LOTT, Texas – Large cities like Houston and Chicago are facing problems with police staffing and now, smaller cities say they’re suffering much worse.
The national police shortage has caused many small towns across the U.S. to drop their police departments, and rely on other offices miles away. Sue Thacker is the Mayor of Lott, Texas and she says like many other small towns, they don’t have the money to run a police department.
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“Nobody (really knows) how much money it takes to run a police department. Insurance, cars, you name it, it just builds up” Thacker said. “This was one thing that we went over as City Council. We looked and saw what we could keep from going broke and this was the one thing that we thought we could do.”
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According to Rice University, Lott is one of nearly 40 small towns across the U.S. that have disbanded their police forces since 2019; now relying on local sheriffs and larger police departments.
Upstate New York’s Fulton County Sheriff Richard Giardino says his office faced similar problems.
“We were down to 10 deputies for 20 road-spots to cover 500 square miles a shift” Sheriff Giardino said.
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But, a new contract with higher salaries has saved their office.
“We constantly have turnover because people could walk out of the door and make $10-12,000 more. We have 25 year pension plans, and other law enforcement agencies do 20 year pension plans. Within our area, we were the lowest paid county Sheriff’s Office until today” Sheriff Giardino said.
SGT Betsy Smith with The National Police Association says smaller police departments closing is the result of a much larger problem: a national police shortage.
“Most departments in this country are less than 10 officers” SGT Smith said.
Staff sizes used to be much larger. As departments struggle with recruitment, retention, and pay, the association says we will likely see longer response times, and more safety risks for officers in rural areas.
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“As a small-town police officer, there’s a really good chance you don’t have any backup. You’re kind of on your own, left to take care of yourself and figure things out yourself. So, we have to think about what we are willing to pay for as the citizens of those small communities” SGT Smith said.
The mayor of Lott says that the town is managing without its police department, and likely won’t bring it back unless they see a major uptick in crime.