Law enforcement agencies around the country are facing a severe shortage of quality recruits. The U.S. economy has enjoyed steady job growth, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics most recent numbers putting the latest unemployment rate at 4.1 percent – the lowest level since 2000. Government and legislative budget constraints and pension-funding shortfalls are contributing to the decline of competitive wages and benefits for law enforcement. Shortages in sworn officer ranks lead to increased overtime costs, which further strain agency budgets and complicates policing priorities. Candidates can also readily find work in new or expanding fields such as the solar industry or healthcare that have better wages and benefits and are far less dangerous than being a police officer.
There are societal influences as well. The wave of negative media attention around use of force and police-involved shooting incidents are a factor, and in some areas of the country there is an outright mistrust of law enforcement that also contributes to the lack of interest in a career in law enforcement. More relaxed attitudes around recreational marijuana use and the introduction of new medical marijuana laws can disqualify candidates, as law enforcement demands individuals with a clean drug history and high moral character.
The process of becoming a police officer is also extremely demanding compared with other industries. Evaluation can take more than a year, and generally includes personal interviews, written and oral exams, medical and psychological examinations, a fitness test, a polygraph test, drug screening, credit checks and an extensive background investigation. Any shortcomings or questionable findings in any of these areas can rule out seemingly qualified candidates.
The dangers that front line officers face every day also makes law enforcement less attractive to potential recruits. Officers that have long had the reality of getting shot or stabbed in the line of duty are now faced with emerging threats that are just as deadly. The national opioid epidemic brings a new set of dangers to everyday law enforcement, as officers are often first-responders in situations involving subjects who are intravenous drug users. Increased opioid abuse also makes contracting diseases such as hepatitis-C, tuberculosis and MRSA a real possibility, and exposure to miniscule amounts of powerful drugs such as fentanyl and other designer drugs can cause an overdose in officers not even directly involved with a subject.
In addition to all these factors, law enforcement must adapt to the new reality that newer officers expect frequent training opportunities to improve their abilities, since research has shown that showed that without such training, officers could lose confidence. A lack of confidence or hesitation can contribute to making mistakes, which unfortunately can have deadly consequences.
One way that VirTra is assisting in this regard is by providing law enforcement with the most advanced use of force simulator technology in the world. Forward-thinking agencies can use VirTra technology to ensure accurate and more realistic training that mirrors real-world threats officers face. This in turn allows agencies to put forward more highly trained officers who are better able to respond to often stressful real-world situations. Officers that have been through VirTra scenarios featuring an active shooter or a subject with a mental health issue and undergone the rigorous debriefings that follow can have the confidence knowing that “they’ve been there before” when they’re confronted with the real thing in the field.
Agencies with better training are able to attract more qualified candidates, so it’s critical that law enforcement not make funds for training an afterthought in their budgeting process. Ultimately proper training saves the department money in the long run, but more importantly, it saves lives. Better-trained officers make fewer mistakes — reducing risk for the department and enabling them to better serve the public.