Detectives Division Down To 3 Officers, Police Chief Says
SMITHFIELD – There is a police officer hiring crisis in North Carolina and the United States. Nationwide, police resignations were up 47 percent last year and retirements jumped by 19 percent.
There are fewer people entering the law enforcement profession. The crisis means fewer officers to respond to calls, and in some cases longer response times.
In Smithfield, Police Chief Pete Hedrick received approval Nov. 14 from the town council to implement a hiring and retention incentives plan. New hires, with their Basic Law Enforcement Training (BLET) certification in hand, will receive a $5,000 bonus just to go to work as a Smithfield police officer. Existing officers on the force will receive a $7,500 retention bonus. Current civil employees will receive $2,000 to $5,000 bonuses.
“We need stability. I need to maintain the people we have now,” Chief Hedrick said during the town council meeting. The department is allotted 37 full-time positions. Twenty-two positions are currently filled, and two other future officers are attending BLET classes and must graduate before they can go on the road. That leaves 13 vacancies, equal to a 35 percent job vacancy.
Hedrick wrote a letter to the town council informing them, because of the staffing shortage, he was forced to suspend the Narcotics unit. Those officers are now responding to everyday calls. The police chief also said the Detectives division is down to only three officers.
“Smithfield Police Department finds itself at a very critical time for its future,” Chief Hedrick wrote in the letter. “We are currently down 13 positions. We have suspended our Narcotics unit and currently have only 3 officers assigned to detectives’ duties. This places most of the workload on our road patrol officers, who are already running short-handed. Cases that should be assigned to detectives for follow up are being worked by patrol. While we see some light at the end of the tunnel, we currently have four officers awaiting completion of BLET or approval from the State. If these officers successfully complete our FTO (field training officer) program, which is not a guarantee, we will still be 9 positions down.”
“We simply cannot afford to lose any personnel at this pivotal juncture. The remaining staff members have been struggling with this staffing shortage, and to their credit have remained with the Town. The profession of law enforcement is filled with stressors, being shorthanded is a major contributor to job dissatisfaction and burnout.”
Chief Hedrick said the department, if fully staffed, would have 4 general crimes detectives and 2 narcotics detectives working. In general crimes, there is currently only 3 full-time officers, a lieutenant, sergeant, and one detective working cases as well as other administrative duties.
If the department can become fully staffed in the future, the police chief wants to increase the size of the narcotics unit from two to four officers, plus add a task force detective.
The Smithfield Police Department is not the only agency struggling to hire new recruits. Just over 500 fewer people entered the BLET program in North Carolina in 2022, compared to 2019. For many law enforcement agencies like Smithfield, hiring simply can’t keep pace with job losses.