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Law enforcement across N.C. struggling to hire police officers, Attorney General Josh Stein says


North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein visited Fayetteville on Thursday afternoon to speak about one pressing issue facing the criminal justice system — the recruitment and retention of law enforcement officers. 

At a news conference at City Hall, Stein said municipalities and counties across North Carolina are struggling with “hiring and keeping good officers,” with 428 more law enforcement separations than there were new appointments between 2022-23. Stein said there is an especially acute problem with mid-level police officers — those with 5-20 years of experience — leaving the profession instead of retiring. 

“This is an untenable situation, and it diminishes public safety,” Stein said.

Fayetteville Police Chief Kemberle Braden, Cumberland County Sheriff Ennis Wright, Hope Mills Police Chief Stephen Dollinger and State Sen. Val Applewhite (D-Dist. 19) also spoke at the news briefing. 

The state politicians' appearance at Fayetteville City Hall comes just days before the North Carolina primary election on March 5. Stein is campaigning for N.C. governor in the Democratic primary.

The news conference also comes after the Fayetteville Police Department shared its own ongoing challenges with recruitment and retention. During the 2023 annual departmental review on Feb. 26, Braden said his department currently has 84 vacancies, including 59 vacancies for sworn full-time officers. Staff departures were also significant last year, with 123 staff members leaving the department in 2023 — and 78% of all departures being resignations.

Speaking to reporters Thursday, Braden expressed relief over the collective, statewide efforts to address the staffing issue, while also not discounting the scale of the problem. 

“It gave me hope that this is a greater conversation statewide than just the concern that I have here at the Fayetteville Police Department,” Braden said. “As we look to recruit in 2024 and retain the officers that we have, it's a very daunting thought and task as to what needs to happen this year.” 

Braden said his department has continued to recruit new officers “on a daily basis” and encouraged anyone with interest to contact the police department. The chief also acknowledged he’s had to make some operational changes to account for the shortages — moving some officers previously assigned to community engagement response teams back to patrolling teams that answer and respond to 911 calls.    

Causes for shortage

Law enforcement officials at the press conference Thursday were hesitant to name any one factor influencing the staffing shortages, focusing more on solutions rather than drivers of the problem. Wright said that he believed recent political and social events had negatively impacted public interest in the profession, citing in particular the 2020 protests following George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

“We had the George Floyd incident that happened that really started the downfall of law enforcement,” Wright said. “And then we turned around, we had a pandemic that hindered law enforcement because a lot of folks could work from home to do their job, where [as] law enforcement had to come into work.”

Responding to queries from CityView regarding local law enforcement salaries: 

  • Wright said entry-level officers make $50,750 at the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office 
  • Braden said entry-level officers make about $45,000 in Fayetteville 
  • Dollinger said entry-level officers make $40,915 in Hope Mills 

Stein said compensation for officers could be improved.

“There's no question that law enforcement is one of the most important jobs we have and is not adequately compensated,” Stein said, referencing the law enforcement salaries. “The state is not in a position where it can pay and assume the responsibility of meeting the salary needs of every local governmental official, but where I think the state can provide [support] is using leverage.”


Stein said the Attorney General’s Office is working on several solutions to improve recruitment and retention of law enforcement officers across the state. Some of these proposals include:

  • Offering hiring bonuses to new officers coming from other states or the military 
  • Allowing retired officers to come back to work without impacting their retirement pensions. (This was proposed as a measure in House Bill 768, which Stein previously cited in a list of strategies he supported. The bill passed in the N.C. House but stalled in the Senate during the last legislative session)
  • Running a national public service awareness campaign 
  • Offering state-funded bonuses, such as a $5,000 incentive payment, to retain and recruit officers serving local law enforcement agencies 
  • Offering additional education and training for officers

Stein also pointed to Greensboro and Durham’s new community safety models as another solution. The models pair social workers or mental health professionals with police officers to address mental health-related 911 calls or nonviolent disputes. Fayetteville is currently attempting to establish a similar program through its Office of Community Safety (OCS)

Stein said these models could help by reducing additional stressors put on police officers who handle mental health crises. He said these added responsibilities can make the job less appealing to some. 

“I think the stress of the job, the difficulty of just managing the many things we put on the shoulders of law enforcement — to be peace officers, to be social workers, to be drug counselors, to be domestic violence consultants — it's a lot of work,” Stein told CityView after the meeting. “And the job of law enforcement is much more complicated than it has ever been. And that makes it something that a lot of people say, ‘I can do something that's easier.’” 

Contact Evey Weisblat at eweisblat@cityviewnc.com or 216-527-3608. 

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Fayetteville Police Department, law enforcement, police, Cumberland County Sheriff's Office, Attorney General Josh Stein