SAN DIEGO — As the son of a cop who retired after 37 years on the job, I have a visceral reaction to the fact that more and more police officers appear to be leaving the profession. I'm not merely disappointed. That word doesn't quite cover it. Try disgusted.
Police officers take an oath to serve and protect. But as a growing number of Americans become critical of law enforcement in the wake of George Floyd's murder by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, legions of cops are ducking a public scolding by choosing a different path: quit or retire early.
A lot of police officers are headed for the exits.
The retirement rate for police officers jumped 45% in 2020 from the previous year, and resignations were up 20%, according to a June survey of nearly 200 police departments by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF).
Public safety is in "uncharted territory," according to PERF's Executive Director Chuck Wexler.
When someone quits a job, there is still a right and a wrong way to do it. The decent thing is to not leave your employers during their hour of need.
In this case, the timing is terrible. For one thing, there's been a sharp increase in shootings and murders in major U.S. cities since the start of the pandemic. Early statistics indicate the increase is even worse this summer as Americans — having convinced themselves that COVID-19 has been conquered — venture back into society. Getting out has meant getting into trouble.
Then there is the fact that recruitment of new officers to replace those who are leaving the job has rarely been more difficult. According to hiring statistics, the onboarding of new police officers has dropped 5%. Young people looking for a career where they are universally loved and appreciated are looking elsewhere.
Listen to officers currently on the job, and you'll see this is part of the problem. They resent that, in some cases, they are no longer perceived as the good guys.
They need to get over it. For police, this business about being loved and appreciated has never been part of the job description.
My dad never turned in his badge before his time or took early retirement, no matter how bad things got. As a Mexican American police officer who started out in the turbulent 1960s, his job was no picnic. Imagine being too brown to be fully blue, and too blue to be fully brown. He was unfairly denied promotions because, he was told by one racist supervisor, he didn't "speak good English." Yet, the fact that he was bilingual came in handy when helping White officers book Spanish-speaking suspects. Still, I never heard him talk about quitting. Not once.
The same goes for me. While I'm not a cop, I do know a little something about being part of a profession that is wildly unpopular, where a big chunk of the public thinks you're biased or corrupt or harmful to society.
Why, my tribe has even been targeted by a former president of the United States as an "enemy of the people."
Cry me a river, coppers. As a journalist, I'm part of what many Americans consider to be a media that ranges from the dishonest to the demonic. Tell me all about how tough you have it, how no likes you. Poor thing.
Important jobs are usually difficult. If they were easy, anyone could do them. When the going gets rough, you don't get going out the door. If leaving is your solution, then you're part of the problem. You picked the wrong gig, pal. Or maybe you picked this job for the wrong reasons. Either way, there are a lot of "Help Wanted" signs these days. Go do something else. Good riddance.
The silver lining? There are still — in cities and towns across America — plenty of good cops of sound character who haven't abandoned their posts. They get up every morning or go on graveyard shifts every night. They kiss their spouses and kids goodbye with no guarantee that this time won't be the last.
May St. Michael, the patron saint of law enforcement, guard them and keep them safe. And may the rest of us, who they serve and protect, never lose sight of how fortunate we are to have them in our corner.
Ruben Navarrette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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