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Arizona Universities Team Up To Addresses Police, Firefighter Recruitment and Retention Challenges

By on March 27, 2023 0 161Views

Through a new Arizona Board of Regents’ Community Grant, Arizona police and firefighting agencies will be better equipped in the future to address recruitment and retention of officers and firefighters – a challenge that has prompted statewide workforce shortages for these essential public safety jobs. This is the first Regents’ Community Grant launched by the board; the grants are designed to address community focused challenges in Arizona.

This grant hits home for Chino Valley Police Department Chief Chuck Wynn whose police force is down about 10 percent, resulting in existing officers working longer shifts and removing officers from specialty units such as the drug task force to work patrol.

“Moral of existing officers declines as they are overworked … and it is harder to get them time off,” Wynn said. “Officers working long shifts are more likely to get into accidents and make poor decisions because they are tired. Call response times increase as there are less officers on the street.”

Financed through the Technology and Research Initiative Fund (TRIF), the new Regents’ Community Grant, “Retention and Recruitment of Public Safety Personnel,” will coalesce research from Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University and the University of Arizona to address these challenges.

Municipalities, counties and the state are reporting significant challenges in recruitment and retention across the public sector workforce. Members of the public safety community have also expressed concern about current staffing levels and their ability to recruit and retain public safety personnel. These workforce issues can create challenges in effectively providing services to Arizona’s communities. To better define the problem, data is needed to quantify the magnitude of the problem and to identify impacts and potential recommendations.

“Police and firefighters are absolutely essential to the safety of Arizona’s communities. It is imperative to examine workforce issues to ensure our state, cities, towns and rural areas remain safe, whether responding to a crime or a house fire. This Regents’ Community Grant offers researchers the opportunity to make a lasting impact on these professions for the welfare of Arizonans in need,” said ABOR Chair Lyndel Manson.

Through TRIF funds, the board and universities focus on research and workforce development efforts benefiting Arizona. Established through Prop. 301 and utilizing sales tax revenues, TRIF enables vital Regents’ Community and Research Grants as well as research in public health, water, national security systems, workforce development and other key areas at Arizona’s public universities.

“Police and fire agencies that are not adequately staffed can face increased response times, poor morale and existing personnel taking on more overtime to fill the shortages. Regents’ Community Grants are designed to solve problems facing towns, cities and rural areas throughout our state – giving Arizona taxpayers a return on their investment and improving our communities,” said Regent Fred DuVal.

  • The City of Phoenix Police Department reported a shortage of 500 officers last fall. For “Priority 2” calls, such as a burglary in progress, the average response time ranges from 20-40 minutes.
  • Last year, the Tucson Police Department reported all-time lows in their average response times and a shortage of 122 police officers.
  • Between 2010 and 2020, Phoenix added approximately 300,000 residents. In that time, the city added one fire engine and only 40 additional firefighters – a 2.4 percent increase in resources to fight a 49 percent increase in emergencies. Response time to 911 calls is nine minutes, versus the national standard of five minutes.

Researchers will focus on front-line public safety personnel including police and firefighting, concentrating on recruitment and retention of these professionals from entry-level to seasoned career positions. Researchers will examine the magnitude of the retention and recruitment challenges; the workforce development pipeline; current strategies for managing staffing shortages; and statewide public opinion of policing and firefighting professions, and career options and desirability.

The tri-university project will be led by Morrison Institute for Public Policy at ASU. “This Regents’ Community Grant will fund research to answer key questions about recruitment and retention challenges facing police and firefighters. These professions are essential for public safety, yet many agencies are experiencing problems maintaining adequate staff. This research aims to shed insight into this issue to ultimately inform leadership and address staffing challenges,” said Andrea Whitsett, Morrison Institute for Public Policy Executive Director.