Shortages in qualified police officers impact local departments


By Michelle Leidy-Franklin

Rural police departments in Kansas are feeling the pinch of staffing shortages.
Many rural communities have found it difficult to find enough officers to keep a full roster of employees. According to the National Police Foundation, which conducted a national survey of police departments, the problem stretches across the country.
“The survey reported that since 2020, 86 percent of our nation’s law enforcement agencies have experienced some kind of shortage,” said Garden Plain Interim Police Chief Alissa Imperatore.
With a nationwide shortage, Kansas police departments have not seen much positive impact from policies allowing reciprocity of qualifications between states. Though officers do not have to retrain to work in Kansas, they still must pass testing and background checks.
Rural police departments find it difficult to compete with the wages offered by larger municipalities.
“In my opinion, the competitive wage issue has just recently come to light,” said Cheney Chief of Police Ken Winter. “When one agency in Sedgwick County offered a much higher pay, it became very evident and now all police agencies are working to increase their pay scale.”
Local county and city police departments speculate there also are other reasons for the decrease in available personnel.
“The want or drive to be a law enforcement officer is at an all-time low,” said Sumner County Sheriff Darren Chambers. “I believe this is due to the current way law enforcement is portrayed in the media at all levels (federal, state and local) across the U.S.”
Imperatore believes political climate and negative national attention for specific police-involved incidents have affected the ability of even small-town departments to attract new recruits.
“Departments and officers want to feel supported,” said Imperatore. “The vast majority of officers are great, hard working people. If that support goes away, the communities will be the ones that suffer due to increases in safety hazards.”
Departments outside of larger cities continue to look for new ways to entice people to start a career in law enforcement. Training is sometimes offered for those interested in entering the field in exchange for serving for a set period of time.
While larger cities may be able to pay better wages, police officials in small towns believe there are some advantages to working in rural communities.
“Smaller departments allow more flexibility,” said Imperatore. “When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was able to take maternity leave and come back when I was ready. My agency and city worked with me on a plan that benefited everyone.
“When you are treated with respect and empathy, and you feel supported, it will make you want to stay where you are at. You are not just a number, but an actual person. People get to know you as a person, not just as a police officer.”
Winter said officers may find the residential requirement more flexible in small communities. This flexibility gives officers more choices on living and working in communities where they are more comfortable with their choices.
Law enforcement can be a dangerous job, which could be contributing to the lack of interest. Assaults on police officers have increased in recent years. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 56,034 assaults were reported in 2019 and 60,105 assaults were reported in 2020 for a national increase of more than 7 percent.
Some agencies, like the City of Argonia, have been looking for months without receiving a lot of interest. Argonia city officials reported frustration in even being able to hold interviews, suffering multiple no-shows or reports that officers had found employment elsewhere before one could be conducted.
As law enforcement as a whole finds new ways to get personnel, local agencies hope to get a piece of the pie. They hope to attract officers with the unique experience a small town affords.
“Being a police officer affords us the best of both worlds,” said Imperatore. “While we experience events that are traumatic, we also get to experience pure joy in knowing we have helped another human being. In some instances, we get to see folks overcome some very sad situations. When we see people come out on the other side in a positive way, that never leaves you and it’s a feeling of fulfillment unlike any other.”