A recently released report on the performance of the Fayetteville Police Department omitted an entire section that paints an alarming picture of the department’s ability to recruit and retain sworn officers.
CityView TODAY learned of the omission after requesting and later receiving a draft of the Police Executive Research Forum’s report through the state’s public records laws.
The draft, which is dated December 2021, contains a 22-page section on recruitment and retention – a quarter of the entire PERF report – that was omitted from the final report dated February 2022.
The draft report shows that the total number of people leaving the Fayetteville Police Department more than doubled from fiscal 2018-19 to fiscal 2020-21. It also shows that departures more than tripled since Harold Medlock stepped down as the police chief in fiscal 2016-17.
Of the 377 sworn officer positions in the department, 96 had left their jobs in fiscal 2020-21 – a decrease of slightly more than 25 percent, the draft report shows.
The draft notes that police leaving their jobs is a national phenomenon, brought on in part by the pandemic, protests over police use of force, burnout, low pay and younger recruits being less devoted to the demands of the job as a career, unlike the Baby Boomers before them.
“But even officers who have been in the field for more than 20 years don’t recall the type of departures that are now occurring in Fayetteville: Not only are newbies and retirees leaving, so are those in supervisory roles who have put in 10, 12 years and are far from retirement,” the draft says.
The 99-page draft report provides an analysis of why officers are leaving the Police Department and the challenges of hiring their replacements. It also provides recommendations for improvements.
How CityView got the draft report
In early December, Ted Mohn, a former Fayetteville City Council member, requested a copy of the PERF report through the state’s public records laws. CityView TODAY followed up with its own public records request for the report in January. The requests were fulfilled on March 3.
Afterward, CityView TODAY made a separate request for the draft of the PERF report over concerns that the final report could have been altered before it was publicly released. CityView TODAY got a copy of the draft Thursday and discovered that the section dealing with officer recruitment and retention had been omitted from the final report.
City Manager Doug Hewett said he made the decision to withdraw the section on recruitment and retention because the city wants PERF to conduct a more comprehensive review of those issues.
“Recruitment and retention in law enforcement is one of our focus areas of improvement,” Hewett wrote in an email. “As such, we determined the best course of action would be to separate that into a more in-depth review that could expand on our opportunities for improvement. PERF will be providing this as its own report when complete.”
Police Chief Gina Hawkins said in an email Friday that “the Fayetteville Police Department has worked hard in recent years to implement innovative ideas and incentives that both attract and retain law enforcement professionals. We have made great progress to date and believe a stand-alone external review from PERF will provide insight into best practices we can apply here in Fayetteville.
“Creating two individual reports will help us address a broad range of opportunities for improvement and ensures we have actionable strategy options to implement. Separating the two reports into one that looks back and one that looks forward adequately covers these critical topic areas.”
In an interview last month, Hawkins was asked if the declining number of officers had anything to do with a steep decline in traffic stops by Fayetteville police.
Figures from the State Bureau of Investigation show that traffic stops in the city fell by more than half from 2019 to 2021. Hawkins did not provide a concrete answer to why the stops are down, choosing instead to focus on the reduction of the city’s overall crime rate.
New retention report could cost $82,400
The city’s contract with PERF says the cost of the original report would not exceed $82,400, the same amount specified in a separate contract for the upcoming recruitment and retention report, which Hewett said should be completed later this year. The contract for the recruitment and retention report is dated Jan. 11.
After the section on recruitment and retention was withdrawn, the original report focused primarily on three areas – the department’s policies on use of force and COVID-19, and its response to mass demonstrations, specifically the protests that happened in Fayetteville on May 30, 2020, as a result of the death of George Floyd in Minnesota.
The biggest takeaway from the final report was that Hawkins’ order for police to stand down while protesters became violent and began looting may have spared injuries and damages, but that the reasons for the order were not communicated well within the department from the top down.
The final report made only passing reference to the issue of recruitment and retention, saying that would come later.
Hewett said in another email that the original draft report covered use of force, COVID-19, the response to mass demonstrations and retention and recruitment efforts.
