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Did 2020 change the police profession? Departments having a hard time recruiting

Posted at 6:26 PM, Nov 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-10 18:26:12-05

NIAGARA COUNTY, N.Y. (WKBW) — As he sat in his Lockport office in late September, Niagara County Sheriff Mike Filicetti says he could hear seven parolees, who were picked up on technical violations chanting from his window.

“It was one of the worst days in my career,” he said. “Watching people who I don’t feel should be back out in society.”

Sheriff Fillicetti says they were referring to the Less Is More Law, signed by Governor Kathy Hochul in late September, which prevents recently paroled prisoners from being jailed on a technical violation such as missing a curfew.

“One had as many as 36 arrests, multiple convictions. Some were in here on domestic violence charges,” he said.

This is just one of the many police reforms in the state, in Sheriff Filicetti’s 28 year career that he says has changed the scope of the law enforcement profession.

“My hope is that we can dial these things back and start holding people accountable,” he said of the reforms.

Fillicetti says he worries—the events that have unfolded in the country since 2020 have gained everyone’s idea of the law enforcement profession.

“I think some people that were going to get into law enforcement may have had second thoughts,” he said.

Police, both retired and on the job who I spoke with for this story say the profession has been cast in such a drastically negative light over the last few years, new recruits may find themselves looking elsewhere.

In Florida for example, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis recently offered a $5,000 sign on bonus for any police officer tho would like to relocate for the state.

“Our application numbers were really really low out of the gate, and I was concerned,” Sheriff Fillicetti said of those who took the civil service exam.

Sheriff Fillicetti says it was hard finding new recruits.

In 2019, he says more than 500 people took the exam, but this year, interest was low and only 130 people registered in the beginning. Fillicetti says a big recruitment push by his office made a different in the end, with 412 applicants.

“Sometimes when you see a lot of negative attention on a profession you may say ‘well I really wanted to be a police officer but I don’t know anymore.”

New recruits are needed to replace long-time officers who are leaving.

The Erie County Sheriff’s Office saw resignations and retirements increase since 2019. So far this year 56 Deputies have left, compared to 46 for all of last year.

New York State Police resignations and retirements were up in 2020 at 287. As of September, 180 have left.

In Buffalo 2019 saw 67 retirements and 8 resignations, we’re told because of the new Buffalo Police contract that year. That leveled out in 2020 with 29 retirements and 3 resignations. So far this year, 28 retirements and 2 resignations.

“I think the challenge for policing is a lot of politicians started knee jerk reactions in passing legislation and policy that really made the police feel like they are the criminals and gave more rights to criminals than victims of crimes or police who are paid to go out and enforce the laws they create,” said Retired Buffalo Police Captain Jeff Rinaldo.

Rinaldo is one of the 28 who retired this year in Buffalo. While he says the events of 2020 did not contribute to his decision to retire, he says the changes being made legislatively such as bail reform, raise the age or ticketing in place of arrests in the City have been made with little to no police input.

“If you’re demonizing the police then the system stops right then and there. So id police don’t feel like they can bring people into the system without having their livelihood or safety being at risk, then the reform was basically to stop people from entering the system,” he said of the legislative changes we have seen in the state.

And while all police departments are not seeing a drastic uptick in retirements, Rinaldo says many are struggling to attract the officers of tomorrow.

Despite all changes in the profession Sheriff Fillicetti says it’s important that new recruits and officers stay focused.

“I say don’t let things the way they’re looking right now discourage you from this job. It’s still a great career. Time changes things and I’m hopeful that we’ll see the needle move back in the right direction with some of the things that have been passed here in New York State.”