Interest in law enforcement careers declining following officer-involved shootings

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Interest in law enforcement careers is down nationally according to national reports, and some experts say it’s due to the officer-involved shootings that have happened across the country the last few years.

The Birmingham area has seen two since Thanksgiving, one in Hoover in late November, another in Birmingham this past weekend. Others have drawn national news coverage across the country. Some have involved officers getting shot; in other cases, it’s the officer who did the shooting. The latter type has generated a lot of negative publicity related to law enforcement, and some experts say that’s what’s turning people away from pursuing careers in law enforcement. 

“The court cases around it and the bad publicity and those kinds of things are having an effect on people wanting to become law enforcement officers,” Dr. Jeff Walker, professor and chair of the Criminal Justice department at UAB, said. 

Low pay can also be a factor, but Walker says the fear of scrutiny is the biggest factor.

“Everything that you do can be videoed. Everything that you do can be on the nightly news,” he said. “And it’s not always easy to make sure that your side of the story is told.”

And the lack of interest in law enforcement careers is leading to shortages within departments, which means there are fewer officers on the streets to keep them safe.

“One of the things that we know is a lot of crime is related to the number of officers on the street,” Walker said. “So when you see agencies that are down a lot of officers, there is a direct relationship with the crime.”

The Birmingham Police Department has been dealing with a shortage lately. And having an officer die in a shooting over the weekend leads to concerns that interest will decline even further. But Chief Patrick Smith visited the police academy Monday to address that issue with the latest crop of recruits.

“You’re entering a very difficult job, a very dangerous job,” he told them. “But it can also be a very rewarding job.”

Birmingham police say they’re offering more academy classes to try to overcome their shortage of officers. They’re also offering incentives for retired officers to come back to work.

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