When Dallas Police Chief David Brown — clearly exhausted after a week of grappling with the murders of five of his officers at a peaceful protest — was asked at a news conference on Monday if he was afraid that the sniper attack would result in an increase of resignations within his department his response was quite frank.
"Our officers have been leaving because we’re the lowest paid in the area. Forty-four grand, that’s starting pay… So it’s not just resignation. It’s officers not feeling appreciated," Brown said
“We’re asking cops to do too much in this country," he said. "We are. Every societal failure, we put it off for the cops to solve." Rattling off mental health funding, drug treatment and the public school system, Brown insisted, “That’s too much to ask. Policing was never meant to solve all those problems.”
In many ways, Brown’s words highlight police stresses felt across the country — from being underfunded, understaffed, and having to operate in an oftentimes negative landscape where controversial officer-involved shootings ramp up anti-police sentiment.
Nationwide, many officers say they feel collectively blamed for the actions of cops.
"It’s like any profession, when there's negative publicity around a profession your recruiting pool goes down. And we're seeing that and we have been seeing that,” said Washington D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier.
With police tactics under scrutiny, morale is sagging and fewer recruits are signing up. Baltimore — plagued by riots following the death of Freddie Gray, a black man who died from spinal injuries sustained after being transported in a police van last year — lost 6 percent of its force following last year’s riots. Detroit lost 5 percent of its force last year too.
Funding is also a major problem. In San Jose – where disputes over pay and pensions have battered the city – the police department has gone from 1,400 officers to just 855 in six years. And just 18 recruits are in the academy.
“There's a lot of fear in law enforcement,” said San Jose Police Chief Eddie Garcia. “And there's a lot of fear with our officers' families as well as they come to work every day. I don't know how they're couldn't be. We hire from the human race. Which is a point I think people forget is that our officers are human beings too.”
The San Jose Police Department has gone as far to mandate officers to work overtime so all the shifts can be covered.
"Our workforce is tired, there's no doubt about it. They're tired but at the same time, they know they have a job to do, they've given their lives to this community — time and time again,” said Garcia.
Nationwide, nearly half a million local officers wear a badge, according to the Department of Justice. The average salary is $61,270. California pays the most on average, with $93,500, while Mississippi pays just $33,000 on average.
Then there’s the danger of the job. Twenty-eight officers have been killed by gunfire this year, up 56 percent, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
Terrence Cunningham, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, reiterated Brown’s remarks about how officers are facing more demands.
"There are more and more social issues that the police are being asked to deal with and quite frankly, we can't, all the training in the world cannot train you to deal with all of those issues," Cunningham said.
Tod Burke, a professor of criminal justice at Radford University and a former Maryland police officer, said because of the string of apparent officer related shootings, including Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota, there can be a perception problem in policing that could affect recruiting.
“As long as the public is perceiving that the police are behaving badly or acting improperly, that could translate into reality” in terms of recruitment, Burke said. He also said it would have the reverse effect of more people signing up to serve to be “an agent of change.”
Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, reiterated the sentiment, saying of the Dallas shooting, “Hopefully they’ll look at the courage and dignity of the vast majority of police officers.”
That could be the case as the Dallas Police Department is reportedly being inundated with applications after Brown told protesters his agency was hiring.
“Don’t be part of the problem," Brown said. "We’re hiring. We’re hiring. Get off that protest line and put an application in."