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Local police departments battle staffing shortage amid recruitment challenges

Both Buffalo and Amherst police departments say they are not at full strength due to challenges with recruitment, retirement, and retention.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Industries continue to feel the pinch as it relates to staffing shortages, and law enforcement is no exception

Between the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 and the country's current social climate, more police agencies nationwide have been struggling with recruitment, including departments right here in Western New York.

Amherst Police Chief and veteran officer Scott P. Chamberlin said it hasn't been easy, especially since the department doesn't handle its own recruitment; Erie County does. As far as the Amherst Police Exam, there hasn't been a police test since before COVID. 

"We're not at the number right now. But we have 159 strong, when we have all of our people. We're down quite a bit. We're down 11 or 12 right now," Chief Chamberlin said. "We're controlled by Erie County. They have an exam every two or three years, and that's where we get our candidates from, so we can't recruit individual people. We just have to, you know, try to do as much awareness as we can." 

Over in Buffalo, the police department is also facing some staffing challenges.

G.G. Herndon-Hill is the commissioner of human resources and says new recruitment efforts haven't started yet, because the city is still working from its current list, which expires in September of 2023. That said, Herndon-Hill told 2 On Your Side's Liz Lewin that given the turnout for the fire exam, there are some concerns.

"Currently, there are about approximately 713 active officers, and there are 10 exempt employees. I would say as far as the openings, the vacancies, there's about 40," Herndon-Hill said. "The numbers are not the way they were before. People are really weighing, I think, the danger of the job."

Bottom line: Times have changed, which means recruitment efforts are as well.

"We will be working very hard, very diligently to encourage people who don't normally think about this as a career path, to think about it to consider it," Herndon-Hill said. 

According to the Police Executive Research Forum, also known as PERF, between 2020 and 2021, there were three major reasons police departments in the United States saw a drop in sworn officers:

  • hiring has been modest, at best;
  • an increase in resignations; and
  • an even bigger increase in retirements. 
Credit: Police Executive Research Forum 2020-2021

So, what are local police departments doing to address this?

On Monday, July 11,  Amherst, Kenmore, Cheektowaga, Lockport, Lancaster, Tonawanda Police and New York State Police are hosting a joint department recruitment event from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Amherst Police Community Policing and Training Facility. 

Testing for a majority of these departments isn't until fall.

"We obviously see the media and some of the stories out there that and some of the social unrest, that gives us an idea that there's some issues and that people may not want to do this job," Chief Chamberlin says. "So, I think this next test coming up will give us a good idea of whether, you know the people that want to apply and the numbers of people."

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