Multiple small towns across America have disbanded their police units in the past two years amid a widespread staffing and budgeting crisis.
The shortage has been attributed to a ‘two-fold morale hit of 2020’ – the coronavirus pandemic and criticism of law enforcement which boiled over after George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis cop.
The resulting Black Lives Matter protests led to the demonization of forces across the US, with staunch rally cries to ‘defund the police.’
Now, a new report released by Associated Press claims ‘at least 12 towns have since dissolved their departments’ and instead ‘turned over police work to their county sheriff, a neighboring town or state police.’
In Goodhue Minnesota, the outlet reported that Police Chief Josh Smith was left with no choice after failing to fill vacancies in his small department.
Multiple small towns across America have disbanded their police units in the past two years due to hiring struggles including the town of Goodhue in Minnesota (pictured)
The shortage has been attributed to a ‘twofold morale hit of 2020’ – the pandemic and criticism of law enforcement which boiled over after George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis cop
A report released by AP claims ‘at least 12 towns have since dissolved their departments’ some experts saying officers have become disillusioned by the defund movement
Smith warned that unless pay and benefits improved finding new officers would never happen. When nothing had changed by August he, along with the remaining officers, quit.
Goodhue resident Taylor Buck told Republican Eagle that while the community has a ‘history of low crime’ the national attention could see people take advantage.
Buck added that the departure of the officers was a two part issue – better pay and a ‘societal issue.’
‘To help retain officers, it seems we may have to up their pay some, but as our police chief said, nobody is becoming an officer right now, which seems to be more of a societal issue than anything,’ Buck said.
‘I don’t blame people for not wanting to be one, it is a tough and thankless job at times.’
For now the Goodhue County Sheriff’s Office will be aiding law enforcement for the rest of the year and are in discussions with city council about 2024.
Sheriff Marty Kelly who has his own hiring shortages ‘for similar reasons’ told AP that ‘It’s scary. We are robbing Peter to pay Paul and we’re not alone.’
Officer resignations rose 47 percent last year compared to 2019 – before the pandemic and George Floyd’s death – while retirement has gone up 19 percent according to a survey of nearly 200 police agencies by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), a Washington DC based think tank.
The survey only represents agencies affiliated with PERF, a fraction of the more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide, and is ‘not representative of all departments,’ AP reported.
It is however one of the few agencies examining police hiring and retention rates and comparing them with the time prior to Floyd’s killing.
In addition to officers leaving forces, there has been a shortage of young talent seeking to join.
PERF executive director Chuck Wexler told AP: ‘Fewer people are applying to be police officers, and more officers are retiring or resigning at a tremendous rate. There’s a shortage of police officers across the country.’
The city typically budgeted for eight full-time officers and a full-time administrative specialist in Morris, Minnesota but have since dissolved the 140 year old police department in town
Morris, Minnesota – Disbanded: July 2022, Population: 5,105
Another Minnesota town, Morris dissolved its 140 year police department in July 2022 after the continued departures of officers. The town of 5,105 residents was down to two officers at the time.
City Manager Blaine Hill told MPRnews it was a ‘sad day.’
‘People ask, ‘How in the world could a town the size of Morris not have a police department?’ We live in a different world now.’
The city typically budgeted for eight full-time officers and a full-time administrative specialist.
Limestone, Maine – Disbanded: April 2023, Population: 1,526
In Maine, the town of Limestone disbanded its police department in April citing staffing shortages and a lack of qualified applicants.
Interim Police Chief Jesse Cormier wrote in a post on Facebook at the time: ‘Shutting the doors of the department was not the outcome that I was looking for or intended when I offered to take the position.’
‘Unfortunately, due to the lack of qualified applicants, staffing and the nationwide shortage of police officers, abolishing the Department is the right thing do at this time for the safety of the citizens of the community.’
With the dissolution of the department, law enforcement duties are now covered by the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Office and Maine State Police, according to the post.
Cormier had worked in Limestone since 2007 and assumed the duties of police chief in September.
In Maine , the town of Limestone disbanded its police department in April citing staffing shortages and a lack of qualified applicants
Limestone is a town in Aroostook County with a population just over 1,500 citizens adjacent to the border with Canada.
