Nationwide Turmoil Hurts Law Enforcement Recruitment Efforts
By: James Clark -- Editor for the Southern Standard
McMinnville Police Chief Bryan Denton
Highway Patrol Lt. Billy Prater
Americans are confronting the police officers who are sworn to protect them like never before.
Tension between citizens and law enforcement has reached riot levels in some parts of the country as protesters are decrying police brutality and demanding change.
The atmosphere is not conducive to recruiting new officers.
“It’s a different animal now than when I started in 1981,” said McMinnville Police Chief Bryan Denton, the longest serving officer in Warren County with 39 years of experience.
“It used to be we’d have a stack of applications 6 inches thick from people wanting to get on at McMinnville Police Department. But with the things going on nationally, that’s not the climate we have today. It used to be kids wanted to grow up and be a police officer. There aren’t many kids saying that now.”
Police departments in Minneapolis and Atlanta have faced mass resignations in recent days. They are two cities where black men have died at the hands of police and backlash has been fierce.
Tennessee Highway Patrol Lt. Billy Prater says the problem is not just with citizens and law enforcement. It’s with people and all types of authority.
“No one wants to listen to anyone anymore,” said Lt. Prater. “It’s not just us, it’s everywhere. I saw something online that said, ‘This is what we get for not spanking our kids.’”
Prater has been in law enforcement for 37 years, including 34.5 with the Highway Patrol. He oversees a four-county area which includes Warren, Van Buren, DeKalb and Smith counties.
“The problems with recruitment started long before these protests,” said Prater. “People don’t want to be in law enforcement anymore. They don’t.”
Prater says the Highway Patrol has always emphasized a good relationship with the community.
“We’ll be as cordial as people will let us,” said Prater. “We strive not to stoop to their level.”
A deadly confrontation in DeKalb County last week shows how officers can literally be in the line of fire. A man who had been the subject of a day-long manhunt reportedly threatened officers with a gun before he was shot and killed.
“A patrol officer never knows what he’s walking up on, even for a routine traffic stop,” said Chief Denton. He added national events where officers have been charged with crimes for allegedly abusing their power “frustrates all of us.”
“Communitywide, I feel like our police department has a very good connection with the community,” said Denton. “If you look at other areas, like the Rodney King incident in Los Angeles, it’s clear their police had no connection with the community for something like that to happen.”
Denton noted the pendulum swings back and forth when it comes to the public’s attitude toward law enforcement. He said in the years following 9/11, police officers were hailed as heroes and could do little wrong. However, that’s not the case now, nearly 20 years later.