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The ‘great resignation’ is hitting Kansas City-area law enforcement: what it means for your safety

(KCTV5 News)
Published: May. 9, 2022 at 5:00 AM CDT|Updated: May. 9, 2022 at 7:50 AM CDT
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KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) — It’s the sign of the times: Help wanted.

The great resignation has affected nearly every industry and competition for qualified workers is fierce. The same is true for police departments.

We checked with major departments in the area, and some smaller ones. All told us the same thing—they’ve never struggled with staffing like this.

When police departments are understaffed, something has to give.

One example is the recent disbanding of the Kansas City Police Department’s Cold Case and Missing Persons Unit. That closing caused some outrage among some city officials and residents, but the department reported it was out of options. Officers were needed to cover the basics.

Other departments are making similar moves, including shifting officers from specialized units to patrols which focus on immediate needs.

Shortages across the area

Independence is budgeted for 230 officers.

They’re down 38—more than 16% of the department.

It’s the sign of the times: Help wanted. The great resignation has affected nearly every...
It’s the sign of the times: Help wanted. The great resignation has affected nearly every industry and competition for qualified workers is fierce. The same is true for police departments.(Angie Ricono/KCTV5)

The department is offering a cash bonus as an incentive:

  • $8,000 to new hires with no experience
  • $10,000 for those with a peace officers license.

The department also recently started a cadet program to encourage younger people to apply.

It’s the sign of the times: Help wanted. The great resignation has affected nearly every...
It’s the sign of the times: Help wanted. The great resignation has affected nearly every industry and competition for qualified workers is fierce. The same is true for police departments.(Angie Ricono/KCTV5)

It’s no secret that policing is tough work, with long hours and demanding schedules.

“You miss kids’ practices, you miss birthdays, you miss holidays,” said Officer Jack Taylor with the Independence Police Department.

And it’s dangerous.

“The reality sets in that, you know, this could happen, and this is a possibility,” said Taylor.

It’s been a tragic year for the Independence Police Department.

It lost two officers this year. One, Sgt. John Bullard, Jr, died of COVID-19.

Officer Blaize Madrid-Evans was shot and killed in the line of duty. He was just 22 years old and was still field training.

It’s the sign of the times: Help wanted. The great resignation has affected nearly every...
It’s the sign of the times: Help wanted. The great resignation has affected nearly every industry and competition for qualified workers is fierce. The same is true for police departments.(Angie Ricono/KCTV5)

“I think people look at that, and they sit back and say, ‘you know what? That’s really not something I think I’m interested in. I think I’ll play it safe and go work in the private sector,’” said Taylor.

KCTV5 contacted numerous departments across the metro to get a better understanding of staffing challenges.

Almost every department reported hiring struggles and worries about upcoming retirements when senior officers roll off:

  • Overland Park is down 12%.
  • Gladstone is down 19%.
  • Kansas City, Mo., is 17%
  • Kansas City, Kan., is down 8%.

Both the Kansas and Missouri highway patrols also have numerous openings for sworn and unsworn positions.

This is what they need for troopers:

It’s the sign of the times: Help wanted. The great resignation has affected nearly every...
It’s the sign of the times: Help wanted. The great resignation has affected nearly every industry and competition for qualified workers is fierce. The same is true for police departments.(Angie Ricono/KCTV5)

Area law enforcement officials have their theories behind the shortages.

“We used to get hundreds of applicants. Now we get tens and sometimes single digits,” said John Lacy with Overland Park Police Department.

“Law enforcement has been demonized for the last couple of years, and finding applicants that are willing to still do this job, or who have family members willing to support them, has proven to be a big obstacle,” said Chief Fred Farris, with the Gladstone department.

There’s speculation as to why this happening— COVID-19, no chance to work from home, pay. But they say the biggest factor may be the perception of policing. Who wants a job where, on any given day, you could be shot, indicted or humiliated?

And it’s not just departments in the metro.

We talked with the Parsons, Kan., police chief about the challenges in a small town. Chief Robert Spinks told us his department is down about 15%, far better than it was just a few months ago at 25%. He’s done extensive recruiting but laments that not only are private industries poaching his officers—other departments are recruiting them as well.

Search for solutions

Spinks urges the community to consider what a top police officer should be paid—one who values your safety and solves crimes in your neighborhood.

He says getting the best officers takes money “to get the cream of the crop…people that you are going to entrust with the ability to take human life without prior judicial review, to be able to suspend people’s civil rights as we make arrests. You don’t want maybe the baker and the candlestick maker.”

Our investigation found large discrepancies in what starting officers are paid.

Kansas City and Kansas City, Kan., start officers in the upper $40,000. Just a few hours away --- Des Moines, Iowa, a smaller community --- starts officers at about $73,000.

There are no easy answers for departments trying to manage the gaps.

In Washington, D.C, there’s a mix of sworn officers and private, unarmed security guards on patrol. The police union calls that a recipe for disaster. Baltimore and Phoenix hire “civilian investigators’ to work everything from cold cases to background checks.

And some, including Kansas City, disband or decrease staff in specialized units like the Cold Case squad. Independence has had to cut back on its Community Services Unit. Still, this shortage could ultimately effect response times when you call police.

“Where you’d expect an officer to be there in 10 or 15 minutes, sometimes you could be waiting, a couple hours depending on what the priority is for your call,” said Taylor.

Here’s a look at KCPD’s response times. Priority 1 indicates extreme danger to human life, like shootings and rapes. Priority 2 is the potential for danger like a prowler or disturbance.

It’s the sign of the times: Help wanted. The great resignation has affected nearly every...
It’s the sign of the times: Help wanted. The great resignation has affected nearly every industry and competition for qualified workers is fierce. The same is true for police departments.(Angie Ricono/KCTV5)