Sterling Heights police Officer Ken Mercer helps Emmanuel Gorgies, 11, from Sterling Heights, try on equipment used by the Special Response Team at the Sterling Heights Police Department’s National Night Out Aug. 1.

Sterling Heights police Officer Ken Mercer helps Emmanuel Gorgies, 11, from Sterling Heights, try on equipment used by the Special Response Team at the Sterling Heights Police Department’s National Night Out Aug. 1.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Police departments struggle with lower recruitment numbers

By: Brendan Losinski | Metro | Published August 8, 2023

 The Bloomfield Township Police Department announced in March a plan to hire 11 new officers.

The Bloomfield Township Police Department announced in March a plan to hire 11 new officers.

File photo provided by the Bloomfield Township Police Department


With Ron French, Bridge Michigan


METRO DETROIT — Police controversies, recent retirements and less robust retirement plans are causing a reduction in those entering the law enforcement field — and some departments are struggling to prevent this from affecting their communities.

Worker shortages are common across many fields in Michigan. With a current unemployment rate of 3.6% — the lowest in the state in 23 years — private businesses and public agencies alike are having trouble finding qualified job candidates, yet law enforcement has been particularly affected.

Police departments across Michigan are struggling to fill positions, with the number of law enforcement officers statewide shrinking more than 4,500 since 2001, which is a decline of 19%. Recruitment is down about 900 in just the past three years. Law enforcement officials pointed to several reasons why these shortages are now occurring.

“In the old days, police and fire departments had pensions,” said Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard. “There were bad hours and pay might not be great, but they knew there was a good retirement opportunity at the end.”

“We’ve seen an increase in retirements the last few years,” added Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham. “Ours were mainly due to having hired a lot of staff between 1986 and 1988, when the tower of the jail was opened. All of those department members who were hired then have been eligible for retirement in recent years. We have had an increase of individuals who start here and then go to other departments or other jobs. We also have had an increase in requests for services for our contracted communities.”

Bouchard said the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office hired more than a hundred officers in the last year, but that they are still short by about 65 people. The Macomb County Sheriff’s Department said that it had 40 of its 230 deputy positions open recently, but a recruiting class has recently dropped the shortfall to about 20.

Both said that one of the key issues is the perception of law enforcement and how this is causing many to not go into law enforcement as a career. High profile controversies, such as the death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers, has lowered the opinion of law enforcement in the eyes of a significant number of people.

“The perception of police on the national stage also has been horrible. Any officer who has acted inappropriately should, obviously, be held accountable, but this is a small number of officers, but that impression has washed over all officers. People are asking why they would want to go into a field where they would have to deal with this perception,” said Bouchard. “I see it similar to the Vietnam vets, who came home after serving and were demonized. I have seen businesses and restaurants that refuse to serve cops. … I want people to know that the person who hates a bad cop the most is a good cop.”

“Some of the factors I believe are responsible have to do with the negative press regarding law enforcement,” Wickersham agreed. “There are also a lot of jobs in the private sector where people can make more money. The work-from-home component is very popular with the younger generation. The job itself has danger and liability.”

Bouchard thinks one of the reasons law enforcement is so acutely affected by recruitment shortages is that a police department cannot reduce the area it is responsible for policing.

“If you can’t hire enough servers at a restaurant, you can close that area of the restaurant or that location,” he explained. “Police departments can never not patrol part of the community. We have to work double shifts, and it has been like this for years. This creates very strong potential for burnout, which causes people to quit, which exacerbates the problem.”

Bouchard went on to say that while some communities aren’t seeing the effects of this officer shortage, other communities are seeing very real effects, ranging from fewer school resource officers to fewer detectives being available to investigate major crimes.

“The community hasn’t seen a lot of effects because we are filling the gaps with double shifts and people working overtime and stretching ourselves thin,” he said. He added that some Oakland County communities haven’t been affected, “but a lot of places, especially in larger cities, are seeing the largest crime increase in decades. Some cities are seeing unchecked violence because there simply aren’t enough police officers out there.”

Wickersham agreed, saying that he has seen many departments suffering from significant burnout. Additional overtime also adds up and can increase a department’s budget.

“Even when you have shortages, you have a lot of forced overtime,” he said. “When people take a sick day or have a training day, you have to move someone over from another shift. Doing that too often leads to burnout. Some people want the overtime, but when it happens too often, people just can’t handle it.”

In 2022, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced $30 million in grants to help departments pay for police academy recruits, and in April, the Legislature passed a bill that allows departments to recoup all or some training costs from recruits if they leave for another department within four years.

The U.S. Senate recently unanimously passed bipartisan legislation authored by Michigan Sen. Gary Peters that aims to strengthen relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve by incentivizing recruits to work in the communities where they live. “The Strong Communities Act” would provide federal grants for local law enforcement recruits who agree to attend school or academy and then serve in a law enforcement agency in their respective communities.

Both sheriffs said that numerous departments are now stepping up their efforts to recruit new officers through measures such as community outreach, paying for training and signing bonuses. Yet both said that the process of refilling their numbers is a slow one and that there is no telling how these shortages will continue to affect communities in the meantime.

“You’ve got to go out into the community and engage with residents. Talk with people, talk with kids and give them insight into what you get out of the job,” said Wickersham. “Like any job, there will be days you will have bad days, but there are a lot of rewarding aspects to it too. We particularly want to get into the high schools and job fairs. We have a recruiting team doing that right now. We are paying for training, in a lot of cases. Some departments are using signing bonuses, but we have not done that.”

Bouchard said they are expanding their outreach.

“We worked with the county to create incentives like signing bonuses,” Bouchard said. “We are doing everything we can to fill those holes because we have no other choice. Failure is not an option.”