(The Center Square) – Pennsylvania’s struggles to fully staff police departments extend statewide, from the biggest departments to rural areas losing population.

While Republicans and Democrats on the local and state levels have boosted funding for police departments, as The Center Square previously reported, the bigger issue has been a lack of police recruits.

Open spots in departments are available, but they go unfilled.

In Philadelphia, the police have about 500 vacant positions, along with another 50 open spots for SEPTA police to guard the transit system. In Pittsburgh, the police department is about 60 officers short. The problem isn’t a quick fix, either. Hiring new officers can take months if not years, from background checks to training.

Nor have police departments outside major cities avoided issues. In many rural areas, hiring and retention have been a problem. Smaller departments have noted that the stress of the job and competitive pay elsewhere have lured away officers.

Aging officers have also been an issue. As they retire, departments have struggled to hire replacements. A shrinking candidate pool has meant fewer candidates qualify to become officers. Police chiefs have pushed for better starting pay, as well as reaching out to young people while they’re still in school.

Pennsylvania’s shrinking population – especially fewer young people – also makes matters worse, as The Center Square previously reported. Tax revenues shrink and older populations put more of a strain on services, but a smaller youth population means more jobs can’t be filled.

The police officer shortage comes at a time when both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh struggle to reduce violence. The public in Philadelphia have faulted police officers for failing to arrest violent criminals and abusing the city’s disability-benefits system, while violence in Pittsburgh has been called a “plague” that Mayor Ed Gainey has struggled to stop in his first year.

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