BURLINGTON, N.C. (WGHP) — Law enforcement agencies in the Piedmont Triad are trying to attract and retain officers on patrols.
Nearly a dozen officers are planning to leave the Burlington Police Department by the end of the year, according to officials.
“You’ve got to bring a higher number of folks in, and you’ve got to try to retain the ones that you have with you,” said Lieutenant Shelly Katkowski, director of training for Burlington police.
Resignations are double the number of people joining the police force. Burlington police average 24 resignations versus 12 new hires each year. That means more overtime for officers, assignment changes and a limited work/life balance.
“It can be a little tough some days,” said Officer Chandler Lawson, who was recently sworn in. “If one or two people take the day off, and we’re down that many people, it’s just a lot more call volume.”
Burlington police are recruiting 20 open patrol positions. That’s not including the ones planning to leave.
Resignations and retirements have increased since the COVID-10 pandemic. It has meant fewer officers on the streets.
Fully trained officers per year:
- 2019 – 95
- 2020 – 87
- 2021 – 82
- 2022 – 78 to date
Projections estimate a low total of 67 trained officers in 2023, according to Burlington police.
“It’s just a lot more call volume for us,” Lawson said. “Less time for us to be proactive and get out into the community and the positive aspects, more just answering calls for service.”
The shortage of officers may possibly mean no units for high crime locations, minimal drug investigations, reduced DWI and road safety enforcement, fewer resource officers in schools and officers not being able to respond to low-level crimes.
“There’s just been an increase of officers leaving the profession in general. Not necessarily leaving here to go somewhere,” Katkowski said. “They’re just getting out of the profession for other opportunities.”
Katkowski told FOX8 they’re looking at new ways to get people into the profession, including more money.
“Whether that be bonuses, benefits, incentives,” she said. “It is important to have not just officers on the street but qualified people, good people on the street doing the right thing.”
A police cadet’s starting salary is $46,500, but recruitment efforts aren’t just about money. Katkowski said hiring a new officer and keeping them starts by building relationships from the first day.
“Make them feel as if they’re a part of our team,” she said. “Our family from the minute they put their application in.”
Donovan Hughes is one of them. He is from Greensboro and considered other departments but is sticking with Burlington police.
“They’ve really been there supporting me the whole way even when it can be tough with the paperwork and everything,” he said. “They treat you like you’re already a part of the team.”
The police department plans to present some of the new ideas for recruitment and retention to the city council in October.
“If all those [recruits] come out, it’s going to be a huge weight off the shoulders of the rest of us here,” Lawson said.
If Burlington police are able to flip the current trends, officials estimate it’ll take 4-and-a-half years to be fully staffed.