The collapse of policing? Small town police forces begin disbanding amid nationwide officer recruitment difficulties

According to a report from the Associated Press, numerous small and rural towns across America are disbanding their police forces seemingly due to a nationwide recruitment struggle, as the idea of looking at policing as a potential career choice has steadily become less appealing in recent years. 

Back in August, we at Law Enforcement Today reported on the town of Goodhue, Minnesota, seeing their entire police department resign in the wake of ongoing recruitment struggles, with former Goodhue Police Chief Josh Smith noting at the time that the small department’s compensation package simply couldn’t attract new recruits.

Chief Smith emphasized during an August 14th city council meeting, “We've got zero applicants and I have zero prospects. I've called every PD around looking for the youngest guys out there getting into the game. There's nobody getting into the game.”

At the time of the mass resignation from the local police force, Goodhue Mayor Ellen Anderson Buck admitted to being taken aback by the ordeal, saying, “I think we're all a little bit blindsided by it, but we're resilient and we're going to move forward.”

Yet, what transpired in the small Minnesota town isn’t exactly an anomaly, as the Associated Press reports that between 1972 and 2017 “521 U.S. towns and cities with populations of 1,000 to 200,000 disbanded” their local police departments. Within the past two years, following the massive 2020 riots and the COVID pandemic, an additional 12 small towns saw their police forces disbanded.

Moving back to the topic of Goodhue, the town as of August 24th was left devoid of their own police department. However, the Goodhue County Sheriff’s Office agreed to fill the void left by the exiting police department, but Sheriff Marty Kelly has not had the easiest of transitions into the swallowed area as his own department is working to onboard four active vacancies within the sheriff's office.

To illustrate the seemingly lackluster appeal of law enforcement as a career path in modern times, Sheriff Kelly noted that a singular open position in his office in 2019 drew 35 applicants whereas the four open positions available now have drawn a total of 10 applicants.

Furthermore, Sheriff Kelly is aware that whenever he does get his new recruits, they’re more than likely going to come from other law enforcement agencies, ergo depleting resources from other departments.

The Goodhue County sheriff remarked, “It’s scary. We are robbing Peter to pay Paul. And we’re not alone.”

Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, pointed to a handful of critical contributing factors to this shortage of police recruits, pointing to resignations being up 47% versus pre-2020 riots in conjunction with the younger generation simply not wanting to endure the training required to work in law enforcement.

“Fewer people are applying to be police officers, and more officers are retiring or resigning at a tremendous rate. There’s a shortage of police officers across the country.”

While small town police forces have dissolved by the hundreds over the past 50 years, which reasonably raises concerns, a 2022 study by Rice University Professor of Economics Richard T. Boylan did afford the somewhat comforting fact that smaller towns who’ve disbanded their police forces didn’t see any notable upticks in crime.

Washburn, Illinois, Mayor Steve Forney saw his police force disbanded in 2021, allowing the county to handle law enforcement responses within the city, where he admitted that the transition was seemingly smooth and without any noticeable increases in crime.

“You really can’t tell much of any difference. The sheriff’s department is very responsive. I like it. I was always one who was very hesitant to go this direction, but I feel it’s working for us.”
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No worries! We the people will take up the slack. We will not be as easy on the criminals as the current police and justice system! What goes around comes around!

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