Mileihka Colon has been waiting since January of last year to become a Philadelphia police officer.
“I honestly thought that when I graduated I was going to already be a police officer by July or August,” she told NBC10.
Colon applied while finishing college in 2020. But then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, putting a halt to many things, including the Philadelphia Police Academy.
“I don’t know if my application is still out there and I don’t know if it’s pending,” Colon said. “I don’t know if I need to reapply again.”
Colon isn’t the only one dealing with the issue. Hundreds of applications were put on hold indefinitely and there hasn’t been a new recruit class in the academy since March of last year. As a result, Philadelphia will not have any rookie officers during a year that’s on pace to be the most violent in recent history.
Meanwhile, veteran officers continue to retire. The police department is down to approximately 6,100 officers, nearly 300 short of what it’s budgeted to have.
“I think we’re still safe, but it’s worrisome,” Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said.
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The NBC10 Investigators found that an increasing number of officers are leaving the department each year. If the trend continues this year, the police force could soon fall to below 6,000.
“If we don’t start paying attention to this now, later on down the road, months, years from now or at least a year from now, I think we’ll be at a point of criticality,” Outlaw said.
Police departments in Baltimore, Phoenix and San Antonio told the NBC10 Investigators their academies didn’t stop during the pandemic. They went partially virtual and also held socially distant in-person classes. Philadelphia didn’t implement that strategy however.
“I think we’re kind of slow to the game, quite frankly,” Outlaw said.
That year-long gap in recruitment has consequences, according to experts.
“Less officers translate into a less effective response time,” Maria Haberfeld, a police science professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said.
Fewer officers also means more overtime.
“If you are in your 13th, 14th, 15th hour of overtime, your effectiveness obviously goes down,” Haberfeld said.
Colon, meanwhile, finds the entire situation frustrating.
“Two days ago, somebody got shot down the street,” she said. “I’ve been living here nine years and that was the first time we saw something like that.”
She told NBC10 she wants to help make Philly safer.
“I’m trying to stay in my community because here’s where I grew up,” she said. “And this was the reason for me to become a police officer.”
No date has been set yet for the next Philadelphia Police Academy class. The department is already calling applicants to go in for their reading and agility tests, the first hurdles in what may be a lengthy process.