Police departments across the country are facing staffing shortages, with fewer people applying for jobs and existing officers resigning or retiring. D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee told the News4 I-Team the shortage is hitting especially hard here in the District.
"It's the lowest that we've had in over 20 years within the Metropolitan Police Department. That is significant. That is significant,” said Contee.
Contee said that’s affecting manpower on the street in a year that's seen homicides in the District rise 12%, with deadlier shootings from increased firepower. The I-Team found that MPD is currently working with almost 200 fewer officers than this time last year.
"That difference of officers is almost the equivalent of a police district in terms of number of police,” said Contee.
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It’s affecting a number of units.
"It could be detectives; it could be officers in patrol,” he said.
The shortage is leading to mandatory overtime and an exhausted workforce, said Gregg Pemberton, the head of D.C.'s police union.
"Officers are working 12, 16, 18 hours a day; sometimes their days off are canceled," Pemberton said. "Sometimes they're working weeks at a time without a day off. This is approaching catastrophic levels. We've never seen the department this small in size."
The union points to police reform bills passed by the D.C. Council as one reason that many officers have resigned or retired. Pemberton says more than 400 have left since June 2020.
"That is felt very seriously out in these neighborhoods that need us the most, those most vulnerable communities that have the highest demand, the highest number 911 calls, the highest number of reports filed the most amount of violence," Pemberton said.
The union said a change to MPD’s retirement rules back in 1996 could also have a huge impact this coming year. That class of officers will the first who can retire after serving 25 years, without having to wait until they reach age 50. That means the department could see even more retirements than in years past.
An MPD spokesperson told the I-Team that another 165 sworn personnel could retire next year.
"We asked for additional monies to hire additional police officers. We didn't get all of what we wanted, but we did get some of what we wanted,” Contee recently told the I-Team.
MPD said its new recruitment campaign is reaching out to millennials, veterans and those who may have never considered a career in law enforcement but have skills, such as conflict resolution, that could be beneficial.
The District also just expanded its part-time High School Cadet Program, hoping to find potential officers who already live in the area. On Friday, 19 new recruits graduated from the Metropolitan Police Academy. All of them were born and raised in the D.C. area and are former members of the MPD Cadet Corps program.
But Contee said for other future hires, with time in the academy and training, they likely wouldn't even hit the streets until this time next year.
"We need to make sure that our police department is fully staffed," he said. "When we talk about, you know, the number of police or police visibility, how do you know how many shootings don't happen because the police are nearby or because the police arrested a person?"
To learn more about applying with MPD, visit www.joinMPD.DC.Gov.