25 Investigates: Amid pandemic, police departments making changes in aftermath of George Floyd’s death

Amid a pandemic, police departments are also making changes in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd

BOSTON — Reports out of New York show hundreds of officers have put in for retirement in the last several weeks.

25 Investigates has been calling several local departments from Boston to Worcester to Lawrence to Lynn to see if they’re seeing a domino effect here.

Local departments say they're not seeing a jump in retirements but say many departments right now are understaffed and the last few months have not helped.

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Between the COVID-19 pandemic and fallout from the murder of George Floyd, police departments across the country are beginning to see internal and legislative changes.

Boston 25 news reporter Wale Aliyu has been tracking local departments, their budgets, and staffing levels for months even before either issue. Now the conversations to defund the police or even add more oversight are affecting the departments in our area.

We’ve been following around these Northern Essex Community College/Methuen Police Academy recruits for months as they get ready to join their local police departments. Their graduation is now delayed several weeks after 25 of these 96 recruits contracted COVID-19.

“They are definitely not going to get the hours they would normally get in the Academy,” said Lynn police Lt. Michael Kmiec.

With 18, Lynn had the most recruits in the class as the department has been trying to fill 25 needed positions. But since all of the recruits won’t get the 900 needed hours at the academy, local departments will have to finish the job.

'We are going to have to pick up that slack," said Lawrence Police Chief Roy Vasque. "When officers come back here we will do a lot of the training they weren’t able to do at the academy based off of social distancing."

Many departments like Lawrence were celebrating lower crime numbers until several officers began battling COVID-19. Now officers say they’re also battling a narrative of how much they are needed.

"For several months there we were appreciated and they were commercials thanking the Frontline workers," said Kmiec. "Then you fast forward to a few months later and it’s kind of the opposite, we’re on the opposite end of it taking some backlash from the Minneapolis incident and it has had an effect on the guys."

Cambridge police agree the calls to defund departments and change legislation are having an impact.

"It’s a very emotional time right now and then to have some of that sentiment come out it is particularly challenging," said director of communications and Cambridge Police Department Jeremy Warnick.

"We don’t want those bad officers," said Vasque. "We want to make our profession something we can all be proud of. I know police chiefs sometimes struggle with removing officers and there’s union issues in place and their civil service issues."

The fight to remain fully staffed without lowering standards continues to be a challenge for police, but departments we spoke with say they hope the extra challenges from 2020 will only bring them closer to the community to address issues and facilitate change.

"The overall feeling is the same frustration officers around the country are feeling," said Kmiec. "We obviously understand people's anger toward what occurred and we feel the same way. What that officer did I think we all understand was wrong."

Police say they are afraid these continued conversations will lead to fewer people applying for and remaining on the job. An issue but one they recognize will not get better until cases like George Floyd stop happening.