Demoralized, cops are leaving in record numbers

Anti-cop critics may not have to actually “defund the police.” Philadelphia police are depopulating their own ranks in an unprecedented dash for the doors.

More Philadelphia police officers have put in for DROP this past year than in any year in the past decade, except for one, which indicates deep dissatisfaction in the ranks.

Sounds like a good idea until you do it (Photo: NBC News)

In 2020, 135 officers filed for retirement, trailing only the 159 officers who put in for retirement in 2018. 

However, 114 cops put in their papers in January 2021 alone, a number that is greater than the total for most years. The combination of 2020 and January 2021 totals a record of 249. If January is a harbinger, 2021 will shatter all records.

There are about 6,300 sworn officers on the force, plus 800 civilian employees.

What’s driving most of the fleeing cops out of a job they used to love is a sense of betrayal. I’ll get to that in a minute. 

DROP is the taxpayer-funded, controversial Deferred Retirement Option Plan. In exchange for picking a retirement date no more than four years in the future, the city worker gets a six-figure payoff at retirement, in addition to a regular pension.

Introduced under Mayor Ed Rendell, the pension-plus program was designed to: a) cajole city workers into retirement; b) entice invaluable veterans to stay on a while; c) provide the city with a predictable schedule of retirement; d) all of the above.

DROP enablers say d). 

Things went seriously wrong when the program, designed for employees, was glommed by elected officials — hel-lo City Council — for whom it was never intended. Even worse, receiving the massive DROP payout required an “irrevocable” promise to leave. Many politicians took the money, “resigned” for a day, and then returned to their jobs. 

That’s why it was controversial, and after years of debate, angry editorials and even angier newspaper columns, loopholes for the political class were closed, blocking elected officials from carving up the Golden Goose.

Many of the officers who now have enrolled in DROP will be leaving in about four years. Most are counting the days.  

The number of officers who have recently signed up is “well above average,” said Ron Stagliano, an elected labor trustee on the pension board. He spent most of his 33 years on the force with the detective bureau.

So many cops put in for retirement, there was a rumor in the ranks that DROP enrollments were suspended until March. That was denied by Fran Bielli, executive director of the pension board, who provided the retirement statistics used here.

The root of the rush to retirement, said Stagliano, 70, was the George Floyd protests/riots, organized to condemn police brutality. Mixed in with these national protests by Black Lives Matter were local progressive groups often demanding defunding police. In some extreme cases, such as Minneapolis, elected officials actually voted to dismantle the police department. 

The Minneapolis Council was OK depriving their constituents of police protection, but in a display of rank hypocrisy, they hired private security for themselves when they felt threatened. Council President Lisa Bender said — are you sitting? — calling 911 when your home is broken into “comes from a place of white privilege.” No, this was not satire. 

“Some officers perceive a lack of respect for police and a lack of support for police from the public and from their own department,” said Stagliano.

From their own department, I ask him?


In an email statement, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said many departments, not just Philadelphia, are experiencing “significant increases” in officers leaving the force, “not entirely unexpected given the year that we’ve had.”

Due to high levels of civil unrest, demands to defund the police, and staffing shortages caused by the pandemic, “officers of all ranks and experience levels have been tasked with working long hours in often hostile environments.”

All this has “damaged morale,” but Outlaw said officers “have my unwavering support during these difficult times.”

Since she seems to understand the problem, she ought to understand the remedy: City leadership standing firm in support of good cops, who are the majority. And she, personally, needs to turn her words into deeds and better connect with those she commands. 

Stagliano spoke on the record for attribution because as an ex-cop he does not fear retribution.

With help from him, and others, I reached a half-dozen active officers who had filed papers for retirement, and DROP. 

Since they remain on duty, they feared possible retribution and asked for anonymity, which I granted them. I also altered a few biographical details to protect their identities. The first name I use for each is not his real name. 

In the words of Blake, a 32-year veteran who is turning in his gun and his badge, “I didn’t sign up for this.”

Meaning what?

The contempt and the disrespect, he told me. He sees himself as someone who goes into the community to protect and serve, yet is viewed by many as an alien aggressor.

The community takes one bad action by one bad cop and magnifies it into everything done by all cops, he said. 

“I don’t need constant pats on the back,” he said, “but I’m not going to put up with being spit at.”

A native of South Philly, Louis has spent half of his 50 years on the Philadelphia police force, but he sort of stumbled into it. He had a good job in wholesaling, but joined a friend who was taking the police department entrance exam.

