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Nationwide police recruitment struggles felt in Kentucky

Posted at 6:57 PM, May 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-27 19:16:49-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Law enforcement agencies across the nation are struggling to fill vacant positions, and Kentucky’s departments are no different.

According to the Department of Justice, the United States has been experiencing a downward trend in applications and the number of officers sworn-in since 2013. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports after years of steady growth, the number of full-time sworn-in officers dropped by more than 23,000 between 2013 and 2016. Meanwhile, a survey conducted by the National Police Foundation revealed 86% of U.S. departments are reporting a staffing shortage.

“To me, it’s a crisis because the pool is really shrinking,” said Berl Perdue, the President of the Kentucky Fraternal Order of Police. “The interest is not there.”

As President of the FOP, Perdue hears about the recruitment challenges Kentucky agencies are experiencing, but he also deals with them first-hand as Clark County Sheriff.

“When I first became sheriff almost 15 years ago, we would get 30 to 50 applications a year. I’m lucky to get five right now," Perdue said.

Perdue said the reality is that when officers are retiring or switching careers, there are not enough qualified applicants to interview to fill the spots. Many are also ruled out in the process. The Clark County Sheriff’s Office is currently hiring for one position. Perdue told LEX 18 News he’s been searching for recruits to fill the role for more than a month.

“I have no leads at all,” he said. “Applications are way down nationwide, statewide, and even in my local office.”

The shortage of officers is affecting large and small communities across Kentucky. The Lexington Police Department needs to hire approximately 100 new personnel to reach their full capacity of 633 officers. That’s about 15% of their staff.

The Louisville Metro Police Department has approximately 250 vacancies, according to the FOP. Meanwhile, the Nicholasville Police Department has four vacancies in their 66-officer department. Sergeant Kevin Grimes told LEX 18 News they are dealing with trouble attracting a qualified pool of recruits.

“There were at times anywhere from 250 to 500 applicants for positions, but we only had 20 less than three months ago,” Grimes said. “We’re trying to hire four or five people and we may get two out of a process right now. It’s a struggle for us.”

Agency leaders point to a few possibilities as explanations behind the nationwide police recruitment issues. Grimes said one possibility is the increased public scrutiny law enforcement officials have faced over the past few years.

“Some has to do with the overall national climate in America and some of the things people see. Which we often say, ‘Who really wants to do this job nowadays? Who wants to put on a uniform and be criticized for every single move they make, right or wrong?’”

Perdue added that some difficulties in offering competitive salaries and benefits may also be part of the equation.

“It all comes down to finances,” Perdue said. “At one point in time, the trade-off for lower pay was a better retirement. But now that’s no longer the case.”

Which leaves officials like Sheriff Perdue and Sergeant Grimes calling for local government to prioritize funding law enforcement agencies because they say their departments are not willing to lower recruitment standards in order to fill positions.

“I only want the best and the brightest that I can possibly have. And I don't think watering down your requirements is the right answer,” Perdue said.