Police departments across the country are facing an employment crunch. With recruitment lagging and retirement rates high, many law enforcement agencies are scrambling for new hires.
A 2021 survey by the Police Executive Research Forum found that, on average, agencies were only filling 93% of available positions. Further, resignations outpaced hiring at agencies responding to the survey, mimicking national trends across the public and private sectors. But even though most police departments recruit, hire and train at the local level, the employment shortage has spurred action in several state legislatures.
Offering Financial Incentives
Some states are considering higher education grants for students pursuing degrees in law enforcement. Two bills in Minnesota would provide grants to students pursuing a law enforcement degree or preparing to become a licensed peace officer, respectively. California proposed establishing an education repayment program for first responders serving in disadvantaged communities. Two bills in New York propose student loan forgiveness programs for officers depending on the size of their city or their residency.
Another approach is to create grant programs to reimburse law enforcement agencies for the cost of recruitment and retention incentives they may offer. Minnesota lawmakers proposed making the grants contingent on the agency’s use of civilian review boards, community policing agreements and body cameras. Legislation in Illinois would create the Fund the Police Fund for agencies to use for hiring, rehiring and retention purposes. The Wisconsin Legislature proposed funding signing bonuses of up to $5,000 for first-time law enforcement officers, plus an additional $1,000 per year of service if they served in another state, up to a total of $10,000.
States have also considered recruiting from an existing pool of experienced candidates: retired law enforcement officers. A bill in Alaska would allow retired officers to work for a municipality again without having their pensions penalized. Similar legislation in Oklahoma is aimed at solving policing shortages in rural communities, allowing officers to return to work without penalty as long as they work in communities with populations of less than 4,500.
Some states are looking beyond improving the financial outlook for law enforcement officers and agencies. In Oklahoma, lawmakers have advanced a bill to allow the attorney general to cross-deputize law enforcement officers. Those officers would be able to operate in different jurisdictions, but liability for their actions on duty would remain the responsibility of the agency that primarily employs them.
A bill in Tennessee would allow hospitals and health care facilities to create their own private police forces instead of hiring off-duty officers. Under the bill, local law enforcement agencies would be able to define and establish geographical jurisdictions allowing health care facilities to oversee their own agencies. Officers commissioned by a facility would still need to meet the requirements set by the state’s Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission, in addition to any other requirements set by the facility itself.
Tennessee is also reconsidering who can become a police officer. Specifically, TN H 2442 would remove the requirement that lawful permanent residents must have been honorably discharged from the military to be eligible for employment as an officer.
In effect, this would allow any permanent legal resident to become a police officer, provided they apply for or obtain United States citizenship within six years of their employment start date as an officer. The bill now awaits the governor’s signature. A similar proposal in California continues to work its way through the Legislature.
Bill Tracking and More
Although the overall challenge of recruiting and retaining police officers is not unique to any one department or state, the bills being tracked by NCSL show many states are considering varied approaches to meet demand. To learn more about these or other bills impacting policing policy, visit NCSL’s Legislative Responses for Policing Database. For further reading about the broader challenges currently impacting state economies, NCSL’s Employment, Labor and Retirement Program has curated a Workforce Participation Shortages resource as well.
Zaakary Barnes is a policy associate in NCSL’s Employment, Labor and Retirement Program.