Like departments across the country, Richmond police force struggling to recruit officers
on October 19, 2023
The Richmond Police Department is facing an uphill battle in its search for new recruits.
“Not very many people want to be in law enforcement anymore,” said Sgt. Donald Patchin, spokesperson for the department’s Personnel, Recruiting and Training unit. “It’s not just us. It’s industry-wide. Everybody is struggling to find qualified applicants.”
A survey published in April by the Police Executive Research Forum shows agencies are losing sworn officers faster than they can hire them, with responding agencies saying they’d had 50% more resignations in 2022 than in 2019.
Of the 145 positions allocated to the Richmond Police Department, only 122 were filled as of Oct. 3, the lowest in nearly a decade. Patchin said 20 officers will be eligible for retirement in the next year alone.
But department officials see signs of hope.
“This is the first year in at least five years that we’ve actually hired more people than have left,” Police Chief Bisa French said in a recent phone interview. “We’re making some good strides, but our issue is, we continue to have officers leaving to work for other departments or retiring.”
“Not very many people want to be in law enforcement anymore,” said Sgt. Donald Patchin. (Taylor Barton photos)
Another reason for the low numbers, according to Patchin, is that being a police officer is not what it used to be. “It’s not as respected. There’s negative associations, especially with the younger generation.”
There’s also a lot more competition between agencies, he added. For example, Alameda offers a $75,000 signing bonus for new police hires, and it’s not alone.
“So if you’re a younger person looking to start your career, where are you going to apply first? Where the money is at,” Patchin said.
Patchin believes the difficulty is partly due to the “defund movement,” referring to collective demands for change after widespread police brutality, disproportionately against unarmed Black men, reached a national news crescendo in 2020 following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
Four years earlier, several Richmond officers were among others from Bay Area departments involved in a sexual exploitation scandal with a teenage girl, who said she was forced to exchange sexual favors with dozens of officers as protection against being arrested for sex work.
“The community out here on the streets of Richmond, nobody trusts the police,” said Patricia Perez, whose grandson Richard “Pedie” Perez was killed in 2014 by then-Officer Wallace Jensen.
Defunding is still a contentious issue, and not all U.S. police departments saw budget cuts after protests in 2020. In fact, some increased.
“The safest places around the world don’t have more police, more jails, more prisons or harsher sentences,” D’Zhane Parker, a board member of the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, said in a recent press release. “They have better access to economic opportunities, quality education, stable housing and health care.”
In Richmond, the city’s Progressive Alliance and Reimagine Public Safety Community Task Force largely led the investment in non-police programs. They do not use the “defund” label.
“It’s not counter to the police. It’s in conjunction, helping to expand what public safety is,” said Jamin Pursell, a task force member. “And it isn’t just in Richmond. We have to find a way to help address the cultural issues we’ve had with relegating so much to police officers.”
French acknowledges there is still work to be done to mend the department’s relationship with the public.
“Law enforcement doesn’t always get the best rap in the community because of bad cases nationwide,” she said. “If we’re ever going to change the culture and how people view law enforcement, we need good people to do this job who are representative of the community.”
More information, including applications, is at https://www.joinrichmondpd.com.
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