“He said it was a good job because of job security and the pension, and the next thing you know, I was a cop.”

The father of two spent most of his time in the narcotics bureau, “trying to get young people off the street, but it’s almost impossible,” he told me. “The fact is you keep arresting the same individual over and over — not petty crime, I’m talking violent offenders — people with a history of violence. . . I’m now locking up the children and grandkids of people I locked up 10 or 20 years ago,” he said.

“If you have whole families involved in crime, why wouldn’t you try to fix that? That’s the D.A.’s job. My job is to arrest them. Their job is to convict.”

Louis complained of the “lack of respect, both within the department and from the community. 

“And now, with the D.A.’s office,” he said, “Larry Krasner just does not trust any police officer in the city. I don’t want to get locked up and fired, just for doing my job.”

Louis mentioned Police Inspector Joseph Bologna,who was fired and prosecuted for assault by the D.A. for actions during a melee. Charges against the former high-ranking officer were tossed at a preliminary hearing in January, but the vindictive Krasner said he planned to refile charges. An email seeking comment was not answered by Krasner’s office. 

As I talked to the cops, I remembered something I first heard from Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson. “Each day you put on the badge, you may save a life, take a life, or give a life.” It’s an awesome responsibility.

When Charles was young, he interrupted college to satisfy his taste for adventure by joining the military. Now approaching 60, this father of four traded one uniform for another thinking, “I could be a half-decent cop, I think I can do something about the crime problem.” He said it was “kind of like being a super hero.”

He can’t believe that any more.

“I feel the department is at a crossroads,” he said, “and is not being true to the core tenets of policing.”

Cops are supposed to go after criminals, he said. “That’s what we do, hold the line against criminal activity.” Doing that is “a contact sport” and arresting  someone who does not want to be arrested is sometimes not pretty, and the officer gets judged by a snippet of videotape that might not show what caused the officer to use force.

“Society wants us to be able to arrest people, to disarm people and bring a chaotic situation to heel with a few magic words, with no fighting and no discord. That will never be,” he said. 

“Society doesn’t understand that police officers are reactive,” he said. “We must give away the first punch, the first shot. If you act first your actions are being called into question” by superior officers who may never have worked the streets. 

He scoffed at City Council’s recent ban on “nonlethal” tactics such as tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets.

“When the bricks start flying and people are getting hurt, what are we going to do?,” he asked.

Mark is a little over 50 with a little more than 20 years on the job, mostly in patrol in Center City and Southwest. “Everyone’s against us, no one has our back,” he told me. 

Mark has a college degree, and sort of drifted into police work after working for the judicial system.

“No one condones what those jackasses did in Minnesota,” and elsewhere. “No one condones it, but we have to pay for it,” he said.

“A lot of guys I know are not going to do the DROP,” he said. “They think they are going to get zinged by Kenney” in the new contract this summer, so they’re going to split. “Morale is terrible across the board.”

Mayor Kenney’s office said it could not respond to an email request for comment before deadline.

At 50, Bob has 25 years on the job. Married, with kids, the native of the Northeast became a cop because he wanted to help  people and because he has pride in his hometown. 

Before moving into investigations, he enjoyed being a street cop because “every day brings a different challenge and you may be able to make a difference in somebody’s life.” 

He had no intention of retiring, “but after the events throughout the city over the protests, the lack of support that was expressed for the police by the leadership. . . “

Which leadership?

“The city officials, meaning the mayor, the district attorney, and, quite honestly, the police commissioner  herself,” said Bob. They put cops in a no-win position. 

And Krasner puts more effort into arresting cops than into getting illegal firearms off the street, said Bob.

Morale is at an all-time low, he said, and he doesn’t expect anything to change.

“You used to know coming to work you could rely on upper management. At this point in time, it doesn’t appear that way. It’s failed leadership from the top, and when that happens the cops are demoralized.”

And when that happens, they leave in record numbers, which they are doing now.

