FILE - police appreciation engagement

(The Center Square) – Cities that are not grateful for what police officers do and want to defund departments have officers who are under a lot more stress while dealing with an already difficult job.

That's the assessment of Keith Germain, vice president of the New Jersey Association of Chiefs of Police, who recently spoke with The Center Square. Germain, who is also chief of police of the Barnegat Police Department, said it’s a wholly different experience working in a city that supports its officers.

“But beyond that, I would just say that police officers historically are used to not being liked all the time, right?" Germain said. "We're typically the bearer of bad news."

He said, however, that as crime has increased everywhere – even in communities where police didn’t feel appreciated a few years ago or that were calling for defunding – police departments have seen that theory crash headlong into reality.

“We see now that those communities are asking for more police officers and bigger police budgets," Germain said, "because once we start to become victimized, as is always the case, we look to the police first to kind of solve the problems that nobody else is able to solve."

Law enforcement agencies have a tough time recruiting rookies because, with rare exceptions, he said, “it’s the only profession on the planet where if you make a mistake, you find yourself in front of a grand jury with the threat of going to prison.”

That can be a huge disincentive for people, he said. So it’s not surprising to anyone in law enforcement that they’re having trouble recruiting.

Police departments try to highlight the good that they do, but what is seen on the news is an agency’s worst officer on their worst day, Germain said. That sometimes defines an entire profession.

Law enforcement isn’t much different than any other industry dealing with labor shortages that everybody has been suffering for the past few years, he said.

“As is often the case, a lot of times the government lags behind private industry. But I think you're seeing departments now increasing their pay,” Germain said.

That includes places like Seattle and Portland that have experienced defund-the-police movements.

Significant signing bonuses are offered to recruit police officers.

“In the department I work for has not really suffered from the hiring and retention problems because we're a very well-paid agency,” Germain said. “We have a lot of police officers from other agencies who come and take our test and want to come work for us because, just like any, any other business, if you can make more money doing the same job for somebody else, you're going to go see what you're worth.”

What’s being seen now is law enforcement agencies competing to attract from a decidedly more limited pool of candidates, Germain said.

A lot of people are leaving the profession now, he said. The places that have governments and communities that support the police are not going to have trouble recruiting, according to Germain.

It’s the opposite for places with strong defund-the police-movements where the politicians’ default position is to blame the police officers and point the finger at the police, Germain said. Many of these are urban centers that have low pay, according to Germain.

“It shouldn't be shocking to anyone that they're having trouble recruiting police officers,” Germain said.

Another challenge follows the push to hire from underrepresented populations, according to Germain.

“We want police departments generally to look like the communities that they're serving,” he said.

A narrative is that the cops are all racist, Germain says, which is followed by questions about why they are having trouble recruiting from the Black community and from the Hispanic community.

“This is a messaging challenge that we face, trying to attract not just candidates to your agency," Germain said. "But we want to attract candidates that represent and reflect the populations that we're serving."