Two years earlier, neighboring Van Buren, a town of 2,038 was also disbanded.
Washburn Illinois, Disbanded: February 2021, Population: 1,032
Crime statistics remained unchanged in towns that dropped their departments with several town leaders saying they were happy with the change, AP reported.
‘You really can’t tell much of any difference,’ Washburn Illinois Mayor Steve Forney said of the village’s department being disbanded in 2021.
‘The sheriff’s department is very responsive. I like it. I was always one who was very hesitant to go this direction, but I feel it’s working for us.’
The central Illinois village of Washburn disbanded its police department, with officials citing a lack of qualified part-time police help and a recently approved state crime-reform bill.
Forney said that in addition to the difficulty in finding reliable part-time police help, complying with the reform bill would increase costs.
That’s because of body-camera requirements, increased training and the liability issues the bill would prompt.
The bill was passed in response to civil unrest over the deaths of Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other people of color by police.
Crime statistics remained unchanged in towns that dropped their departments with several town leaders saying they were happy with the change, AP reported
‘We know that the costs of doing this service on our own for a small community will just increase,’ he said at the time. ‘The only thing we can do is pass that along in tax increases.’
Washburn’s village board approved the deal on February 8, although Forney said the village had considered a sheriff’s-office patrol contract for the past three decades.
Lott, Texas – Disbanded: August 2022, Population: 700
Meanwhile in Lott, Texas, a town of about 700 residents, the department was dissolved last year. Mayor Sue Tacker said the town was going broke and couldn’t afford the two officers and two other employees.
County deputies now patrol the small town of 700 with Tacker saying she hasn’t heard ‘any griping or fussing’ since the department was closed.
It was projected that the police department would lose the city another $256,222 in 2022 and estimated that by eliminating it, the city would get out of the red and make a profit that year and the next.
County deputies now patrol the small town of Lott that has a population of 700 with Tacker saying she hasn’t heard ‘any griping or fussing’ since the police department was closed
‘Lott doesn’t have a lot of businesses, we don’t have a lot of industry, in fact, probably Falls County is about the poorest county that there is,’ Tacker told KWTX at the time.
‘We are constantly paying out more than we have coming in, people think that Lott made a lot of money off of tickets and stuff, but people don’t realize about 75 percent of that went to the state.’
But the same cannot be said of major cities with more than 20 seeing some form of reduction to their police budgets in the wake of the defund police movement.
According to a report released by Interrupting Criminalization, advocacy groups won over $840million in direct cuts and at least $160 million investments in community services.
The most significant change was seen in Austin who were hammered with a $150million cut approved by the Democrat-run Texas city’s council after its own scandal following the shooting of an unarmed black man in April 2020 – just weeks before Floyd’s death.
Since the BLM protests, crime has soared with homicide rates booming. The city ranked 15 out of 45 for the most murder rates nationwide – while desperate 911 callers are being left on hold for up to half an hour.
The city has proposed a budget of $476.5million for 2023-2024 but when adjusted for inflation this is around $50million less than was allocated back in 2019.
Last month, Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon abruptly quit. He said he was departing with a ‘heavy heart’ adding that it was the ‘right moment.’
As part of a speech on his Safer America Plan in Pennsylvania last year, U.S. President Joe Biden acknowledged that defunding the police was not the answer
The most significant change was seen in Austin who were hammered with a $150million cut approved by the Democrat-run Texas city’s council
It remains unclear why Chacon quit and whether the defund movement had an affect on his decision to leave.
As part of a speech on his Safer America Plan in Pennsylvania last year, U.S. President Joe Biden acknowledged that defunding the police was not the answer.
‘It’s based on a simple notion: When it comes to public safety in this nation, the answer is not ‘defund the police.’ It’s ‘fund the police,” he said.
‘We expect them to do everything, we expect them to protect us, to be psychologists and to be sociologists,’ he said before a crowd of more than 500 at Wilkes University.
‘It’s sickening to see the new attacks on the FBI, threatening the life of law enforcement and their families, for simply carrying out the law and doing their job.’
But industry experts said the effects have had a lasting and profound effect on departments across the country and are expected to continue to get worse.