Since March 2020, the recruitment of new NYPD officers has been greatly impacted by the restrictions imposed to control the COVID-19 outbreak. After 573 new recruits graduated a week early in order to step in for those first officers who had contracted the virus, police training, and new recruitment were put on hold due to government restrictions and budget concerns.
On November 2nd, a socially-distanced ceremony was finally held for the newest members of the NYPD. Wearing masks and remaining several feet apart, a total of 900 cadets took the oath to join the department and began serving their community, amid one of the most challenging periods in recent American history.
A tough ride for the NYPD
In the early days of the pandemic, New York City became a major epicenter of Covid-19 infections in the US. Between March and May of last year, roughly 203,000 laboratory-confirmed cases were reported to the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. For the NYPD, this was a particularly challenging period, as more than 5,000 of its members tested positive for the virus by mid-April. At one point, just under 20% of the force was on sick leave.
Adding to the personnel shortage crisis, 2,171 officers had entered retirement by early October, a 72% increase from 2019. For the NYPD, this could not have come at a worse time. As well as dealing with the pandemic and a wave of social unrest, murders and shootings in the city rose by 33% and 92% respectively, compared to the previous year.
The NYPD’s budget was also strongly impacted by the events of 2020. In July, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council jointly approved a $1 billion cut in response to calls by the Defund the Police movement. Despite the police academy resuming training last month, financial concerns persist.
A light at the end of the tunnel?
The 900 new recruits that have joined the NYPD’s ranks will bring the total number of uniformed officers to approximately 35,100. While this is a marked improvement for the force, it nonetheless remains significantly below the 36,900 members the department had at the end of 2019.
At the welcome ceremony held in November, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea acknowledged the difficult circumstances in which these new agents are starting their careers. “A time of uncertainty, a time when it seems the eyes of the world are on us. There is a national conversation going on right now about what policing should look like. I would say to you, don’t be defensive about it, embrace it. You are now a part of that history and that is a good thing,” said Shea as part of his speech.
Once they officially become part of the police force by Spring, these recruits will contribute to a more diverse and inclusive image of the NYPD. 25% of the new class are women, 40% are White, 34% Hispanic, 13% Black, and 14% are from Asian or other backgrounds.
However, the second major surge in Coronavirus cases that began in late 2020 continues to be a major threat to the police department. By early December, over 50 police officers had lost the battle against the virus, while more than 6,000 had been infected. In order to prevent an outbreak within its ranks, the department allowed its roughly 19,000-strong civilian staff to work from home. As first respondents, uniformed agents, however, do not have that option.
High hopes for 2021
Now that vaccination programs are in full swing in the US and in a number of countries, 2021 promises to be a better year for the NYPD academy. However, it remains to be seen how long it will take for the department to return to its pre-pandemic numbers. To all those brave, young cadets who are dedicating themselves to a brighter future for law enforcement, we salute you!