Police departments in the D.C. area marked National Night Out on Tuesday, an evening for departments to hold events to strengthen the relationship between police and the communities they serve.
The event comes as many local departments say they’re struggling to recruit new officers. They hoped the events of National Night Out would help them face those challenges.
Amid continued calls for reform and social justice, an increase in gun violence and mass shootings, and in January, an attack on the Capitol that garnered international attention as police officers were rushed by a mob, the year has seen an intense spotlight placed on policing.
All of those factors combined have meant fewer people are signing up to serve, which is affecting Prince George’s County and the city of Bowie in Maryland and Fairfax County in Virginia, to name a few.
"We’re down a couple hundred officers right now," Chief Malik Aziz, of the Prince George's County Police Department, said.
Several police chiefs have told News4 it’s tough to recruit in the current climate.
"We used to give a physical agility test and 30 people would show up. Now we give it and maybe five show up," Bowie Police Chief John Nesky said.
In June, the Montgomery County Police Academy had many empty seats.
"You cannot hide from the reality of how people feel about law enforcement in today’s environment," Chief Marcus Jones, of the Montgomery County Police Department, said then.
In Prince George’s County, six people were shot and killed this past weekend. Aziz said his force is understaffed.
"Of course we would love to have more officers," Aziz said. "We would love to have a better climate for officers to join us."
Many used the events of National Night Out for possible recruiting.
Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis said he hopes to hire more people of color.
"We have to go to those communities, identify people that we want to join our ranks and serve our communities," he said.
In addition to recruiting events, some local departments have another tactic for finding new officers -- offering signing and referral bonuses.
"We’re actually gonna give a $500 bonus to anybody that gives us a recruit that we hire," Nesky said.
The departments are left to find new solutions as they try to fill their ranks while also implementing reform.