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Philly Police have 72 new officers. They’ll start amid a shortage of more than 500.

The class of more than 70 academy graduates is the department's largest graduating class in three years.

The new Philadelphia Police officers come amid a shortage of hundreds of police.
The new Philadelphia Police officers come amid a shortage of hundreds of police.Read moreJose F. Moreno / Staff Photographer

The Philadelphia Police Department got 72 new officers Friday when its largest class of recruits in three years graduated from the academy, an infusion of personnel that comes amid a shortage of hundreds of officers.

Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw welcomed the graduates during a ceremony at Temple University, acknowledging that they’re joining the force as the city is simultaneously experiencing a staffing crisis and a surge in gun violence, saying: “It’s been a pretty difficult time to be a police officer.”

“The narrative over the past few years surrounding police hasn’t always been positive or supportive,” she added. “At a time when it could have been easier to pick a different profession ... you chose to pick something that wasn’t so popular, because you answered your call to serve.”

The Philadelphia Police Department has faced a critical shortage of officers for months. There are more than 500 officer vacancies, and hundreds more are out on injury claims, meaning the force is nearly 1,300 officers short of its full complement of 6,380.

At the same time, the city is experiencing its worst gun violence crisis in generations, and Outlaw has tied the staffing problem to the department’s ability to fight crime. Shootings surged dramatically in mid-2020, and last year was the deadliest on record, with 562 people killed. Homicides are continuing this year at a similar pace.

Part of the police shortage can be attributed to a steep decline in hiring during the pandemic, though recruiting officers was a struggle even before 2020. In 2019, four recruiting classes saw an average of just 57 graduates.

» READ MORE: Philadelphia city services reach crisis point as 1 in 7 municipal jobs sit vacant

The graduation of 72 cadets represents the largest class in three years. But it’s hardly enough to dent the vacancies, and the shortage is all but certain to get worse. More than 800 officers and civilian employees have set retirement dates within the next four years, and resignations are continuing at an accelerated clip.

The attrition and recruiting struggles aren’t unique to Philadelphia. Across the country, retirements and resignations from police departments soared in 2021, with departments from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles reporting critically low staffing. That’s created soaring demand from a small pipeline.

Mayor Jim Kenney thanked the graduating cadets Friday and vowed his administration would “continue to make necessary investments to ensure that officers have the resources they need to excel while on the force.”

“It is not easy work, but you didn’t enter the academy with that expectation,” he said. “We want to recognize each of you for answering the call.”