DC-Area Police Department Turns to Puerto Rico To Alleviate Officer Recruiting Shortages

Prince George's County plans island recruiting trip to fill hundreds of vacancies

(Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)
September 19, 2023

Officer shortages are so dire in the Washington, D.C., area that one county police department is planning to send officials to Puerto Rico in an attempt to bring back hundreds of new recruits, the department announced Monday.

Law enforcement officials in Maryland's Prince George's County, which borders D.C., told the city's Fox affiliate that they plan to travel to the Caribbean island "soon" in an attempt to hire the roughly 350 officers they need to achieve a full staff. In addition to the tropical recruitment trip, the county's police department is targeting Hispanic communities at parades and other events across the country and running ads in Spanish.

The effort provides a window into the unique strategies that police departments are employing as they work to address the officer shortages that have plagued America's police departments since the height of the Defund the Police movement in 2020. Police departments from D.C. to San Francisco are down hundreds of officers, prompting law enforcement officials to express concern that their cities do not have the manpower to combat rising crime.

Local residents in Prince George's County have echoed those concerns. In February, for example, residents of one crime-ridden neighborhood lamented that the county's officer shortage could preclude the police department from providing around-the-clock surveillance, prompting more carjackings and other violent crimes. The department's deputy chief confirmed at the time that a lack of officers means the department "can't occupy the area forever."

"We have been put under siege where our children … do not feel comfortable walking to school," one resident said.

The county's police department, which did not return a request for comment, is one of many in the D.C. area that are working to expand recruitment efforts and bring up officer numbers. In nearby Montgomery County, Md., new recruits enjoy $20,000 bonuses, take-home vehicles, and property tax credits, while Virginia's Fairfax County also offers a hiring bonus. D.C.'s police department, which has the lowest number of officers since the 1970s, last year unveiled advertisements on New York City subways that call on "gamers," "foodies," "techies," and "influencers" to join D.C.'s police academy.

This is not the first time police departments in the D.C. area have turned to Puerto Rico to recruit Spanish-speaking candidates. The D.C. Metropolitan Police Department in 1985 sent officials to the island and returned with roughly 40 new cadets, according to the Washington Post. But some Hispanic leaders in the area criticized the initiative, calling it "culturally inappropriate to go to Puerto Rico to get recruits who will serve a Hispanic population here in the District."