report released Monday found the amount police officers killed in the line of duty as a result of criminal activity nearly doubled from 2013 to 2014, some police union leaders and law enforcement experts attributed the spike to the public having less appreciation and respect for police officers. The report came just a day before a New York City police officer was gunned down while pursuing a suspect, exemplifying the continued violence against cops. Unions advocate for more training and education to prevent these deaths, but the violence has nonetheless caused a drop in police recruitment.
“There is much less respect for law enforcement in general,” Williams said. “Children are being raised now different than when I was a kid.” Akron didn’t see any officer deaths in the field as a result of a criminal act in 2013 but did see one in 2014.
Stan Kephart, a retired police chief and an expert on police practices, said the social climate of the country in the past 30 years has changed against the favor of police officers.
“The public many years ago had a perception that police officers did the right thing for the right reason and [the public was] not involved in how police were trained and what they did and didn’t do; they relegated the job of policing to police and didn’t question it,” said Kephart, who led the police departments for two Native American tribes: the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Police Department in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Cabazon Band of Mission Indians Police Department in Indio, California.
As new technologies and training practices evolved, the public developed an expectation of how police officers should operate that they realistically could not accomplish. This unrealistic expectation, Kephart, 75, said, has caused widespread disrespect for police.
Not all experts believe the FBI’s report indicates there is a reason behind the increase in officer deaths. Chuck Drago, a former police chief and a consultant for police analysis and expert witness practices, said one can’t look at year-to-year increases or decreases in statistics to reach a valid conclusion.
“There have always been ups and downs in that number forever,” Drago said. “For anybody to try to identify why more people are killed one year as opposed to the year before, there is no basis for that; next year they may be down again.”
To see if violence toward officers has increased, Drago said one needs to look at police death rates over decades. Compared to 20 or 30 years ago, Drago said, there are less instances of police officers being killed.
— Intl. Business Times (@IBTimes) October 19, 2015
In 2014, 51 officers were killed as a result of a criminal act, up from 27 in 2013, according to the FBI. Requests for comment from the FBI and the New York City Police Department were not immediately returned.
Police killings continue in the country. New York Police Officer Randolph Holder was shot late Tuesday in East Harlem after responded to a report of a gunman, CNN reported, making him the fourth officer in the city killed in the last 11 months. The death prompted New York Mayor Bill de Blasio to lament the effects felt across the city.
De Blasio emphasizes diversity of police force and the officers killed in past year. "We have felt pain in so many different neighborhoods."
— Mike Grynbaum (@grynbaum) October 21, 2015
“People are more desperate,” said Matt Puckett, executive director of the Florida Police Benevolent Association, a union that covers about 24,000 officers in the state. “There’s a more desperate element of folks out there, and they’re using force against officers, and sometimes they use force faster than the officers can respond.”
Because of the increased police deaths, unions for the officers have advocated for more field training and education, Puckett said. Four police officers in Florida were killed in the line of duty in 2014, up from two in 2013, according to the FBI.
“We tell members to back each other up,” Puckett said. “What we can do to try to prevent this is education and training. I think we are seeing more training.”
Williams, from Akron, said he has been stressing the importance of additional safety and community relations training for his officers, but because of financial restraints, officers often have to go without the additional guidance. While Williams said he has seen a significant decrease in officers on the force in the past 25 years, the department has been able to hire a few more officers to put on the street in the past five years.
— Reuters U.S. News (@ReutersUS) October 21, 2015
Because of the increase in violence against police officers and the media attention to it, police departments are having a hard time attracting qualified candidates. Combined with the low pay and the increased scrutiny police officers are under, Puckett said he has seen both a decline in people willing to become police officers and an increase in the drop-out rate once candidates reach the academy.
Besides having fewer officers on the street, a decreased police force also causes stress for the officers who are on the force, Puckett said. “It’s going to become an officer safety issue but also a public safety issue,” he said.