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POLICE SHORTAGE: Rush to retirement leaves local departments short staffed

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From the 'Defund Police' movement, to the Criminal Justice Reform Bill just passed in Illinois, police officers have been under a microscope.

Now, there's a trend in the Heart of Illinois, agencies are desperate for more officers.

The Peoria County Sheriff's Office is even offering a $10,000 sign on bonus for patrol officers, and $5,000 for correctional officers.

Leaders telling Jenise Rebholz, It's a problem only getting worse.

"You know, we're probably losing more officers than we're gaining," said Bloomington Police Chief Greg Scott.

"I think the trend started three, four, five years ago.... where we started seeing the decrease in applicants, and the increase in people retiring," said Peoria Police Chief Doug Theobald.

Interim Chief Scott and Interim Chief Theobald blame the exodus within their departments to retirements. The pattern they are seeing is officers retiring almost as soon as they're eligible, instead of working a few years longer.

"We have some other officers who, given the overall climate towards law enforcement right now, are just saying, you know what, I've had enough and they're deciding to retire," said Chief Scott.

They say it's the national conversation around law enforcement and the newly signed Criminal Justice Reform Bill pushing people out of the profession.

Jenise Rebholz: "On the trend we're at right now, do you think we are headed to the direction of a police officer shortage?"

"I think we're already there," said Chief Theobald.

"It's not just specific to Illinois. And I do know that yeah, I've heard that some officers will go to other states because one reason or another. But, I think there's a shortage everywhere," said Theobald.

"There's been a pretty heavy dialogue of 'law enforcement is bad'. It's in general terms. We're not here for that, we're here for the purpose of helping people. So we've spent a lot of time encouraging guys to get back to what their original calling was when they came in, guys and gals, when they came into law enforcement and that was and is to help people," said Chief Scott.

Filling those vacant positions is getting more challenging as well, both Chiefs say fewer people are showing up to their testing.

That shift is being noticed by a law enforcement professor at Western Illinois University. Todd Lough says he isn't seeing fewer students, rather a shift in interest. Lough says he's noticing fewer of his graduates set on being patrol officers, and more moving toward federal law enforcement.

"What they've seen going on in the communities around the country has, I think, convinced a lot of them that it's a very challenging profession and they really do better be completely committed to it, and, of the choices they have, it's one of the more challenging ones," said Lough.

A college degree is not required for many police departments, but Illinois agencies showing up at WIU's job fairs find they can't compete with the pay offered by other states.

"The supply in the pipeline of new officers is just not remotely keeping up with the demand, and it's rural Illinois, rural Iowa, rural Missouri and rural America that's having the most trouble competing for new hires. And so it's a problem they're going to have to aggressively address, and make working there more attractive or this is going to be a long term problem," said Lough.

The Peoria Police department is down about 15 officers, while Bloomington is down about six, though many are in training.

"It takes a long time to get an officer established and trained…. but it only takes one day, you now, for someone to walk out the door," said Theobald.

With fewer officers available, Chief Theobald says this can lead to less community involvement for officers, create more burnout, and longer response times.

Hiring agencies: Peoria County Sheriff's Office, Peoria Police Department, East Peoria Police Department, Creve Coeur Police Department, Bloomington Police Department, Bartonville Police Department, Mclean County Sheriff's Office and Tazewell County Sheriff's Office.

Jenise Rebholz

Evening Anchor, Heart of Illinois ABC
@JeniseRebholzTV

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