NewsLEX 18 In-Depth


How the 'great resignation' impacted the Lexington Police Department

Posted at 7:40 PM, Sep 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-23 19:47:00-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Since 2020, police departments across the country saw their own version of the great resignation through increased retirement and resignation numbers. Now many are doing the work to try to reverse the trend.

“There's been a lot of stress on everybody the last few years and so I think it is not out of the ordinary for an employer to be, you know, trying to fill the ranks and retain their employees,” said Assistant Chief Eric Lowe, with the Lexington Police Department.

In a typical year, Lowe estimated 50 officers resign or retire from their agency.

According to police records obtained by LEX 18 in 2019, 38 officers left or retired.

In 2020, that number jumped to 64.

In 2021, the number was 77.

So far in 2022, 61 officers have left.

“Some of the officers have gone to other law enforcement agencies, some have left law enforcement altogether, started businesses, followed their families elsewhere…” said Lowe.

Because of the context, Lowe feels the slight increase isn’t as bad as it looks.

“While it is concerning — it's not very different from the average of what we've seen over many years,” he said.

The 64 officers who left in 2020 was 14 over the average. In 2021, the number of officers who left were 27 over the average.

However, of the 240 officers who left since 2019, 49% were retired. Another 23% were recruits in the training academy. Lowe says typically 20-30% of recruits drop out.

“Our Academy is a — it's a difficult Academy. It's a long Academy. It's the longest one in the state and not everyone successfully completes it, you know,” said Lowe.

Here’s the full breakdown from LPD of which officers left since 2019.

Where are officers going?

Lowe says some are going to other agencies, some left policing, others started businesses, or decided to prioritize family.

None of the officers who resigned that we reached out to felt comfortable sharing why they left.

“I don't want to downplay it. I don't want to say it's not a problem. Because I mean, anytime, you know, for any employer when you have employees leave, that's not what you want,” said Lowe.

What the city wants is to find ways to keep and attract more officers. Councilmember Richard Moloney has been one of the loudest voices trying to make that happen.

“This has been going on for quite some time and I've told my colleagues we've got to get on top of this and I think we've waited too long,” said Moloney.

He would like to see the collective bargaining agreement opened back up to put more money on the table for officers, allow retirees to return to the force, and require trainees to stay with the department for at least three years.

Even though the city just increased officer pay, offered retention bonuses and other incentives last year, which some members of the committee publicly disagreed with, the mayor’s administration is meeting with the Fraternal Order of Police about offering up more to help with these issues.

At this time, it’s not clear whether the collective bargaining agreement will need to be reopened.

“They (officers) don't want to leave but they feel like we're not doing enough to show that we want them here,” explained Moloney.

If the conversations with the police union and administration lead to more money, the majority of the council will need to approve and then find money in the budget for the plan.

When asked whether he thought the public would be open to adding more money, Moloney said yes.

“I think the public would be willing to do anything to keep their house safe,” he said.

Moloney did not feel that taxes should be raised. He hopes the city can use surplus ARPA money and can gain more revenue later through added business in the area.

“The thing I'm worried about — If we catch up with everybody, the problem is that's not gonna help because they're going to be comfortable wherever they're working and stay there because it's less stressful but if we go higher than everybody, they will come,” said Moloney.

According to LPD records, there are currently at least 64 officers with more than 20 years of service who could retire at any point.

Lowe says while they work on solitons, they plan to continue doing what they can with what they have.

“There’s not one thing that you can look for as the reason people are leaving and there's also not one thing that you can do to try to retain and recruit the best talent,” Lowe said.

As a part of this story, the In-Depth team surveyed 200 people in Lexington to find out what their level of trust is with the local police department.

We asked them six rank-choice questions with 1 being the lowest possible answer and 5 being the highest.

You can look at all the results and comments we received here:

Lpd Community (1) by LEX18News on Scribd