PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, Va. — Across the region, police departments are struggling to find people who want to be officers. Prince William County Police Chief Pete Newsham said the county's need is somewhat dire.
"Across the Commonwealth, we're all suffering from a lack of interest in becoming a police officer. Our applications are down significantly,” Chief Newsham said.
At least 100 officers are needed according to the chief. He said his office is looking for a wide variety of people who are looking to serve their community. “We have a history of not being diverse. We've been very good in our last couple of classes in improving our diversity, but you know, we're just not getting the applicants,” he said.
During the height of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, crime within the county, as in many areas, decreased. But as we’ve all reentered back into some of our old routines, those numbers are creeping back to near pre-covid levels.
“There was a dip in crime. I think a lot of people feel like there's more crime, but if you look at our five-year average, we're a little bit below that. So we're in a pretty good place, but we want to stay that way,” Newsham said.
The pandemic brought more emphasis to mental health and how officers de-escalate tense situations. In late 2020, a pilot program within Prince William county was launched allowing mental health clinicians to sometimes accompany officers when responding to mental health calls in a co-responder unit. Newsham said the program was well received.
In April of 2021, the department added three more clinicians -- as officers are responding to more mental health calls than ever before.
“Just to give you some numbers, in 2020 we spent 17,000 hours on these types of calls. 2021 was 27,000 hours, and I can tell, just by looking at the preliminary numbers in 2022, we're going to be even higher than that. So, the increase is significant,” Newsham said.