Where Are All The Police Recruits? Cannabis Is Keeping Them Away, Police Chiefs And Portlanders Have An Idea

Benzinga · 01/07/2023 22:44

The shortage of sworn law enforcement officers throughout the country is widespread. It’s especially critical in Portland, Oregon and it’s not a budget issue. Actually, there’s plenty of money to go around; the Police Bureau’s 2022 budget is hefty enough ($249 million) to hire recruits at $65,000, including a $5,000 starting bonus. There just aren't enough takers.

Though the police shortage varies from state to state, the trend is clear: Law enforcement agencies are struggling to fill their ranks. A 2021 Statista report confirmed that the country’s 660,288 full-time police officers had shrunk by nearly 50,000 from 2013. The National Police Support Fund calls the recruit shortage “deep and complex.”

Is Drug Testing Partly To Blame?

To join Portland’s Police Bureau (PPB), an applicant cannot have consumed any cannabis products for one full year prior to application. “Even though marijuana is legal in Oregon and some states, it is still a federal controlled substance that is illegal to possess or use,” per the PPB’s website

What's To Be Done? Portlanders Have An Idea

“Let cops do what other Oregonians have been doing, legally, for years: get off work, flop on the couch, and smoke a J,” suggested an op-ed in Portland’s Willamette Week.

After all, it wouldn’t be the first state in the union to do that. 

In New Jersey, cops can consume cannabis without penalty while off the job.

By contrast, New York City cops are strictly forbidden to consume even when off duty. Although police recruits are not automatically disqualified for prior pot use.

The same goes for New Orleans where the one-year look-back at weed consumption for recruits was dropped in September. The situation in NOLA, by the way, is dramatic: since the pandemic began, the police department has dropped below 1,000 cops for the first time in decades.

Seriously, What’s To Be Done? Here's What Police Chiefs Are Saying

With drug tests and restrictions on cannabis consumers shrinking the pool of recruits and with police officers retiring faster than departments can replace them, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) is sounding the alarm. 

“At a time when the importance of officer mental wellness is more widely recognized, powerful efforts to recruit, hire, and retain officers become increasingly important," the IACP noted in a recent survey. "Law enforcement agencies need to thoughtfully amend recruitment and hiring practices without lowering the standards for officers that their peers and communities have come to expect.” 

Innovations in recruitment, include relaxing candidate disqualifiers, “due to shifting culture among younger generations, some agencies recognize that older policies have become a hindrance to recruitment,” per the IACP report.

“Other agencies no longer disqualify candidates for certain instances of past drug use, with some even choosing not to address it with the candidates at all." 

The Portlanders and Police Chiefs just might be seeing eye to eye on this issue after all.

Photo: Courtesy Portland Police Bureau