19 thoughts on “Demoralized, cops are leaving in record numbers”

  1. Great post, Stu. Unfortunately the “leadership” will paint you as a bigoted racist for just telling the truth.

    you got a few things wrong. City Council members who took DROP money — president Anna Verna ($566,039), plus Jack Kelly ($384,828), Donna Miller ($185,572) and Frank DiCicco ($421,123) are an example of the six figure “bonus !”. As I have said to you, and the readers several times. In my experience, the average DROP payout when I was employed was under $100,00.00 by quite a bit. To reach six figures, you had to be a boss with 40 years, and that would get you a QUARTER MILLION ! Joe average got maybe 60 K.
    The biggest lie is the reason(s) for DROP. Under civil service, you have pay grade and increments. That’s another way of saying that you should be constantly trained, allowing you to move up the food chain. Far from true here in Philly. More money, no training is closer to the truth.
    As for the cops. When you are in emergency services, there is a possibility that when you walk at the door in the morning, you may not come back. So much more true today than ever. Guys my age are VietNam Vets. When we came home, the city offered us employment primarily as a cop or fireman. We took it. Not because we wanted to save the world, but because we wanted security for our family. That was and is the 90% reason why people sign up !
    Now the biggest disaster exists. Philly does not support it’s people. – period . Why would you go to work knowing that you could be arrested for doing the job that you were trained to do. It’s not as if you were being paid a grand fortune, such as our mercinary soldiers. The only stipulation with that job, was you had to stay alive in order to collect. ( we did lose quite a few over the years. especially in the middle east, but you’ll never hear a full accounting )
    Me. I thank the people that wear the uniform. I have uniforms in my family and I have associates and friends that still get up every day and do their job to the best of their ability. And I pray that they all make it home safe every day.

  3. Thank you for this insightful report about the declining morale of our dedicated men in blue in Philadelphia. My Father served in the PPD for 31 years and I served in the Phila DAO for 35 years. I am appalled by the actions and policies of the Mayor, the DA and the Police Commissioner. All three of them pander to the people among us that totally disrespect the rule of law that has sustained our city for almost 2 and 1/2 centuries. This week I saw a documentary entitled “Philly DA”, which in reality is nothing more than a re-election puff piece and false propaganda for our phony DA. His whole career has been consumed by an obvious hatred for police and law and order. Most of the 2 hour film focuses on how his office has compiled a list of 215 officers who they have deemed should not be called as witnesses for the prosecution–even if he is correct, that is only 3% of the PPD!! As the DA, may I suggest that the citizens of this formerly safe city would be better served if he would direct his staff to try and convict the many violent criminals who last year committed over 500 homicides and over 2000 shootings on our streets. The job of the DA is to determine who should be charged and see to it if the evidence is trustworthy who should be prosecuted! It is certainly not his job to be concerned with how much it will cost to imprison the convicted. His job is to help carry out the work of the police and assist in keeping the city streets safe by convicting the violent people who are terrorizing our neighborhoods. The job of the Mayor and the Police Commissioner is to lead and support the officers out on the street. All three of these so called leaders have miserably failed to uphold their oaths–Kenney and Outlaw should resign and Krasner should not be re-elected. Hopefully, we can then continue to rely on our overwhelming majority of dedicated Police Officers to keep our streets safe.
    Stu. please keep informing us of what is happening in our city as I have no trust in what is being reported by the so called main stream media in this city. Thank you.

  4. As usual you are 100% correct.The sad truth is most honest middle class people are just not paying attention to the anarchists taking over the country and do not seem to care.This country is no longer a republic but an oligarchy.They believe the media and academia lies thrown at them every day They defy logic like the attack on Police departments.The covid vaccination scandal is of epic proportions of corruption and ineptitude but in classic Philly style nothing will come of it.Why can’t people see what a corrupt marxist DA scumbag Krasner is.Yet you can bet the house he will easily win re-election. Philly elections have been rigged forever. De fund and vilify Police and then release criminals back on the street to commit more crime and throw in sanctuary laws for people already here ILLEGALLY to commit crimes with no punishmentand you have the perfect scenario for the collapse of a civil society.

  5. Very powerful (and sad) piece. Most “on the left” have NOT called to “Defund Police”, and understand the difference between the well publicized “bad” cops and the majority that go out every day fully intending, and mostly succeeding, at doing the best they can to protect and serve. Yet, we cannot deny that there is racism amongst police, and even White Supremecy, and must deal with these issues. I’m not disputing any of the facts in this column, but the fault is not just “the left”, or the leadership. The whole system stinks. It makes no sense to me that I need to call 911 which is an emergency hotline if I wish to report a car illegally parked in front of the fire hydrant in front of my home. And the proliferation of illegal guns on the streets add a whole new level of danger to the risks facing our Police. Thank you NRA, gun manufacturers, and and gun crazies who consitently fight AGAINST sensible gun control. The “Law and Order” people blaming the left need to look at their own responsibility in creating this crisis.

