DALLAS, Texas — It's been nearly two years since we started to hear about the large number of police officers across the country leaving the profession. As violence is at record highs in different cities across the country, some departments say solving these problems will take approaches we haven't tried before.
Most towns, cities and municipalities, whether they are big, medium or small, all have law enforcement agencies meant to protect their city. Many of those departments are filled with career officers like Dallas Police Assistant Chief Catrina M. Shead.
"And so, I got to 22 and I joined the police academy, and I've been here ever since. Twenty-eight years later I am here in this position," Shead said.
What happens when veteran officers like her leave, especially when police departments don't have enough employees to respond?
"The officers that left were the officers with experience. The ones that understood how to mitigate crime, how to actually serve the community," Shead said.
Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen knows this struggle is far from unique to Denver.
"Having police officers does have a direct impact on public safety. First and foremost, it's the 911 calls," Pazen said. "Our response times are going through the roof, the high priority calls, the shootings the stabbings, the violent crimes in progress. These are approaching 15-minute response times."
His first-hand experiences shed light on the reality of the future of law enforcement if things don't change.
"That has some very severe consequences when we're talking about keeping the communities that we serve safe," Pazen said. "It's making it very difficult to address these dramatic increases in violent crime, property crime, and traffic safety."
That's one path forward. The other involves doing things differently than they've always been done.
"I think over many years, we've always thought that we did this in a vacuum on our own—it's just the police officer's job, and we've come to learn and know that it is not," Shead said.
Denver is one department that's paved the way for outside partnerships. Shead and her team say it's time for every department to see the value in working with other organizations.
"You may not have the number of sworn peace officers to respond to some of the calls the community needs us to respond to, but there are people within the community that we should be partnering with," Shead said. "Some calls don't necessarily need us at those scenes, and some calls actually escalate when we show up. There is a different type of feeling when a police officer shows us, just by the mere fact of what we're wearing."
Whether it's nonprofits or other city entities, that allows uniformed police officers to actually respond where it's necessary. This is all in addition to taking a new approach to recruiting.
"The ability to hire this new generation has changed significantly for us," Shead said. "We often talk about their needs and their needs focus on their family lives and the flexibility that they can have."
In order to change anything, they say we need to acknowledge what got us here in the first place: a pandemic, a lack of trust toward law enforcement, and high-profile killings that have put policing under scrutiny.
"When we have this conversation we have to acknowledge, the murder of George Floyd and law enforcement's role in creating many of these challenges," Pazen said.
Both say we have two options: continue forward with understaffed departments and an inability to be present at every incident while crime rates continue to raise or change.
"This is making an already difficult job nearly impossible when you have fewer police officers there and available to address these issues. This divide has to get fixed," Pazen said.