NYPD Struggles to Find New Recruits as Retirements Also Rise

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Calls for change in the New York City Police Department have echoed across the city these past few years but the largest police force in the country is struggling to fill its ranks.

With the application deadline to become a member of the NYPD extended until Tuesday, NBC New York's David Ushery is asking the questions many are wondering: who would want to become a police officer right now and why? At the police academy in Queens, News 4 spoke to the NYPD Chief of Department and new recruits to find out.

"Everything here you have to earn it. It's not given. You see them in the street, you have to earn everybody's respect and nobody is just giving it to you," said one of the recruits during a walkthrough of the training facility.

Another recruit said she has always wanted to be a police officer.

"I saw my father serve his community and I wanted to do the same, and I think it's a good time to be that kind of cop these days," said NYPD Probationary Officer Lehr Weiner.

But convincing other young people of that is the challenge police departments across the country are facing, not just in New York City. There have not only been a plunge in applications but there's also a surge in retirements.

"It's tough being a cop right now with all the rhetoric and things that may be happening throughout the country that have an effect on New York and how we want to do our job," said Chief of Department Rodney Harrison. "It's really hard."

Just last month, the department instructed its officers not to take unscheduled days off ahead of the outcome of the Derek Chauvin trial, the former Minneapolis officer who was later convicted of murdering George Floyd.

Floyd's death was caught on video and sparked massive protests across New York City and the country. The NYPD's handling of last year's protests prompted a lawsuit from New York Attorney General Tish James following what she called a pattern of excessive, brutal and unlawful force against peaceful protesters.

So why would anyone want to be a cop right now? Harrison says, "to make a difference."

Harrison, who has his own share of experience with policing in the Black community while growing up in Queens, says it's not easy to address these concerns.

"I got to talk to the young men and women out there about a lot of the good things that come about being part of the NYPD," he said, adding that there's more to being an NYPD officer than the uniform. "I started my career in Queens in Astoria...one of the things I always share with new police officers coming on is try different parts of the police department."

"You go into become undercover, go into narcotics, go to aviation, go to computer crimes. There are so many career paths the NYPD has," Harrison added.

Officer Matthew Jackson was one of the young men who heard Harrison's message. As a kid in Harlem, he was mentored by Chief Harrison. He admits battling anti-police hostility on the streets but the positives are far greater.

"It's a very rewarding career. You have front row to the greatest show in the world. You're able to help people and people will show their appreciation to you. It's just a wonderful job. I love it," Jackson said.

Jackson's not the only person Harrison has convinced. Harrison says his two oldest daughters have applied to the academy and will begin their journey this week.

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