Already facing a shortage of police officers and a worrying rebound in homicide rates, the District is scrambling to attract new officers even as it faces a wave of retirements from the force in the next few years.
The D.C. Council and Mayor Muriel Bowser have been wringing their hands over how to stem the flow of officers either retiring or moving to better paying and less dangerous jurisdictions. Attrition outpaced recruitment last year, reflecting the number of officers recruited in a massive hiring binge a quarter-century ago who are now reaching retirement age.
A bevy of measures have made their way to dais this year, and Miss Bowser has included funding to encourage officers to stay on the job in her fiscal 2018 proposed budget presented to the council last week.
With the budget approval process in full swing, the battle over the future of the Metropolitan Police Department largely comes to finding ways to fund any retention programs and how the council balances money for the police with other crime reduction measures related to social services.
“We’re leading down the right path,” MPD Sgt. Matthew Mahl, who heads the D.C. police union, said Monday at a council committee hearing. He said the biggest factor in retaining talent boiled down to money.
“Starting salary needs to be a little bit higher,” he said. “We should make our salaries some of the [most competitive] in the country.”
Sgt. Mahl noted that about 43 percent of MPD officers who have left the force so far this year have resigned and not sought late-career retirements. That means officers are often leaving for better pay and safer conditions. Current staffing is around 3,800 officers, and officials have said the department needs at least 4,000 to safely patrol the District.
“It seems the path to the Prince George’s County police runs right through the MPD academy,” D.C. police Lt. Gary Durand said at the joint Judiciary and Housing committees hearing, referring to officers who get their experience in the city and then take jobs in the suburbs.
Lt. Col. Durand, who has projected more than 800 retirements over the next three years, said that the MPD deals with a lot more than do other big-city police departments, including major protests, presidential movements throughout the city and visiting foreign dignitaries. Police pay, he said, needs to be commensurate with that extra work.
Criticism from Gray
The mayor and the council do not seem far apart. Miss Bowser, a Democrat, allotted $11.7 million in her $13.8 billion budget proposal for recruiting and retaining police officers. That includes $1.8 million to increase the police cadet program from 35 to 70 participants and $3.7 million for a student loan forgiveness and housing program for officers.
Council member Anita Bonds, the at-large Democrat who heads the Housing Committee, offered a bill with Charles Allen, the Ward 6 Democrat who leads the Judiciary Committee, that would help first responders buy houses in the District. Only about 620 of the 3,800 MPD officers live in the city.
The measure would give $10,000 grants to MPD officers willing to buy houses in the District. Beyond that, the city would hand out $1,500 for every $2,500 the officer sets aside up to another $10,000.
But council member Vincent C. Gray, Ward 7 Democrat, warned at Monday’s hearing that Miss Bowser’s fiscal 2018 budget does not set out nearly enough money to address rising crime and the number of officers leaving the force.
Mr. Gray, the former mayor who lost his re-election bid to Miss Bowser in 2014, said the mayor’s proposal falls about $60 million short of the money needed to bolster the police force to recommended staffing levels.
He pointed to a rising number of homicides in Ward 7 over the past two years: 32 in 2015 and 39 last year. Ward 7 had 22 reported homicides in 2013 and 26 in 2014 — the last two years of the Gray administration.
Citywide, the figures are not much better. Homicides over the past two years have ticked up and are at the highest levels since 2010. In 2016 and 2015, the city reported 135 and 162 homicides, respectively.
That is significantly higher than in previous years, when the number of homicides hovered closer to 100 and dipped as low as 88 in 2012. Although violent crime overall is down by 25 percent so far this year, the homicide rate is up 14 percent over the same period last year.
Mr. Gray is proposing a bill to give incentives to officers to stay past retirement age. The bill offers police officers who have reached retirement age a five-year contract extension, with double salary in the fifth year.
Critics say Mr. Gray isn’t immune to blame. In fiscal 2011, the Gray administration hired only eight officers in a period in which 168 officers retired or left the force, according to an MPD annual report.
But Eric Goulet, who was budget director for Mr. Gray at the time, said the then-mayor was dealing with a budget he inherited from former Mayor Adrian M. Fenty who all but shut down the city’s training academy. The eight new officers that year were actually transfers from other departments, Mr. Goulet said.
Recruitment changed in the following years. In fiscal 2012, more than 200 officers retired and 310 were hired. In fiscal 2013, nearly 200 officers retired and 301 were hired. In fiscal 2014, more than 250 officers retired and 309 were hired.
In fiscal 2015, Miss Bowser’s first year in office, more than 400 officers retired and 281 were hired. MPD’s fiscal 2016 report has not been released.
Eric Goulet, who was budget director for Mr. Gray at the time, said the then-mayor was dealing with a budget he inherited from former Mayor Adrian Fenty, who Mr. Goulet said had virtually shut down the city’s training academy. The eight new officers that year were actually transfers from other departments, Mr. Goulet said.