Police officers across the country, angered by budget cuts and a lack of support from left-leaning politicians, are fighting back by walking off the job.
Since the death of George Floyd, protesters have convened nightly to demonstrate against police brutality, sometimes by pelting officers with rocks and bottles, chanting “F—- the police,” and calling them names including “Nazi” and the N-word if the officer is Black.
Mayors and city councils have bowed to protesters’ demands to slash police department budgets and divert funds to social programs for minorities.
Officers say they have been demonized unfairly and have had enough. They are resigning or retiring en masse, creating a new crisis: police forces that are short-staffed and inexperienced.
Paul Beakman Jr., president of the Fraternal Order of Police Western New York Lodge 103, retired in June after 35 years on the job. He cites the defund-the-police movement as his reason for walking away.
“Defund the police is one of the most ill-thought concepts ever,” he told The Washington Times. “You are going to have forced overtime and tired officers patrolling the streets. You are going to have departments hire candidates that, at another time, they may not consider. All of this is going to create a bigger problem.”
Mass resignations began in June, weeks after protests erupted over the death of Floyd, a Black man, while in the custody of the Minneapolis Police Department. This week, Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best resigned after the City Council cut her budget and the salaries of some officers.
In New York last month, 179 officers filed for retirement. That was a stunning 411% increase over the 35 who filed during the same period last year. The resignations swelled after Mayor Bill de Blasio cut $1 billion from the department’s budget.
The Milwaukee Police Department, which is expected to have its budget cut by 10%, has lost 75 officers to resignations or retirements so far this year — 26 in the roughly two months since Floyd’s death. That is an annual rate of 156. Last year, a total of 69 officers retired.
Small towns also have seen a blue wave of retirements.
At least 14 police officers in Norman, Oklahoma, about 8% of the department, resigned after the City Council trimmed its budget.
The only two officers in Dorchester, Wisconsin, resigned last week, leaving the city without a police department. It was not clear whether those resignations were linked to the defund-the-police movement.
“The triggering events for this civil unrest, rioting and anti-police sentiment have happened in a few places, but it has become everybody’s problem,” said Jim Pasco, executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police. “It’s as bad in Dubuque, [Iowa], as it is in Minneapolis.”
Mr. Pasco said his organization has received reports from local departments signaling that an “overwhelming” number of officers nationwide plan to retire or resign.
Resignations in the wake of frustration isn’t a recent trend.
Within a year after the outrage directed at the Baltimore Police Department in 2015 over the in-custody death of Freddie Gray, more than 500 officers retired.
Anger at Democrats
Officers who have recently walked off the job haven’t been shy about pointing the finger at Democratic politicians who they say have sided with anti-police protesters.
Mr. Beakman, the Western New York FOP leader, is a registered Democrat and ran for elected office on that party’s ticket. Now he is frustrated by his party’s refusal to condemn the violence directed toward police officers.
“I am disgusted by what’s going on with the party,” he said. “I can’t even sleep at night thinking I’m part of this group that has vilified an entire profession of individuals that has done nothing wrong other than doing a job that has to get done.”
Mr. Beakman, who also heads the Western New York Association of Retired Law Enforcement Personnel, said his group has endorsed political candidates for the first time in its history.
So far, WARP has endorsed two Republican candidates for state office because of their pro-police views. Mr. Beakman expects more endorsements from the organization as Election Day nears.
“It is the way we can have a voice,” he said. “It is a way we can send a message that this is a candidate who has our backs.”
Paul DiGiacomo, president of the New York Detectives Endowment Association, agreed that politicians must be held accountable for their lack of support for law enforcement.
“These elected officials are responsible, if not more responsible, for the public safety of the people in this city. They dropped the ball, and they don’t care,” he said. “The silence of these elected officials is deafening.”
Two big-city mayors say they support the police but insist changes are needed.
“We’ve got to make sure that we do say to our police officers, we support them and we hear them and honest mistakes are not the same as intentional misconduct,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Thursday.
“We don’t want every single officer pained with a broad brush. This is about a few bad apples,” she said, though she added that there are “systemic problems” in policing.
Mayor Jane Castor of Tampa, Florida, who joined the city’s police department in 1984 and rose to become its chief in 2009, also pushed back on the narrative that Democrats don’t support law enforcement.
“It is imperative that our officers understand they have the support of the mayors, city councils,” she said. “I do argue that law enforcement in my personal opinion is one of the, if not the, most noble jobs.”
Mayors unveil overhauls
Ms. Lightfoot and Ms. Castor, on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, released a series of proposals Thursday intended as a model for how cities should overhaul policing.
The proposals include changing policing to better connect with communities.
One example included dispatching social workers, mental health professionals and other civilians instead of police to handle certain calls. The mayors said the need for other responders is critical in minority communities where relationships between residents and police are strained.
The mayors also called for bans on chokeholds and on firing at moving vehicles except in extreme situations. If any officer is using too much force, they said, other officers must intervene.
During a press conference to announce the plan, Ms. Lightfoot stressed that the mayors, almost all of them big-city Democrats, opposed reducing department budgets.
“We support law enforcement. We honor law enforcement, and we oppose explicitly efforts to defund the police,” she said.
Mr. DiGiacomo said politicians need to focus on repealing lax criminal justice laws and loosened bail rules that let repeat offenders be sprung almost immediately, rather than transform policing.
“If the district attorney lets someone out, what are the police accomplishing other than putting handcuffs on someone just so they can be let out?” he said. “That’s frustrating, too.”
Fear abounds that the exodus of police won’t be easily reversed. It will leave departments understaffed and overworked, potentially exacerbating a national crime surge that began in recent months.
“The people who suffer are going to be the people in New York,” Mr. DiGiacomo said. “Detectives investigate every shooting in the city, and it is very difficult to do that with the lack of manpower.”
Mr. Pasco worries the resignations will hurt future generations as morale declines and fewer people pursue careers in law enforcement.
“It’s not just less safe in the short term, but if you create a whole generation who expect the police not to stop them for any violation, it will get worse,” he said.