What’s behind this wave? Officers I spoke with who had left their old departments all offered the same explanation: since last year’s explosive protests, they no longer feel that they have the support of the public or of civilian officials. As one now-retired NYPD officer put it: “One day, the good guys became the bad guys and the bad guys became the good guys.”
That moment, the officers to whom I spoke agreed, came last June, when tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of major cities, calling for the “defunding” of police departments in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. Analysis of an unnamed midsize, midwestern city estimated that resignations nearly quintupled specifically in the months following the Floyd protests, supporting the claims of officers on the ground.
The officers grew worried by the ferocity of some protesters, particularly those who came to perpetrate violence after the peaceful majority had gone home for the night. Seattle has a proud history of protest—and riot, one former officer who left the SPD for a suburb told me. But this time was different: “It was people blowing up police cars. It was people throwing gasoline on to police headquarters and seeing if they could light the headquarters. It was people cementing my coworkers into a precinct and seeing if they could light the precinct on fire.”