Police Recruitment Efforts Struggle to Keep Pace with Rising Attrition Rates: Report

Legislative analyst Susan J. Farag briefed the County Council’s Public Safety Committee on Monday regarding the current status of police staffing levels.

In a report dated March 13, Farag emphasized a decrease in the sworn strength of the Montgomery County Police Department. The number of officers has dropped from 1,295 in 2019 to 1,101 in 2024, representing a loss of 194 officers over the past five years.

The report (PDF) outlined the existing vacancies within the department: 179 sworn vacancies, accounting for a 14% vacancy rate; 137 professional staff vacancies, resulting in an 18% vacancy rate; and 64 vacant positions within the county’s Emergency Communications Center, leading to a high 43% vacancy rate. These vacancies have had operational impacts, with patrol overtime increasing by 54% and priority response times rising by over 17% between 2019 and 2023.

In the report, Farag noted a slowdown in sworn attrition in 2023, possibly due to upcoming changes in pension benefits effective January 1, 2025, which could lead to a significant increase in retirements that year. Despite efforts to shift certain responsibilities away from the police, such as expanding mobile crisis outreach teams, the need for police officers to respond to crime and conduct investigations remains essential.

Additionally, police departments nationwide are facing challenges adapting to changing crime trends and workforce dynamics. Factors like high retirement rates, evolving criminal behaviors facilitated by social media, and unique regional challenges necessitate innovative approaches to meet community safety needs. MCPD is currently experiencing its highest sworn vacancy rate in a decade, underlining the urgency of addressing staffing shortages amid evolving public safety demands, Farag wrote:

The police staffing shortage is not new, it is national, and it persists. Departments struggle to adapt as they experience high numbers of retirements and resignations, and many younger members of the workforce are not choosing policing as a profession. While the County has made significant progress shifting certain responsibilities away from police, such as its robust expansion of mobile crisis outreach teams (MCOTs) that respond and provide support and services for individuals experiencing behavioral health concerns, there will always been a need for Police Officers to respond to calls for service for crimes (particularly those of violence) and conduct professional criminal investigations.

Police departments are examining innovative ways to meet community safety needs. Not only are departments faced with shrinking numbers of sworn staff, but the nature of crime and disorder continues to change as well. For example, social media has fueled an auto theft trend and has facilitated car meetups that take over entire streets and intersections. The internet also provides some individuals with an often-false sense of invisibility, who then call in bomb threats or swatting incidents, often from overseas. This region has unique challenges as well, with a growing number of protests and rallies that require event management such as traffic direction and crowd control, to threats against high-profile public officials that require investigation and protection. Some of these events require large police responses that further diminish available staff to respond to more typical calls for service. These changes require departments to do more with less, while providing flexibility to address emerging public safety needs.

Against this challenging and changing landscape, MCPD is experiencing its highest sworn vacancy rate in the past 10 years, with most attrition occurring after 2019. Overall, the Department has 194 fewer officers than it did that year, as filled positions have dropped from 1,295 to 1,101. The authorized sworn complement has also decreased since then, from 1,307 to 1,280. Today, the current vacancy rate is 14% and reflects 179 vacancies.

The complete report (PDF) can be accessed online for viewing.

Photo: © luzitanija – stock.adobe.com / MCPD Graphic

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