Major Police Departments Losing Officers, Struggling With Recruiting

By Petr Svab
Petr Svab
Petr Svab
Petr Svab is a reporter covering New York. Previously, he covered national topics including politics, economy, education, and law enforcement.
June 21, 2021 Updated: June 22, 2021

The largest police departments in the United States have seen a steady decline in officers over the past year and a half amid the CCP virus pandemic and a rash of anti-police activism.

The top three police departments in the country have lost thousands of officers since 2019, driven by an increase in retirements and resignations on top of recruiting woes. Reports of officers leaving in droves have been coming from other major jurisdictions as well.

Meanwhile, those cities have seen a significant uptick in murders and shootings.

New York City

The largest police agency in the country, the New York Police Department (NYPD) is down about 1,500 officers as retirements jumped to 2,600 last year from 1,509 in 2019, the department’s spokesperson told The Epoch Times via email. Another nearly 350 officers had exited by mid-May this year.

Many of the retirements had to do with anti-police sentiment fanned by activist groups during protests and riots that followed the death of convicted felon George Floyd, a black man, during an arrest in Minneapolis last year. The officer had knelt on his neck and back for more than eight minutes as Floyd repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe before becoming unresponsive.

Last year, the state of New York outlawed officers from using a knee on a suspect’s back or chest as a restraint technique during an arrest. Police officers and experts have criticized the law for criminalizing martial arts techniques routinely used by police to safely subdue resisting subjects.

New York City also implemented new laws regarding bail that banned judges from requiring cash bail for most nonviolent and some lower-level violent crimes, resulting in criminals returning to the street quickly after an arrest. Officers called the policy demoralizing as it makes their work seem pointless.

The NYPD mounted a large recruitment drive this year, even waiving the usual $40 application fee, although still falling short of the applicant numbers of a previous drive, according to NYPD Personnel Chief Martin Morales. Part of the reason is that the drive was shorter than usual this time.

Of the more than 14,500 who applied, only about one in nine will make it through the entrance exam and the academy, if past results are any indication, Morales said during a May 18 press conference.

That means there will be about 1,600 new officers sometime next year. By then, thousands more may have left the force, if the pace of retirements continues.

While overall crime in the city continues to decline slightly, shootings are still on the rise. In 2019, the police reported over 900 people shot, fatally and nonfatally. In 2020, that number more than doubled. This year, 721 have been shot as of June 13—the highest number for this period since 2002.


The Chicago Police Department has lost more than 700 officers since 2019, according to data The Epoch Times obtained from the department.

In 2019, the department was able to hire 459 officers. In 2020, that number dropped to 157. This year, 105 have been hired as of April 30, based on the data.

Meanwhile, 646 officers retired or resigned last year, compared to 592 in 2019. This year, 330 have left as of April 30.

And it’s not just the old guard leaving, according to John Catanzara, head of the local lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, the officers’ union.

“We have young officers doing lateral transfers, leaving this department and going somewhere else, whether it’s a suburb or out of state entirely,” he told The Epoch Times. “I’m talking the same people that they [the city leadership] think are going to pick up the mantle and carry on this police department are the ones that are even saying they had enough.”

Earlier this year, the union voted no confidence in Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot as well as Police Superintendent David Brown.

Catanzara indicated salary disputes, excessive workloads, and lack of respect for the force as the main areas of friction.

Lightfoot blamed the union leadership for protracting contract negotiations, which Catanzara rejects.

Meanwhile, murders and shooting incidents went up more than 50 percent in 2020 and are up another 5 percent and 18 percent, respectively, this year as of June 13 (pdf, pdf).

Lightfoot blamed the violence on unemployment, poverty, and the fact that people can “purchase military-grade weapons” in neighboring Indiana. Most poor and unemployed people don’t engage in murder and shootings, and such incidents almost never involve “military-grade weapons.” The favored weapons of inner-city criminals are small, easily concealable handguns.

Los Angeles

The Los Angeles Police Department has lost nearly 600 officers since 2019. That’s in major part due to a government hiring freeze instituted in response to the pandemic, as well as the city’s decision last year to cut the police budget by $150 million in response to calls from activists to “defund the police.”

The defunding was supposed to cut the staffing level to 9,757 officers by this summer. As of June 21, the department is down to 9,444 officers.

The city somewhat boosted the department’s budget this year, which will allow it to start hiring on July 1, LAPD Chief Michel Moore said at the May 25 commissioner meeting. That won’t be enough to restore it to pre-pandemic strength, but merely to replenish “staffing levels that were the result of the budget cutbacks that were implemented last year by the mayor and city council,” he said.

The city recorded more than 1,300 people shot, fatally and nonfatally, in 2020, an increase of nearly 40 percent from the year before. This year, 626 have been shot as of June 12, up almost 60 percent from the year-earlier period (pdf, pdf).

Other Agencies

Similar stories of staffing shortages have been coming from other major police departments.

The St. Louis police department has hired 109 officers in 2020 and 2021 by June 2; in the same period, it has lost 192.

“Just as fast as we can hire and get new recruits trained and placed on our police department for patrol work, we are losing police officers at the same or an even faster rate,” SLPD Sgt. Christy Allen told The Epoch Times.

There were 264 murders and 3,047 aggravated assaults with a gun in the city in 2020. That’s up more than 36 percent and 20 percent, respectively, compared to 2019 (pdf).

The Seattle Police Department has hired 86 officers in 2020 and through April 2021. In the same period, it has lost 252, Sgt. Randy Huserik told The Epoch Times via email. Violent crime in the city somewhat declined overall in 2020, although murders went up to 52 from 37 the year before.

In May, Axios reported staffing concerns at the Charlotte–Mecklenburg Police Department in North Carolina, Des Moines Police Department in Iowa, as well as the Fayetteville Police Department in Arkansas.

Cara Ding in Chicago and Vanessa Serna in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

Update: The article has been updated with personnel data provided by the Chicago Police department.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly contextualized a statement by John Catanzara, head of the Chicago lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police. When saying “they,” Catanzara was referring to the city leadership.

Petr Svab
Petr Svab is a reporter covering New York. Previously, he covered national topics including politics, economy, education, and law enforcement.