DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – Several police departments in the Triangle and throughout North Carolina are struggling to fill vacant police officer positions. Some departments and organizations said low pay and the toxic political climate are to blame.
In Raleigh, 102 of 800 police office officer positions are vacant, according to the police department. In Durham, 91 of more than 500 police positions are vacant, according to a recent internal email CBS 17 obtained.
According to the Durham County Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), sometimes Durham Police shifts are only 50 percent staffed.
“The rate at which they’ve left our department for another department is what has been so alarming,” Smith said.
Smith said some officers are also leaving the Durham Police Department for other jobs outside of law enforcement.
“We have a good economy. There’s a lot of sectors offering higher pay than law enforcement,” Smith said.
Smith said others are also leaving due to the toxic political climate, as he said people have become quick to judge the actions of police officers in certain situations caught on video. He said this climate has to change if they want to recruit more officers.
“The job is difficult enough as it is. You have to make split-second decisions that people will never understand,” Smith said.
CBS 17 reached out to more than a dozen police departments across the state. Nine of them responded. While some, like Apex and Wake Forest, only had two or three vacancies, Winston-Salem had 65 openings and Greensboro had 45.
The police department that had the highest vacancy rate of officers that CBS 17 reached out to was Goldsboro. It had 28 vacancies out of 108, which means almost a third of the department’s sworn officer positions are vacant.
“We can’t hire them as fast as we are losing them,” said Maj. Dean Edwards with the Goldsboro Police Department.
Edwards said they are losing officers for different reasons. He said some are leaving the profession altogether and some are going to other departments.
Edwards said it is hurting staffing levels on shifts. He said Goldsboro police used to have 16 officers on a typical shift, but now they’re lucky to have six officers.
He said this is slowing down their response times to scenes.
“Ultimately, the people who really hurt are the people of the community,” Edwards said. “When we get there, they’re aggravated at us, and we’re just trying to do the best that we can.”
Edwards said it would help if the city of Goldsboro would pay their officers more. Currently, the starting pay for Goldsboro police officers is $38,000 a year, which is roughly the same that starting Durham police officers make.
Edwards said they have had to pull officers from other assigned units to make sure they have enough officers on patrol.
While they are facing a shortage of officers, Edwards said he wants the community to know they are still safe.
“We’re at a bad line right, we’re hurting, but they’re still safe,” Edwards said.
Staff with the city of Durham are working on a proposal to increase police officer pay and it’s expected to go before council in the coming months.