Why police in suburbs, nation are facing a shortage of new recruits

 
Posted2/15/2019 5:03 AM
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  • Illinois State Police recently released a Hollywood-style short film as part of effort to attract more quality recruits to the force. Law enforcement across the country are looking for new ways to overcome a shortage of qualified recruits.

    Illinois State Police recently released a Hollywood-style short film as part of effort to attract more quality recruits to the force. Law enforcement across the country are looking for new ways to overcome a shortage of qualified recruits. Courtesy of Illinois State Police

With its sweeping drone shots, slickly produced action sequences and a heartwarming subplot, the latest Illinois State Police recruitment video could reasonably be mistaken for a Hollywood movie trailer.

But all the glitz and glamour of the nearly 6½-minute film belie a troubling fact: Police departments across Illinois and the nation, including those in the suburbs, are struggling to find enough capable, qualified and willing young people to fill the force.

In fact, according to a recent report from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, there are fewer law enforcement officers per capita today -- 2.17 per 1,000 citizens -- than at any time since at least 1997. Just between 2013 and 2016, the number of sworn officers nationwide fell by more than 23,000, the report states.

What's going on? We turned to a couple of local experts to find out.

Applicant shortage

Des Plaines Police Chief William Kushner has had more than four decades of experience in law enforcement, including stints as chief in Berwyn and Lakemoor before taking his current post in 2012. He remembers when 700 to 800 would-be officers would respond to a round of eligibility testing for applicants.

"Now we'd be excited by 200 applicants," he said.

Kushner and Oak Brook Chief James Kruger, who until recently was president of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, say there's no single reason for the lack of recruits.

The strong job market plays a role, as it did in the '90s. Potential officers can find better-paying, safer and less-stressful careers that don't necessarily require overnight shifts.

"It's not an easy job, and it's become a little more difficult," Kruger said.

Then there's the perception issue. Some high-profile cases of officers behaving badly or citizens protesting police have led some to believe they'd lack support from the public.

Kruger, however, says that's a misconception, as recent studies show a high level of support for officers within the communities they serve.

And there's what Kushner call the "CSI phenomenon," in reference to the television series in which complicated cases are wrapped up in 40 minutes, minus the daily grind that can come with police work. When candidates learn that the job isn't always made-for-TV excitement or that they can't go straight from the academy to the detective bureau, some turn away from the profession.

"There are some unrealistic expectations of what the job entails," Kushner said.

Not making the cut

But Kushner and Kruger agree the biggest cause of the shortage is too few young people these days can meet the standards to become police officers. Whether it is a youthful arrest, failed drug test, lack of fitness or some other land mine on the way from kid to cop, many young people who want to work in law enforcement are finding themselves disqualified.

"There's a shortage of people who want to go into law enforcement, but more importantly there's a shortage of qualified people who want to go into law enforcement," Kushner said.

Kruger said he's seen instances of young people studying criminal justice in college who are making mistakes that could keep them out of the profession.

"And a lot of departments have even reduced their standards from where they were 20-30 years ago," he added.

Shortage solutions

So what steps are police taking to attract more recruits? Flashy videos like that of the state police, for one.

Closer to home, Kruger said his department is working with high schools both locally and in Chicago to introduce teenagers to police work and let them know early on the standards they'll have to meet to land a job.

In Des Plaines, Kushner's department is partnering not just with nearby colleges, but also the local Chamber of Commerce, which runs a career "boot camp" for transitioning veterans. One of the camp's recent graduates, a former U.S. Marine, is now in field training to become a full-time Des Plaines officer.

Lastly, the hunt sometimes takes departments to police stations in other communities, a practice known as lateral hiring.

"We're stealing from each other in order to get qualified officers," Kruger said.

Senior safety

Taxes and weather have some Illinois seniors seeking friendlier surroundings elsewhere these days, but when it comes to safety, the state is better than average, according to a new report from the website TheSeniorList.com.

According to the report, Illinois is the 17th safest state for seniors. It was compiled using Census Bureau data in five categories: fraud, housing costs, 65+ population living in poverty, violent-injury deaths among those 65+, and 65+ living alone as a percentage of state's population.

Fellow Midwesterners Minnesota, Iowa, Indiana and Wisconsin all placed in the top 10. And while its weather is nice for the snowbird set, Florida finished dead last.

Honors for Aurora officer

Aurora Police Officer Skyy Calice will be honored tonight as 2019 African-American Leader of the Year by Aurora's African-American Heritage Advisory Board.

Calice is a designated community-oriented policing officer. She established the Girls Run the World Mentoring program, which operates at East Aurora, West Aurora and Metea Valley high schools.

"Officer Calice stepped in to fill a gap in our community and, in a relatively short amount of time, she has made a tremendous impact," Mayor Richard C. Irvin said in a news release. "Skyy gives our young women an accessible positive role model while empowering them to shatter glass ceilings and change the narrative. She goes above and beyond her noble call of duty to serve and protect Aurora."

Meet the new boss

Longtime McHenry police officer Laura King is the chief of the McHenry County Conservation District's police force. King, a Johnsburg resident, replaces Chief Jeff Diedrick, who is retiring after 15 years in the post.

"Her knowledge and law enforcement skills, experience and understanding of current law enforcement trends, combined with her vision for the future of law enforcement make her a tremendous assist to the conservation district team," Executive Director Elizabeth Kessler said in an announcement of the hire.

MCCD police patrol the district's 25,500 acres spread out throughout the county.

• Got a tip or thoughts on a cops and crime-related issue to share? Email copsandcrime@dailyherald.com.

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