CMPD’s bad tweet and the struggle to recruit officers

CMPD’s bad tweet and the struggle to recruit officers

Demonstrators wave a Black Lives Matter flag outside of CMPD's main headquarters in Uptown on Juneteenth last year. Photo: Emma Way/Axios

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Minutes after a jury in Minnesota found Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd, Charlotte’s police department tweeted about how great being a cop is.

The scheduled tweet, which was almost immediately deleted, included a picture of an officer, smiling in front of an American flag, with the quote: “I love this job because no day is the same and you’re not stuck behind a desk.”

The big picture: It appears to be an honest case of unlucky timing, but the whole mishap is a fitting metaphor for recruiting in a post-2020 world. CMPD has 188 vacancies it needs to fill — about 10% of the force of about 1,800.

  • Applications were down 26% during the first four months of 2021, compared to last year, a spokesperson tells Axios.
  • Police departments across the country are struggling to attract applicants after a year of racial justice protests against police use of excessive force and calls for police reform dampened morale within the profession, our Axios Local collaboration reports.

Why it matters: Recruiting deficits add strain to existing forces and could increase costs through overtime or employee burnout, per the International Association of Chiefs of Police. And if Americans want better police forces, city officials say, this isn’t the way to get them.

Recruiting new officers has been a challenge for years, says Major Mike Campagna, who retired this spring after nearly three decades with CMPD.

It’s gotten more complicated for a number of reasons, including the advancement of new technology that gives the public better access to police work. “Cell phones, computers in the cars, GPS tracking, all of those things have a huge impact on policing,” he says.

Mike Campagna from 2016

Mike Campagna talks with a demonstrator during protests September 22, 2016. Photo: Photo Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Zoom out: These challenges are not unique to Charlotte, and Campagna says they stem in part from the “continued battering of the profession” among those who want the law enforcement industry overhauled.

“We have to find a way to hold police departments accountable, to hold them to a high standard of integrity and professionalism without demeaning them and without going to war with words,” Campagna tells Axios.

Flashback: Campagna, 50, joined the department in 1992, a year before the city had its deadliest year on record.

  • Even though the homicide rate was staggering and the workload was heavy back then, officers understood what was behind the killings, Campagna says. That murders are so random these days, and he says that weighs on officers.
  • “We knew what people were fighting over. They were fighting over crack cocaine. But what we’re seeing today is young people shooting each other over Facebook posts, over relationships, love triangles as it were,” Campagna says. “Today’s murders are so senseless.”

Campagna became a local fixture during the protests following the police killing of Keith Lamont Scott in 2016. He held a number of meetings and conversations with protestors in the days that followed, earning him trust in the community. Charlotte magazine named him a Charlottean of the Year in 2016.

A year before that, Campagna testified that fellow officer Randall “Wes” Kerrick used excessive force when he shot and killed a Black man named Jonathan Ferrell a few years prior.

Campagna calls that an especially difficult time in his career. There are still people in the department who don’t agree with his decision to testify against Kerrick, Campagna says. “I can either misrepresent my thoughts, which I don’t think demonstrates great integrity, or I do what I think is right,” he says of his decision to testify.

The bottom line: Campagna says the harder it gets to recruit officers, the worse off the community could be for it. “When you begin appealing only to people who need a job or people who are only looking for money, you’re seeking the wrong people.”

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"It's good. I promise." - Emma   Emma Way