New Jersey police departments have struggled to hire officers amid widespread anti-law enforcement sentiment and a spike in violent crime in the state.
The State Police, the largest law enforcement agency in New Jersey, has seen applicants drop from 15,000-20,000 per year to a “historic low” of 2,023 this year, the department’s acting superintendent said in April, according to NJ.com.
“The atmosphere with police work right now is people just don’t want to apply,” Robert Fox, president of the New Jersey State Fraternal Order of Police, told NJ.com. “Many are thinking, ‘maybe I’ll try later when things improve.’”
Police leaders said multiple departments in New Jersey have struggled to find good candidates.
Nationwide, officer resignations and retirements increased dramatically in 2020 to 2021 compared to 2019 to 2020, the Police Executive Research Forum found in a June report.
The death of George Floyd in May 2020 unleashed a wave of racial justice and police reform protests across the country. The demonstrations sometimes turned violent and destructive, placing greater strain on officers at a time when they are already facing heavy scrutiny.
Meanwhile, hundreds of New Jersey officers have been sickened with COVID-19 and many have died. The coronavirus, and the accompanying lockdowns and business closures, have also fueled crime, according to experts.
“People are done,” Brian Higgins, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, told NorthJersey.com in May. “They’ve been cooped up for a while, and for whatever reason, people are angry. Everybody’s looking at the crime rates … we anticipate an uptick.”
New Jersey State Police data appears to confirm Higgins’ prediction.
Shootings and gun-related homicides in the Garden State are up significantly this year. Between January and May, 87 people were shot and killed, up 36% from the same period in 2020 and up 13% from those same months in 2018.