    1. Philadelphia, PA

      Dear Brownstein & readers,

      Part of the problem here is to understand what is meant by “the left” or leftward politics in the city and the country –and to understand the relationship between what is called “the left” and the regular Democratic majorities in the city and in city government. As I see the matter, what we call “the left” are those people putting constant political pressure on the Democrats to move in their direction. These are the “Defund the police” folks who are nonetheless in some sort of alliance with the rest of the city Democrats –with the consequence that many in government and in the party tend to appease them.

      I think that no one can deny that racism is real and so is a sentiment for white supremacy. These things are not going to go away, and the only real question of practical import is what can be done about the problems. Attacking the police in general terms is not going to do the job. The influence of these kinds of attitudes can be increased or decreased, it is possible to manage the problems; but it is not possible to abolish and eradicate them. “Defund the police” is simply a wrong-headed idea –of putting the Police Department and the security of individual police officers (and everyone else) under generalized economic and political pressure –in spite of wide-spread public disorders and a crime-rate going through the ceiling.

      What needs to be more closely examined, I think, is the effective political alliance between leftward political means and pressures and the sympathy for them coming from the establishment of the Democratic party generally. “The proliferation of illegal guns on the streets” and gun violence are very deep symptoms of what is wrong in the city. You can blame it on the second amendment and its dedicated defenders, perhaps, but the 2nd amendment has been there all along for the past 200 years or so, while the epidemic of drug-related, gun violence came more recently with the lack of good paying jobs for working people. Recall that we have now had one-party dominance of the city government for something like 70 years; and it is not the gun-lovers of the South and West of the country which are a danger in the poorer neighborhoods of the city. But these areas, and the people who live in them, are major constituencies of the city’s Democratic party.

      The police have been placed in the very difficult position of dealing with the consequences of deep social and economic problems which they cannot solve. Who can or might solve the problems? Well, it would seem that the problems are deeply political in character and this is the responsibility of our government, city, state, and federal. It therefore seem pretty strange that city officials should sympathize with the absolutist demands of the left and turn to generalized criticism of the police –when they are partly responsible for the poor economic and social conditions of large sections of the city. Why does the left not criticize the established party? Why not criticize the criminals and drug gangs? It seems that the police may be an easier more comfortable target?

      I return to my familiar question: Why is it exactly that Philadelphia is the poorest of the 10 largest cities in the country? What happened? This was not always true. Why does this question persist after 70 years of one-party rule –and loyal support of most of the poorest and gun-ridden sections of town? The social and economic problems were not caused by the police –not the good majority and not those most worthy of criticism.

      H.G. Callaway

  6. Stu, Thank you so much for this article on the declining morale in our Police Department. it starts with leadership,
    we have none. Our so called Police Commissioner was on Fox 29 this morning after hiding for about a month and a
    half. Now she wants to start a committee to find out why our crime rate is so high??? Isn’t that her job? Who would be on this committee. She should resign now…she doesn’t know anything about Philadelphia or how to handle our
    high crime rate. Richard Ross, our former Police Commissioner , was so articulate and a hands on PC. He always
    spoke after a crime and was at the scene. She hides like she did when our City was being destroyed. What do you
    expect…Kenney found her. Our liberal DA contributes to the morale of the Police also. He’s more for the criminal then for the victim or our dedicated Police Officers.

  7. Great article … I got out last year , saw the handwriting on the wall.. lack of respect didn’t just start last year.. always felt like we were the occupying army,

  8. I am reminded of the time back in the 1970s when servicemen returning from Vietnam were spat at and called baby killers. The military was in the crapper, dope was rampant, and many of us civilians feared for the nation. Now we have an eerily similar situation with the police: calls to defund the police are the same as calls to demilitarize. The same idiots who call for the end of police forces have bumper stickers that read WAR IS NOT THE ANSWER. Tell that to Adolf Hitler. The military survived and prospered after the Vietnam debacle because it changed the way it did things: it raised the standards for enlistment and raised pay to get and keep good people. The police will have to do the same if it is to survive these dreadful problems it inflicts upon itself. E.g., what intelligent police officer would feel it appropriate to pepper spray a young girl, no matter how obstreperous she may be? Raise the standards to join the police force, pay the police decent wages, train them properly. I repeat: TRAIN THEM PROPERLY. It will take time, but
    the problem can be solved. Naturally, all of my suggestions depend on leadership at the political level. Of that possibility in Philadelphia I am not sanguine.