“The first three serve to look back and help us evaluate what was done and how it could be improved,” he wrote. “By contrast, the evaluation of recruitment/retention issues are future-oriented and are changing rapidly based on a variety of factors. A separate and deeper look at recruitment/retention with actionable recommendations is the path we chose. We believe that making this topic an individual and more extensive report is, in fact, providing additional information beyond what was originally covered.”
But that doesn’t explain why, if the section on recruitment and retention has already been bought and paid for with taxpayers’ money, the city would omit it from the final report and try to shield it from public view while saying it would seek a more comprehensive review.
Substance of the draft report
Even before the pandemic, the protests and other events of 2020, police departments across the country were having a hard time keeping and hiring police officers, the draft report said in the section on recruitment and retention.
Citing its own national report, PERF wrote that departments of all sizes are experiencing a decrease in applications, early exits among young officers and higher rates of retirement.
“Fewer people are applying to become police officers, and more people are leaving the profession, often after only a few years on the job,” the report says. “There are ominous signs that the workforce crisis in policing may be getting worse.”
In Fayetteville, the draft says, a major concern has been that the department is losing officers with rank and seniority. PERF interviewed Police Department employees and some of those who have left. They were not named in the report.
“It used to be that once you make a rank, they knew you’d stay, but that’s not the case anymore,” a department employee told PERF. “Now we’re losing sergeants.”
The problem with that, according to the draft report, is the vacant positions of rank are being filled with younger and less-experienced employees.
“If we lose people who have been here for 10 years, on the path to being a career law enforcement officer, what caused them to say, ‘This isn’t for me’?” an employee said. “It causes me the greatest concern. We’re losing a generation, and once you lose that generation, that void will be there, and that will be filled with people who get promoted way too early, and that can be a detriment when they’re not allowed to develop and learn and grow at a normal pace. We’ve lost a lot of those eight‐, 10‐, 12‐year officers.”
Researchers with PERF interviewed department employees and examined exit interviews from those who have left to gauge the prevailing issues that have caused officers to leave. Among them:
The starting salary for the city’s police officers without college degrees is $38,000, though that figure is expected to increase to $41,500 in the next fiscal year. By comparison, the report noted that starting pay in the much smaller city of Fuquay-Varina is $45,252 for certified officers.
According to the report, some of Fayetteville’s officers resigned in 2020 to take jobs in different fields, such as insurance and construction, because those positions paid better.
“Most are going to jobs where they work 8 to 5, are off on weekends, and make more money,” one employee said.
Another employee said pay raises are too little, too late.
“The city waits till the pay plan is so far behind from other police departments before they try to catch up to the average rates,” that employee wrote in an exit interview. “People leave for this reason.”
According to the report, Fayetteville has begun offering signing bonuses, retention bonuses, psychological services and wellness programs, but “we still keep losing officers.”
In December 2020, the department began offering officers a $2,000 bonus if they would agree to commit to an additional two years in Fayetteville. Of the 254 eligible officers, only 149 agreed to sign up.
The report said some officers didn’t take the bonus because they were skeptical they’d receive the money, while others said they didn’t want to be tied to the job or forced to repay the money if they left before the two years were up.
“It was surprising that people didn’t take [the incentive],” an employee told PERF. “Folks just had to stay for two years, and they didn’t want to; that’s a strong indication of where their heads are at.”
In 2018, the department’s patrol division switched from 10-hour shifts to 12-hour shifts “in an attempt to maximize the patrol force,” the report says.
Officers told PERF that the switch has been hard on them and noted that a survey found an overwhelming number of officers preferred the 10-hour shift. The switch was made anyway.
The report pointed to a study in 2011 by the nonprofit Police Foundation that found that 10-hour shifts save money and increase officers' safety and alertness because they are able to get more sleep.
With the Fayetteville department so short-staffed, the report said, many officers are working days on end. One officer mentioned to PERF that he had once worked 18 straight days.
“We have other initiatives where they have to fill spots on their days off,” one employee told PERF. “These guys are getting sick and tired of working. They get paid money for initiatives, time and a half, but they’re getting browbeaten, and it affects them. I’ve had to tell some, ‘I know it’s your day off or weekend off, but you have to come into work.’ I can understand it for an emergency situation, but if this is your way of combating violent crime, forcing them to work, you’re not going to get a good job out of them. They’ll just show up.”
