NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - Nashville is hemorrhaging police officers at a time when more are needed than ever before. That’s according to the union president who says the problem has become a major public safety concern.
“Even if we were fully staffed today, we would not have enough officers,” said fraternal order of police president James Smallwood.
42 officers recently graduated from Nashville’s police academy. In a few months, the graduates will be out on the streets, risking their lives, to keep the city safe.
“I’m just proud to be doing the job I’m going to be doing,” said officer Beri Scott.
The problem is, 42 isn’t enough, because Nashville is experiencing explosive growth.
Meanwhile, the city is losing police officers at an unprecedented rate. Smallwood said in 2019 114 officers left the department. There are currently dozens of open positions.Meanwhile, recruitment is a struggle.
Just ask the guys in charge of doing it. “At one point in time we were over 4000 applications a year and we’re down to about 2000,” said Sergeant Clifton Knight and Lieutenant Ryan Hampton who both work in Metro’s recruitment unit.
So how did we get here?
Smallwood said officers aren’t banking enough pay and it’s a problem that goes way back.
Mayor Karl dean suspended pay raises for four years in the face of the 2008 financial crisis.
Mayor Megan Barry promised three years of raises then resigned because of a sex scandal.
Then came Mayor David Briley who cancelled a year's worth of those promised annual raises.
“Well we never caught up from that,” said Smallwood. Money is a major issue, but it’s not the only one.
With a new community oversight board and officer Andrew Delke on trial, many feel over scrutinized and underappreciated.
Plus recruiters said negative national news makes things worse.
“They see the badge and the uniform and were just grouped into that stereotype,” said Knight.
The police department recently created a new position focused solely on recruitment. They’re advertising and offering more incentives.
The chief has repeatedly asked for a new precinct and more officers he keeps getting turned down.
So many now hope a new mayor will mean a new direction.
“That is what will fix this problem, an administration who is willing to listen, who is willing to step in and roll their sleeves up and get some work done,” said Smallwood.
In Mayor John coopers four year commitment tracker, he promises to fill the open police positions and provide better pay for first responders.
He also promises to provide officers with better tech support and mental health resources.
If you want to be a police officer or know someone who would make a good candidate, the department is hiring right now.
Unlike a lot of other police departments, you don’t have to wait until you complete the academy, you can start getting paid the minute you’re hired.
To apply, visit the police department's website, here.