Alexandria, Virginia’s police chief is trying to calm concerns after announcing that a steep officer shortage in his department would lead to service reductions.
“We are doing everything we can to make sure that our communities are safe,” Chief Don Hayes said during a Friday news conference. “They are our No. 1 priority.”
Hayes promised that all calls to the police would still be answered over the phone or online.
However, he noted that officers would likely not show up to a scene in-person anymore if there is no danger to the public or if another agency, such as the fire department, is already there.
One example of a call where police would not respond would be if there is a car break-in and there were no suspects around.
“We would normally send an officer out there to take that report, but now we can have that person call in and that information will be recorded, reported and followed up on by an investigator,” Hayes said.
According to Hayes, the department only has about 240 officers available out of a possible 311.
At least five officers have left over the past two weeks, with some retiring or leaving the job for different careers.
“I think we have to realize that our profession has changed,” said Hayes. “The days of people becoming police officers and working 25 and 30 years might not be what people are looking for today.”
Hayes said part of the trend stems from the killing of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, during an arrest in 2020.
“Nationwide, police is not looked at as being a favorable occupation right now,” Hayes said. “We have to change that image and we have to get people to understand that we can’t be painted with a broad brush.”
Hayes said the department currently has a “robust” recruiting effort underway.
“We’re actually going out into neighborhoods, military bases, and everywhere we can to let people know that we need qualified candidates to come and join.”