Attorney General William P. Barr said Thursday the current anti-police climate has left officers demoralized, raising concerns about recruiting and retaining quality officers.
Speaking with reporters in Arkansas, Mr. Barr said officer morale was a concern before the death of George Floyd while in the custody of the Minneapolis police heightened tensions between police and the community.
“I think the current environment can be very demoralizing for law enforcement,” he said. “Even before Minneapolis we were concerned about the sustainability of our law enforcement system in the United States in a full economy.
The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) reported last year that 63% of departments nationwide saw a decrease in applications over the past five years. More than half of those departments described the decrease as significant.
Applications to join the Nashville Police Department dropped from 4,700 in 2010 to 1,900 by 2018, according to PERF. The Seattle Police Department reported a 40-50% decrease in applications during the same period, and the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office in Colorado said its applications have fallen by 70%.
The drop in applications comes as officers are leaving the profession faster than ever before, according to PERF. Roughly 8.5% of officers are eligible for retirement now and another 15.5% will become eligible within five years — nearly one-quarter of the force combined.
That rate is expected to increase in the aftermath of Floyd’s death on May 25 as a White Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck.
“Attracting quality people and retaining them has become very difficult,” he said.
Mr. Barr said the need to attract quality people in law enforcement is why cities should not cave to the “defund the police” movement.
“Now is not the time to defund the police, weaken law enforcement,” he said. “The idea of tearing down these institutions is very dangerous and we are seeing the results of with the violence in our cities.”