Massachusetts police chiefs: Recruiting, retaining officers difficult since protests began

Recruiting and retaining officers has never been more difficult since the killing of George Floyd sparked protests across the nation and calls to defund the police, some Massachusetts chiefs say.

“I don’t know of a single police department that’s not having problems recruiting officers,” said Mark Leahy, president of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association. “Frankly, who would want to be a cop nowadays?”

Leahy said the number of people applying to become police officers in Massachusetts is “off dramatically.”

Ware Police Chief Shawn Crevier said he was in the process of recruiting four officers a few weeks ago, but of the 11 people who had signed up for interviews, only five showed up — something he said has never happened before.

Of two of his officers who left recently, the chief said, one retired with a pension equal to only 36% of his $80,000 — a much smaller percentage than he would have received had he stayed on the force longer —and the other left to become a truck driver.

“He said he’s had it with the demonizing of police as a result of four officers” charged in connection with Floyd’s May 25 killing in Minneapolis, Crevier said.

“We all want bad police officers off the job, and I think law enforcement has done an excellent job reducing those numbers,” he said. “Nobody hates a bad cop more than a good cop.”

The number who have taken the police exam, which is given every two years, has fluctuated from 11,973 in 2013, to 10,751 in 2015, to 11,918 in 2017, according to the Executive Office for Administration and Finance. The only year that showed a sharp decrease was last year, when 8,094 people took the test. But of those years, 2019 also was the only one in which the State Police exam was not given, the office said.

Sgt. Detective John Boyle, a Boston police spokesman, said 120 of the department’s recruits graduated from the police academy only last month.

“I would call that a big class,” he said, “and we’re working on processing an upcoming one.”

Boyle also said he doesn’t think the Boston Police Department has a problem retaining officers.

“I don’t see retirements right now on a spike,” he said.

Still, some police chiefs say there is ample anecdotal evidence to suggest that officer morale has been impacted by each new video showing the killing of an unarmed black person by police.

“The police are only reacting to what they have to,” Auburn Police Chief Andrew Sluckis said, “because nobody wants to be the lead story on the 6 o’clock news.”

Black Lives Matter organizers did not return calls or emails seeking comment.

Salisbury Police Chief Tom Fowler said he respects and supports the group and called Floyd’s killing “atrocious.”

But he said the state Senate’s police-reform bill, which would modify qualified immunity from prosecution for officers accused of misconduct, could further have a chilling effect on recruiting and retaining officers.

If that part of the bill is adopted by the House of Representatives and signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker, Fowler said, he wonders whether officers would have to buy liability insurance and whether it would make it more difficult for them to buy a home if mortgage companies see them as a potential risk.

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