GREENSBORO, N.C. – The COVID-19 pandemic, civil unrest and a negative public perception of policing have made recruitment and retention of police officers challenging for departments across the country.
For more than a year, Greensboro city officials have studied ways to fill police vacancies and keep officers patrolling the streets. A new police staffing study by the city budget and evaluation office showed preliminary results and recommends the department hire more police officers.
“Greensboro is not unique in the challenges it faces with staffing and just the climate for our police department,” said Jon Decker, the director of the Greensboro Budget and Evaluation Office.
Decker and his team have compared the Greensboro Police with departments arounds the state including High Point and Winston-Salem.
“There’s no sort of national model for the amount of police you need to have,” Decker said. “So you really got to turn to the strategies that the police department are putting into place and how to best effectively put those into action.”
According to the study, there are 40 vacancies on average in the department. It recommends hiring 16 additional officers on top of the 51 openings in the department as of early March. Decker said officers transfer, retire or leave law enforcement completely.
Greensboro Police Chief Brian James is focused on filling the openings.
“I feel like some of the things we’re doing, making sure that we’re in the right places and also the supplemental backfill for the vacant positions that has helped,” James said in a recent city council work session.
The study showed Greensboro police salaries and benefits trail other departments in North Carolina.
“We have to be more competitive when it comes to salary and also to benefits,” Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan said. “One of the benefits we don’t offer is a take-home car when all of our surrounding communities do.”
The study included how officers spend their time on the clock. The data models from dispatch systems showed 73% of an officer’s shift is actively responding to calls and the other 27% is focused on building community relationships.
“You have more time to build those community relationships,” Decker said. “You’re out there learning about the neighborhoods and finding your own direction as an officer.”
The recommendations would expand the force to nearly 700 officers and would allow for more community policing.
“Mtyleraking sure that we have the best people,” James said. “Also, making sure that we take care of those people so that they’re at their best when they have to go out in the community and interact.”
City staff conducted a similar study in 2016. The city council is scheduled to meet in a work session on Tuesday, April 6 at 3:30 p.m. for an update from Greensboro police.