Police chiefs: ‘Ignorant’ scrutiny, not money, compounding Illinois recruitment problems

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New regulations for police in Illinois combined with negative public sentiments have departments across the state facing recruitment shortfalls and some don’t think more money will help.

President Joe Biden wants local governments to use federal tax dollars from COVID-19 relief to hire more police.

In part, Biden’s plan encourages local governments to use the $350 billion allotted in the COVID-19 relief bill passed earlier this year to invest in law enforcement, including hiring more officers.

“This strategy will use the Rescue Plan’s historic funding levels and clear guidance to help state, local, territorial, and tribal governments get the money they need to put more police officers on the beat – with the resources, training, and accountability they need to engage in effective community policing – in addition to supporting proven Community Violence Intervention programs, summer employment opportunities, and other investments that we know will reduce crime and make our neighborhoods safer,” the White House said.

In Illinois, money doesn’t seem to be the issue of attracting new officers.

Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police Executive Director Ed Wojcicki said there are factors working against recruiting.

“For the most part, it’s not about the money,” Wojcicki said. “It’s about the climate that is out there in which the police feel unappreciated and they feel like they’re under attack for very inappropriate reasons.”

Anecdotal evidence from his members across the state indicates they’re struggling to retain officers.

“Some, because people can retire, but other times it is younger ones who just say ‘I don’t want to subject my family to unreasonable lawsuits,’” Wojcicki said. “There is so much unreasonable scrutiny on them, and I would say ignorant scrutiny, that people are saying ‘why would I subject myself to that.’”

It’s difficult to say how that’ll impact public safety, but Wojcicki said it could mean people notice less police presence because there are fewer officers.

In Springfield, Mayor Jim Langfelder said there are more than a dozen vacancies.

“For the first time ever … we’ve exhausted our recruitment list,” Langfelder told WMAY. That’s the list of applicants from previous rounds of hiring that didn’t make the cut.

“What it comes down to is changing that perception, if it doesn't hinder, really, the operations or your ability to survive, and that’s where we all need to focus on,” Langfelder said. “We’re all here to serve the public and we need to give the police department the best tools to do that while keeping the engagement level or the level of trust at a high level with our community.”

Earlier this year, the Illinois legislature passed, and the governor signed, a law with sweeping regulations on police many in law enforcement opposed, saying the measure ties the hands of officers.

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