(The Center Square) – Law enforcement has faced pressures around the country, including in Iowa.
Iowa Peace Officers Association President Capt. Mike McKelvey told The Center Square that he attributes law enforcement personnel changes in the state to several factors.
Those include opposition to qualified immunity in various states, protests against police, the COVID-19 pandemic, and substantial hiring of police “25 to 30 years ago,” which is leading to subsequent recent retirements, he said.
Additionally, according to McKelvey, The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 established an $8.8 billion grant program to support adding 100,000 police officers to community policing programs.
McKelvey said current enrollment and retirement numbers are impacted by national events as well as locally within Iowa.
“I think it’s a local issue as well as a national issue. … We have no idea what tomorrow’s going to bring, and you think ‘Oh, we’ve got qualified immunity now, it’ll be here,’ but it just takes a new bout of legislation to change everything, and tomorrow might be a different day,” he said.
He said many people have been very supportive of police, from telling them that they support the law enforcement to dropping off food.
“Most residents know the majority of officers in Iowa are decent, are going to treat them fair, and just trying to keep communicating that message to the community,” he said. “By and large, I think the majority of all community groups and citizens support the police.”
Iowa legislators passed SF342, which includes strengthening qualified immunity, this week prior to adjourning the 2021 Session.
The Iowa Department of Public Safety’s annual retirements of sworn officers appeared to peak in 2019 and 2020:
2021 (as of May 4, 2021): 13
Meanwhile, the department’s new hires from Peace Officers’ Department of Public Safety Basic Academy Graduates have fluctuated:
40th Basic 10-20-17: 18
41st Basic 11-02-18: 24
42nd Basic 4-05-19: 14
43rd Basic 4-03-20: 24
44th Basic 1-08-21: 21
In Cedar Rapids, applications returned rose from 2016 to 2017 and dropped between 2019 and 2020.
“Like most law enforcement throughout the country, recruitment has become more challenging recently, but there are still many qualified, diverse candidates submitting applications,” Cedar Rapids Public Safety Communications Coordinator Greg Buelow told The Center Square in an email. “Officers that have been at the department for over 25 years remind others that there were years in the past where recruitment numbers were down, but it seems to balance out that the department finds qualified officers to make sure we have our authorized strength.”
The Iowa Law Enforcement Academy’s annual report statistics for total numbers of basic officers and officers trained showed a rise from fiscal year 2017 to fiscal year 2018 and a drop in basic officers from fiscal year 2019 to fiscal year 2020.
Retirement figures from the Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System, as of May 14, 2021, reveal the highest number of retirements per month since the beginning of 2016 was the eight retirements that took place in June 2019. In comparison, the most frequently occurring number of retirements per month since January 2016 was two, with a median of three retirements per month.
The Municipal Fire & Police Retirement System of Iowa reported that actual retirements have only slightly exceeded “expected retirements” in the past two fiscal years. Actual retirements were lower than “expected retirements” in the 2018 and 2017 fiscal years.
Municipal Fire & Police Retirement System of Iowa Executive Director Dan Cassady told The Center Square in an email that total retirements in these years “does not necessarily reflect the impact of the defund police/BLM.”
Retirements from the system increased in fiscal year 2020, but “half” occurred from January through June, he said.
“The defund police/BLM movement started after George Floyd’s death on May 25th (June applications would have been received prior to the end of May),” Cassady said. “Several factors can influence the number of retirements including hiring cycles 25-30 years ago and previously delayed retirements. … I anticipate actual retirements will exceed expected retirements for FY 2021. … I believe the defund police/BLM has influenced retirement decisions but identifying the magnitude would be very difficult.”
Des Moines Police Department did not respond to The Center Square’s request for statistics and insights on hiring and retirement.