D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) introduced emergency legislation on Sept. 16 that would shift eligibility requirements for police recruits and veterans hoping to minimize a police department staffing crisis. Many of the department’s senior officers were hired in the early 1990s and are becoming eligible for retirement.

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

One of the mayor’s bills extends the age of candidates for the police cadet program from 21 to 25. The other proposal allows incentives for detectives and sergeants to stay on past retirement age, to allow for a “more efficient way of staffing.”

The police department has 3,700 officers now but only hires 4 in every 100 applicants, Interim Chief Peter Newsham said.

The shortfall comes as the city faces a 54 percent spike in homicides and during a period of increased police-community unrest. “It’s really important for us at this point in time to retain the veteran folks that we have,” said Newsham at a news conference. “So … we’ve shrunk a little bit we haven’t shrunk as much as folks might say.”

metropolitanpolice2

The police manpower shortfall has become increasingly familiar in major cities across the nation. In New York, for instance, the number of applicants to the force is reportedly down more than 90 percent. And while public safety departments face some of the same problems other employers do with U.S. unemployment at a 30-year low, police recruiters are additionally stymied by the job’s low pay, tarnished image, increasingly tough standards for new recruits, and limited job flexibility. “You don’t move up in a police department the way you would in a dot-com,” Chicago Police Department recruiter Patrick Camden told NPR.

While the focus for many departments – including D.C. – is to retain already trained officers, an extension of age eligibility benefits the city, allowing recruitment from neighborhoods with high crime rates, said Nushawn Rutledge, a police-community activist. “When young people know what is expected of them and become a part of the solution rather than the problem, there is balance,” Rutledge told the AFRO. “When you can be the example to others and make a decent living serving others, everyone wins.”