Around a third of all law enforcement officers are leaving their jobs due to low morale, at a time when the State Law Enforcement Division reports an increase in violent crimes.
According to South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy Director Jackie Swindler, a third of recent academy graduates left their positions in 2020. In a typical year, that number is closer to just seven percent.
Swindler told Live5 news the low morale has been fueled by officers feeling unappreciated by their communities and the feeling that every interaction can quickly go from zero to 100.
For Columbia Deputy Police Chief Melron Kelly, policing is a calling, not a job. But, he admits that it is not always easy to serve.
"You have to have a heart of service,” Kelly told Live5 News. “I think anytime you’re dealing with the public and the things that we see as officers it kind of affects you. I think it affects all departments. It really does.”
Swindler claims almost every agency has openings. But he believes long hours, unpredictable schedules and a desire for higher pay are reasons officers are leaving. There is also a rise in not only low morale, but also a situation where officers are feeling on edge.
Swindler also says whenever a person becomes angry and combative, an officer’s life is at risk.
“You don’t want to expect that every encounter you have could be a violent encounter,” he says.
Both Swindler and Kelly told Live5 News the protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis Police custody in May 2020 triggered indictment on all police officers in the eyes of some in the public; many left with the fear that an interaction with a police officer would end in tragedy.
But they say the Floyd case also highlighted the importance of de-escalation training.
Kelly says : “It made us more conscious of how we were directing our officers and how we were policing communities to make sure we were not over-policing and still going in and enforcing the rules and making sure they had a voice in how we were policing."
He also claims his department does have enough officers to keep communities safe. However he recognises that the issue of low morale and vacancies could possibly lead to departments being unable to do extra work, such as more community outreach and more regular check ins.
Another issue is that early retirements can also cause issues, leading to a loss of some institutional knowledge and specific expertise.
The law enforcement agencies most in need of new officers include county detention centers and smaller, rural departments.
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