Breaking Down Muriel Bowser’s Claim The D.C. Police Force Shrank By 300-400 Officers In The Last Four Years

Anna Mock | Fact Check Reporter

Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser claimed during a mural unveiling on Sept. 27 that the D.C. police force has lost around 300-400 officers in the last four years.

“We need more officers. We don’t have the officers that we need. And sadly, we’ve lost 3-400 officers in the last four years,” she said. “We haven’t had officers in our schools. And we have policies that make it difficult to recruit new officers.”

Florida Sen. Rick Scott replied to Bowser’s comments on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, saying “This is the result of Democrats’ agenda to defund and demonize the police.” In June 2020, Bowser had a Black Lives Matter mural painted on the street near the White House following the death of George Floyd, and protestors added the words “defund the police,” according to Fox News.

The D.C. police force has shrunk to a half-century low with a net loss of 450 over the past three years, according to the Washington Post. The force had 3,350 sworn officers at the end of March, but Police Chief Robert J. Contee III said he expects that number to drop to 3,130 by the end of fiscal year 2024, the outlet reports. 

A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) directed Check Your Fact to a document showing data on the hiring and separation of officers between fiscal year 2018 and 2023. From 2019 to 2023, the MPD lost 1,324 officers (for a variety of reasons such as death, retirement, resignation and others) and gained 846, equating to a net loss of 478. 

“There’s no reliable and comprehensive national data on police staffing and hiring. With over 15,000 local agencies (cities, townships, villages, municipalities, and counties) it would be tough to keep such data,” said Joseph A. Schafer, a criminal justice professor for St. Louis University, in an email to Check Your Fact. “What we’re left with are a handful of studies that are suggestive of police hiring and staffing trends, even if we can’t be entirely certain we have an entirely accurate understanding of the issue.”

Schafer directed Check Your Fact to data from the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) surveying 179 U.S. respondents from 37 states and the District of Columbia. PERF found a decrease of  3.48% in officer staffing levels from 2020 to 2021.

“Loss and staffing levels are not always the same,” Schafer added. “An agency might lose 10% of its employees, but be at 95% staffing if they can replace enough to offset some of the personnel loss/turnover.”

“This is a national trend. It is becoming harder to recruit police officer across the country, especially in larger urban departments. Several reasons are apparent. First, the salary has not kept competitive with other jobs with the same educational and background requirements,” said Richard Bennett, a criminal justice professor at American University, in an email to Check Your Fact. “Second, The mood has changed and police officers are not being viewed as public servant with the best for the community in mind. It is not something that kids think about being in the future.”

Check Your Fact has reached out to Bowser and multiple criminal justice experts for comment and will update this piece accordingly if one is received from any of these sources.

Anna Mock

Fact Check Reporter