    1. HAPPY FRIDAY !!!
      Vinnie !
      Well said – mostly. We who lived it, remember. Sorry to say, you are correct with the similarities of the ’70s vs the present. You left out that little fact that the draft was eliminated. That was the biggest reason for improvements in the military. The police, like everyone else was not very well trained – by any standards. Things had to change and they did. As for pepper spraying a girl. If the situation calls for it – damn right ! Me for one would like to see the draft returned. Every one serves, just as in most developed countries. You don’t have to carry a gun. You can be a cook or dishwasher. People today have no idea what the constitution or any other law is about. Blame that on lack of civics in grade school.
      Of course, it is necessary for your goverbment to have one mind. Uphold the law and those that protect us.

    2. Philadelphia, PA

      Dear Benedict & readers,

      The analogy with the military is not really very appealing. Few doubt that we need the military, but the chief question of late is whether we need quite so much of it. As I recall, we are now spending more than the next 10 countries combined? The vilification of our soldiers was, of course, ridiculous and even self-defeating. But some “demilitarizing” is sometimes needed.

      After major conflicts, such as the Cold War, the idea is that we are supposed to “reconstruct” the country for civilian purposes, though that opportunity was missed. You will perhaps recall, that we were going to keep the gigantic military and use it for “humanitarian interventions” (Clinton). That was the rationale. But in fact, given that a gigantic military was there, it got used in various endless, foreign wars –concerning which the public has been none too happy. A gigantic military is not an end in itself. One thing that can be said for Mr. Trump is that he did not, at least, start another war.

      I agree of course that the police should be given the best training that can be managed and that we need to show public support –and not just criticism. They are up against some very tough criminal characters out there on the streets.

      H.G. Callaway

      1. “Soldiers and dogs keep off the grass.” No one wants ‘too much’ military until the time comes when the military is the last option. At the end of WWII my favorite president, Harry Truman, immediately began to downsize the military. He also disbanded the OSS (the precursor to the CIA). And JUST LIKE THAT into the vacuum rushed the Soviets, strangling Berlin with a blockade. It took six months and billions of dollars to force the reopening to Belin. Then BAM, JUST LIKE THAT, North Korea invaded South Korea. And yes, the USA was totally unprepared, having (as Truman’s Sec’y of Defense proudly boasted0 “cut the military budget to the bone, and then scraped the bone.” No, Korea wasn’t ‘our’ war, but there were no other nations able to fight back owing to the still-rebuilding taking place in Europe by England and France. My point is, in case you missed it, no one knows how small a military the USA can have before other less-friendly nations decide to test our mettle.

        1. HAPPY SATURDAY !!!
          You speak as one “who’s been there and done that !”. TRUTH ! What is missed by joe average is this. WE – the USA – has always been big brother to the rest of the world. Most of those other countries can’t get out of the way fast enough, because their bleeding liberal socialist hearts don’t want a war. They also don’t want to be overrun and oppressed by their waring neighbor. I’m from the belief that if you, the world, want us to your big brother, then you will pay for that service. In turn, we’ll send in our Marines to be your police. Most people wont agree with that, but the alternative, is another war just around the corner.
          The downside to us having a large military is GREED and CORRUPTION . Because of my previous experience, I was privy to much intelligence during the VietNam war. Because of my nature, I tend to laugh at things, so here’s one for you. The French got kicked out of southeast Asia. Sure, they had their rubber plantations, but then they found several profitable cash products. China and Russia wanted to be friends with the North Vietnamese. They “encouraged” Hanoi to start a war. Somehow ( HA ! ) we got involved helping the French as they were leaving. We made our presence known and did what we do best. We screwed things up ! About that time. congress was asking questions to the CIA concerning Southeast Asia. A fact finding mission took place. Short story. One congressman sees what’s going on and says to the others. My brother has a shoe business and he’s not doing good. Another says that his family makes shirts and they’re not doing well. And now we have a war. Money to be made ! Clear out all leftover goods from WW II and Korea and let’s make some money ! The rest is history .

        2. Agreed, 100%. Especially, Harry Truman. A great man of titanium moral fiber, that DC crowd/swamp, and media (Dewey Wins!) chased him out of town, as well.

          1. When asked what he did after making the decision to drop the A-Bomb on the Japanese, Truman said, “I went to bed.”

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