Some employees who resigned or retired early said the police response to the protests on May 30, 2020, contributed to their decision to leave.
“The impact of last year’s demonstrations was impactful; I think that had more of an impact on people leaving than COVID. There is definitely a lot of internal turmoil on which direction we should go,” PERF quoted one employee as saying
Officers told PERF that with reports of police misconduct in the national news and negative perceptions in communities, it is more important than ever to let officers know they are supported.
“We have to do a better job of letting them know we’re there to support them,” one employee told PERF. “It has to be more than just the chief; it has to be the city council, the mayor, the community. We need to say, ‘We want you to know we’ve got your back.’”
Some officers told PERF there’s a perception that if an officer has to use deadly force, he or she won’t be backed by the chain of command — “that it’s a black and white situation.”
“You see on the news a legitimate shoot now being ridiculed because it was a white male or female who shot or took deadly force on a Black or brown suspect,” an employee told researchers. “That’s the reality we’re in right now, and unfortunately, we have so much media that is constantly focusing on these things. As we all know, these instances are a small percentage, but they get all the coverage. We don’t talk about the thousands of daily encounters every day where we are doing the right thing.”
PERF concluded that if officers feel they aren’t being trusted or empowered to do their jobs, the issue needs to be addressed head-on.
“It’s the gorilla in the room no one is addressing,” one employee told PERF. “I definitely believe it’s the tone we see as officers across the nation. The negative connotations coming upon departments and officers, defund the police, the whole tone is impacting how folks feel about this career path. I would say locally we feel they have the support of the community, our city council, but I think that last year’s events were probably a turning point on those who were on the fence and decided, ‘I’m out.’ I think we need to address it.”
One issue that was repeatedly raised, according to PERF, was a tendency of the department to focus on what is done wrong rather than what is done right.
One employee told PERF that where a policy once had five steps, now it may have 20.
“It seems like it’s a liability issue so they can say, ‘You missed Step 9; that’s what you did wrong,” PERF quoted the employee as saying.
Another employee said, “Officers are scared to get into altercations that are legitimate because they are afraid they’ll get scrutinized for every little thing—sleeves rolled up, tattoo showing, bad language.”
According to the report, that makes officers feel they’ll never succeed on the job.
After major incidents, such as the protest, the department tends not to get together to talk about the response, the report says. But when one officer makes a mistake, “they feel like they’re being investigated to death.”
When officers face an internal review they expect the worst, according to the report.
“But Police Chief Gina Hawkins, some supervisors said, is always open to an appeals process if the officer doesn’t agree with a recommendation,” according to the report. “Most times she’ll back down a little bit and give you the benefit of the doubt. She wants to know from you what happened, coming from your voice, but they think she wants a statement. It’s about trust, all the way down.”
According to the report, a lack of communication is another morale issue.
Most people interviewed said many of the department’s problems could be solved by better communication throughout the department, according to the report.
“The problem with a lack of communication is that speculation runs wild, and if an explanation is only passed down verbally from one person to another, it’s like the game of Telephone: The end result is not at all what the original message was,” the report says.
Another issue, according to the report, is that members of the executive command staff are frustrated because they don’t feel they can make their own decisions – that every decision has to go through the chief.
“I’ve never questioned my ability to lead and make a command decision more than in the past two to three years,” one employee told PERF, “because we get questioned about everything and then get questioned when we don’t make a decision.”
According to the report, officers say it’s the little things that can make a difference. The department used to provide breakfast or lunch to officers working special events. When that stopped, “It was just one more thing on the pile.”
The report made numerous recommendations on how the Fayetteville Police Department can improve recruitment and retention.
To improve retention, the recommendations include seeking better pay and providing regular job satisfaction surveys, alternative shifts, mental health days, positive news stories, and more town halls with employees in person and by Zoom.
For recruitment, its recommendations include a robust applicant tracking process, a regular review of application forms for ease of completion and relevancy, and avoiding the disqualification of applicants for financial reasons.
Greg Barnes is an investigative reporter for CityView TODAY. He can be reached at email@example.com. Have a news tip? Email news@CityViewTODAY.com.