Fewer People Want to Be Cops, Despite a Six-Figure Salary

By: Lauren | Published: Jan 19, 2024

Police forces in cities all around the country are finding it challenging to remain fully staffed as resignations and retirement are on the rise, and new applications have dwindled.

To combat the growing issue, many cities, such as San Francisco, Ithaca, and Dallas, have not only been promoting their police academies but also offering more and more money to anyone who signs up to be a police officer.

Hundreds of Young Men and Women Once Dreamed of Being Police Officers

Ted Schwartz, the acting police chief in Ithaca, New York, told Bloomberg, “Twenty years ago, we would have hundreds of people knocking down our door to be police officers” (via MSN).

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Graduating class salute at the LAPD academy

Source: @LAPDacademy/X

He continued, “That’s not true in our society anymore.” And he’s not wrong. The statistics show that fewer people than ever before want to be police officers.

Why Don’t People Want to Work as Cops?

Realistically, there are a vast number of reasons why police forces are seeing such a staggering lack of applicants.

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Police officer in full protective gear standing in front of a civilian

Source: Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Policing has always been a challenging and even life-threatening position, which may be deterring some of the younger generation who simply don’t want to put their lives on the line.

Things Are Different for Cops Now

But that has always been true, and historically, there were still plenty of Americans who were willing to serve and protect their communities, even if it was dangerous.

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A group of anti-police protesters march down Chicago's Michigan Avenue shopping street

Source: Ralf-Finn Hestoft/Corbis/Getty Images

But things are different for officers now. When George Floyd was murdered in 2020, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Americans lost their faith in the police. Even though the protests have subsided, public opinion of cops hasn’t returned to what it was before.

Police Are Struggling to Keep a Full Staff

No matter why fewer people are signing up to train to become police officers, the bottom line is that the lack of interest in the job is a real problem.

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Table showing the “Total Sworn Officers” of the past four years by Police Forum

Source: Police Forum

According to the Police Executive Research Forum, U.S. police departments have 4.8% less staff in 2023 than they did in 2020. The 182 departments they surveyed reported only 79,464 sworn officers in 2023, compared to the 83,497 they had on staff in 2020.

Several Cities Are Offering Increased Salaries & Bonuses to Encourage Enrollment

Protecting a city without a sufficient number of officers is not only difficult, it’s also dangerous. It means longer wait times for police response, fewer patrolled streets, and overtired cops.

Graduating class at the LAPD academy

Source: @LAPDacademy/X

Therefore, many cities around the country have decided to improve the incentive to become a police officer by increasing the annual salary and offering moving bonuses.

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How Much Do Rookie Cops Make?

All police officers are required to attend a police academy, and not everyone makes it through. But when they do, they can be assured they will immediately be making more than the average American in their very first year on the job.

Billy Pepitone demonstrates handcuffing techniques to recruits at the New York City Police Academy on April 6, 2006

Source: Mario Tama/Getty Images

In cities such as Charlotte, Chicago, New York City, and Philadelphia, a rookie cop will make somewhere between $57,000 and $67,000, and in Dallas, San Diego, or Los Angeles, they take home between $70,000 and $90,000.

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San Francisco Is Now Paying Rookie Cops More than $100,000

And as of 2023, San Francisco is paying its cops more than anywhere else in the country, with a whopping entry-level salary of $112,398.

Class of police trainees at the academy in Dallas, Texas

Source: Dallas Police

The San Francisco Police Department desperately needs new officers, and they also understand that the cost of living in their great city is increasing every day. So they hope that by increasing their salary, they will be able to safely and efficiently protect their streets next year.

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Other Cities Are Making Similar Offers

While no one pays as much as San Francisco, other cities that need officers are offering one-time signing bonuses for cops who will relocate.

Class of police trainees at the academy in Dallas, Texas

Source: Dallas Police

Arcata, California, is providing a $50,000 bonus to new hires, the department in Ithaca, New York, is offering $20,000, and Gov. Ron DeSantis in Florida said any police officer who moves to the Sunshine State will automatically receive $5,000.

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Hiring Is on Every Departments’ Mind

Even those cities that can’t afford or don’t want to offer extra cash to enroll as officers are still working tirelessly to increase applications.

Close-up view of a white police car with its lights illuminated, parked on a city street during the evening

Source: Matt Popovich/Unsplash

Through podcasts, billboards, YouTube videos, and social media, existing officers are talking about how to hire, when to hire, and generally, how to solve this ongoing crisis.

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Some Say Money Isn’t the Answer

Executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum Chuck Wexler doesn’t agree with the new tactic of increasing salaries and bonuses.

Pile of American currency, $100, $50, and $20

Source: Freepik

Wexler told Bloomberg, “These bonuses sound more like sports teams than a civil service position. I’ve never seen anything like it. It feels like desperation.” And Barry Donelan, head of the police union in Oakland, California, said, “They’re just throwing money at the problem … they become mercenaries. You think that officer really wants to put roots down?”

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They Don’t Just Need Cops, They Need Good Cops

Many veteran officers argue that these cities don’t just need bodies on the streets, they need good cops who truly want to protect and serve, and money isn’t the way to ensure that’s who applies.

A Miami police officer places someone under arrest

Source: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

But whether or not the plan to entice new police officers with money will even work is yet to be seen. Hopefully, 2024 will be a much better year for nationwide enrollment, otherwise, many cities will be seriously understaffed in 2025.

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