posted by Josh Goodman
When Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa last week proposed hiring 1,000 new police officers over the next four years, most of the attention focused on the 155% trash fee increase he advanced for paying for it. However, in addition to asking where L.A. will find the money, just as important a question is where the city will find the cops.
In short, fewer people seem interested in being police officers today than in the past. This has led to a recruiting crisis that is serious enough that it has warranted front-page coverage in the Washington Post and the New York Times (as well as by Governing's own Otis White). In L.A. in particular, the police force already has more than 700 openings.
Experts suggest a variety of causes for the problem.
Some say that the current generation of young people is less interested in the irregular hours and dangers associated with police work than previous ones. Their comparatively high level of education and the relatively low unemployment rate probably also allows them to be choosier.
Others also note that the military's beefed up recruiting efforts, as well as the burgeoning homeland security industry, have created expanded competition for police recruiters. I haven't heard anyone connect the problem to the obesity epidemic, but it's also worth wondering whether my generation is simply too tubby to make good cops.
Regardless, the options municipalities have tried to date to cope with the problem are both relatively limited and undesirable. They have either doled out larger bonuses, salaries and benefits packages or they have loosened their standards for applicants.
The standards currently being loosened in some places range from age, weight and other physical requirements to, according to the Post, zero-tolerance policies for past gang association. If police recruiters are reduced to that level, it's worth asking whether the departments wouldn't simply be better off with fewer cops.