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By December 7, 2015 Read More →

D.C. Police Facing Huge Manpower Crisis


A message from D.C. Police Union Treasurer Gregg Pemberton

“The only way to stop the hemorrhaging of personnel on this department is to fundamentally change the way it is managed. The onerous and erratic scheduling changes, non-competitive pay, years-long battles for fair contracts, micromanagement of the most basic level decision making, ineffective deployment strategies that frustrate and hamstring our members, blanket policies to not resolve grievances in good faith, drawn out legal battles, and a complete lack of understanding that high morale begets high productivity: all need a complete overhaul—from the top down. Even the mere suggestion that the department would consider a retooling and renewed approach would give our members pause before turning in their shields for greener pastures. Imagine the difference actual changes could make in our skyrocketing attrition.”

Since January 1st, 2014, the Metropolitan Police Department has lost nearly 800 officers to retirement and resignations. That’s over 22% of the rank and file. We are quickly approaching a 14% attrition rate for police officers in DC, which is causing innumerable problems and complications in our ability to keep the streets safe. The DC Police Union took a closer look at how, and why, this is happening.

There are two groups leaving the force the fastest, the first group is those eligible to retire. It might seem par-for-the-course to have officers eligible for retirement separating from the department, but it is not. In just the past five years, the department has seen a huge drop in the number of years worked beyond eligibility for retirement. It wasn’t uncommon, until recently, to see officers working an extra 3, 5, 10, or even 15 years after becoming eligible for retirement. There were a number of reasons why officers were willing to stay. In the past, maximizing pension benefits, job satisfaction, and a decent pay scale were all incentives for officers to elect to stay. However, after seven years without a cost of living adjustment, crippling schedules, toxic management, and horrible deployment strategies, our most senior officers have decided enough is enough, and are gladly leaving the day they are eligible. Many of our best and most experienced members have countdown apps on their phones and are quick to tout the time they have left, down to the minute.

The second largest group that is leaving is those with between 2 and 10 years of service. These are our newest officers and represent the future of the department, but when they arrive here and discover the brutal reality of the non-competitive pay, onerous scheduling, the complete absence of real policing, toxic and inept management, and the elimination of nearly every specialized unit, the decision to move to another agency quickly becomes easily made.

The effects these personnel losses have had on the department have been devastating.

  • Patrol division has been decimated, leaving fewer officers on the street to answer calls for service and patrol neighborhoods.
  • Patrol officers are discouraged from ‘self-initiated’ investigations by management in fear that an arrest would take them away from ‘high-visibility’ assignments.
  • Criminal Investigations Division has shrunk drastically, meaning there are fewer detectives for follow-up investigations and case closures.
  • Our Motor Unit, which provides our world famous presidential and dignitary motorcycle escorts, is down from 50 members, to 26. Recently, the President had to be escorted with just two motor units—the policy is no less than three.
  • Special Operations Division has also taken a hit. Special events like Caps’ and Wizards’ games have had to be staffed with skeleton crews due to lack of manpower.
  • Crime scene technicians can take hours to respond. The city is down to 35 technicians, there may be only one or two working the whole city at any given time.
  • The Emergency Response Team responsible for active shooters, high-risk entry, and barricades was even several members short on a barricade situation a few months ago.
  • Harbor Division, which is responsible for patrolling the waterways for everything from boating violations to life saving rescues and even threats to the city, is often so short on certain shifts, that protocol prevents them from taking the boats out to patrol, or even for emergency calls.

These examples are just a snapshot of what’s going on all over the city. Nearly every unit across the District is hurting for more workers. The ability for the Metropolitan Police Department to provide top notch service to the city has been seriously diminished. The workload on the officers that are left has now become even more burdensome, severely straining critical resources.

So what is management doing about this crisis? They will tell you that the answer is easy. They’re just hiring more officers and shuffling the ones we have to fill gaps. So let’s take a look at what this means for the city and for efficiency.

Hiring more officers may seem easy enough, but the ramifications to this are more than concerning.

  • The MPD reports that it costs $95,000 to recruit, train, and equip each officer. This means the cost to replace these officers is $76,000,000 tax dollars.
  • Whether an officer has 5 years or 25 years of service, the amount of experience they have in understanding the dynamics and stakeholders of the neighborhood they patrol is invaluable. Having a new group of officers every year or so means no historical knowledge of the problems and less effective community policing.
  • Because of the demand, MPD is now hiring people within four months of application. In an environment where most agencies take 9-12 months to hire, our new officers are taking jobs here, but leaving when the other agencies come through with a better offer of employment, meaning many recruits don’t even make it out of the academy before being snatched up.
  • To accept that our experienced officers can be so easily replaced is shortsighted. With such a high turnover rate, the most highly skilled field trainers won’t have time to train all the new officers, leaving many without the proper instruction on how to best do the job.
  • Critical knowledge of the most intricate police tactics and policies is walking out the door. In a month like October, where we lost 64 officers, the overall skill and knowledge of the department took a major hit.

The other half of management’s response is that the department is ‘managing resources’ or ‘shuffling manpower’. This solution may be just as bad as the first.

  • The department is relying on “Redeployment”, where the department forces officers, detectives, and sergeants from the most technical and specialized units to go back out to patrol to supplement staffing. The officers have to leave their assignments and workload to go back to uniformed patrol on the street once every six weeks. Like AHODs, officers are taken away from important and necessary work. Crime scene technicians, K-9 officers, Financial Crimes and Missing Persons Detectives, Centralized Auto Theft, Domestic Violence Investigators, Emergency Response Officers, Harbor Patrol, Motormen, and even MPD’s Internal Affairs Agents. While these units are out on the street on assignments they’re not familiar with, none of their important duties or investigations are being fulfilled.
  • Redeployment is one of the most divisive strategies on the department. It causes officers to be pulled away from their regular assigned tasks. The work piles up and they return to mountains of paperwork, investigations that have gone stale and other duties to catch up on.
    Officers are usually denied leave when they’re scheduled for these assignments, and when they actually are permitted to take leave, the redeployment week must be made up, severely disrupting their schedules.
  • Again, the department is being thoughtless in assuming ‘temporary’ officers on the street solve the problem. It may appear to solve the problem to the citizen, who is worried about the lack of police visibility, but the functioning of the department grinds to a halt when many of these important units shut down for a week every month.
  • This is just a shell game tactic that robs one unit to replace another. And current management will defer to ‘high visibility’ over effective, productive strategy every time.

The only way to stop the hemorrhaging of personnel on this department is to fundamentally change the way it is managed. The onerous and erratic scheduling changes, non-competitive pay, years-long battles for fair contracts, micromanagement of the most basic level decision making, ineffective deployment strategies that frustrate and hamstring our members, blanket policies to not resolve grievances in good faith, drawn out legal battles, and a complete lack of understanding that high morale begets high productivity: all need a complete overhaul—from the top down. Even the mere suggestion that the department would consider a retooling and renewed approach would give our members pause before turning in their shields for greener pastures. Imagine the difference actual changes could make in our skyrocketing attrition.

Gregg Pemberton
DC Police Union

Posted in: Reaching Out

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