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Our Opinion: The thin blue line

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Recruits (copy)

Greensboro police cadets complete a rolling roadblock during driver training.

The Greensboro Police Department needs more than a few good men and women.

It is several dozen officers short of a full complement and doing what it can to make ends meet.

The numbers tell the story. Fully staffed the department is budgeted for 690 officers but currently employs only 630.

Of those 630, the News & Record’s Kenwyn Caranna reported Tuesday, another 30 to 40 are cadets in training or officers on medical or administrative leave.

That works out to a shortage on the streets of close to 100 officers.

And that’s not good either for the police department or the community at large.

“The guys and gals are hustling, working, answering more calls than they would … ,” Lt. Kory Flowers, who oversees recruitment for the police department, told the News & Record.

Flowers said officers fill the gaps by voluntarily working overtime shifts. Kudos for their hustle and work ethic. But in a job that can be so physically and emotionally demanding — and that can require split-second life-or-death decisions — there is a point of diminishing returns.

And the situation is hardly unique to Greensboro. Axios reported Monday that Los Angeles is deploying more than 650 fewer officers than before the pandemic. Seattle’s police force shrunk by 234 officers in 2019. Kansas City is operating with 200 fewer officers. A national survey in 2021 revealed a 45% increase in officer retirements and an 18% spike in resignations over the previous year.

At the same time, violent crime is on the rise. Guns are everywhere. Stories about local shootings seem to sprout like weeds on the News & Record’s website.

Greensboro has taken steps to address the officer shortage. The department has added 5% signing bonuses and raised the pay for new officers to $41,513 a year. It pays bonuses as well for military service, fluency in other languages and other special skills and experience.

But hiring police officers involves a delicate balancing act. Obviously, not everyone is cut out for this kind of work.

So, as much as GPD needs new officers, it must remain selective. Cadets who don’t cut it in the academy shouldn’t join the force. And recruits who possess neither the patience nor temperament for the job shouldn’t be accepted into the academy in the first place. Bad hires become bad officers and bad officers become problems.

In the most recent graduating class in the academy, 18 started and 13 finished. Flowers told the News & Record he could easily fill a class to the limit: 44 cadets. But rightly, he’s looking for more than numbers.

There are other measures that may help to fill the ranks with capable officers and stretch resources.

The city can continue to explore ways to use specialists in addition to, or instead of, police officers when the situation warrants. Mental health teams now are deployed with officers in cases when mental health crises are involved in a program that appears to be working well.

The department also should continue to cast the widest possible net for recruits, including a presence at historically Black colleges and universities, to help ensure a deep and diverse pool of candidates.

Finally, it’s shortsighted and simplistic to blame the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder — or any of a number of other cases — for the vacancies in police ranks here and across the country. These examples and others have shone a necessary light on police abuses.

And, while the scrutiny may make some recruits think twice, none of us should close our eyes to a problem that needed overdue attention.

Flowers, meanwhile, makes a good point when he notes that public support for police is still strong.

“If you sample social media … man, you think the whole world is against the police, right?” Flowers told the News & Record. “I try to remind these younger folks to unplug, meet some of these real people. If I go right now and stand in front of any given grocery store in the city wearing this uniform, I’m telling you seven out of 10 people entering the grocery store will either shake my hand or are thanking me for my service. You don’t see that online, but that’s reality.”

Of course, that kind of trust and support isn’t automatic. It has to be earned. And it means that, when misconduct occurs, the department should address it urgently and honestly.

As the police department works to replenish its ranks it still must make it clear that, while we appreciate and value police officers and hold them in high esteem here, we also hold them accountable.


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