Police recruitment is on the decline in Montgomery County and leaders say one of the reasons is increased scrutiny of the force following high-profile racial bias accusations.
“I can’t ignore that that’s a factor. When you do a job that’s being highly criticized on a daily basis, we have to ask ourselves, how do we find good candidates that really want to be under that type of scrutiny,” said Acting Police Chief Marcus Jones. “If you feel like you’re being scrutinized all the time, then this may not be the career that you want, so we understand that that may be a roadblock for us.”
Jones, who met with a County Council public safety committee earlier this week, said 37 recruits would begin a 29-week training academy in August before they are sworn in as officers and pair for 14-weeks with a field training officer.
Acting Assistant Chief of the Management Services Bureau Dinesh Patil said recruitment has declined by half over the course of the last six years. Patil, a 25-year veteran of the force, said national trends that have attracted negative media attention have been a factor in discouraging applicants.
“A lot of focus in the media over the last few years has meant fewer people wanting to go into law enforcement,” Patil said.
The Montgomery County force has 12 officers per 10,000 county residents. According to 2016 data from the FBI, Montgomery is below the officer-to-citizen ratio of several of the country’s largest metropolitan areas, including the District of Columbia, which had a ratio of 55:10,000, and New York City, which had a ratio of 42.3:10,000.
While the county police force is the primary local law enforcement agency, the county is also served by state police and the sheriff’s office, as well as municipal departments in Gaithersburg, Rockville, Takoma Park, Chevy Chase Village and federal officers at major government installations such as the National Institutes of Health. The regional subway and bus system also has a police force.
Rookie county officers have a starting salary of $52,500.
Patil and Jones, who has been on the force since 1985, agreed that the decline in recruitment was part of a national trend, coinciding with shootings of unarmed black men that have sparked outrage across the country and allegations of racial bias.
In Montgomery County, several incidents of alleged racial profiling have occurred in the past year, including the shooting of Robert White, an unarmed black Silver Spring man, more than a year ago.
Other incidents included the use of a racial slur toward four black men at a White Oak fast food restaurant last month, and this month’s traffic stop of Will Jawando — a black County council member— by a state trooper for what he believes was a “pretextual stop.”
A recent report from the Office of Legislative Oversight on racial equity found that blacks accounted for 43.9% of arrests in 2017, and Latinos 25.9% of arrests despite the fact that each race makes up about 20% of the county’s population. Whites made up 27.4% of arrests, but comprise more than half of the population.
Jones said he understands the concerns over racial profiling, but thinks there is more to the story.
“When you look at arrests overall, and you look at communities of color, you have to dissect that more. You can’t look at it at face value. You have to look at the impact on the victims of these crimes and what leads to these individuals’ arrest. What does that look like? And what is associated with the individuals who commit those types of crimes?” he said.
Chuck Wexler, executive director of the D.C. think tank Police Executive Research Forum, said 62% of police departments nationally have reported decreases in recruiting nationally over the last few years. Negative media coverage, he said, has played a significant role.
“The narrative about the police has not been very positive. We live in a time where police have never been under more scrutiny,” he said.
Montgomery County police officer recruitment numbers have declined from 132 in 2014, a spokesman said.
Most years include winter and summer training classes, although some only include one recruitment class:
132 recruits in 2014 (summer and winter)
38 recruits in 2015 (summer only)
34 recruits in 2016 (summer only)
76 recruits in 2017 (summer and winter)
62 recruits in 2018 (summer and winter)
22 recruits in 2019 (winter only, but summer class anticipated in August)
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org