South Carolina Police Academy Director Jackie Swindler remembers a time when he would see hundreds of police candidates come through the academy’s doors but has seen the numbers decrease.

Swindler said he isn’t sure when or if the shortage of law enforcement officers will be solved.

Shortages in law enforcement employees are not just an issue that local agencies face but a national problem that is causing a strain on local enforcement and how they protect the community.

From patrols, staff in the detention center or solving crimes, law enforcement agencies are feeling the shortage.

“It’s a nationwide issue to get people to apply in the first place,” said Lt. Jennifer Hayes with the Aiken Department of Public Safety.

About 655,890 law enforcement officers are employed nationwide, according to a May 2022 report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In the same report, South Carolina had about 11,640 people working in law enforcement with a starting hourly pay of around $23.79 or an annual salary of $49,490.

Capt. Marty Sawyer with the Aiken Department of Public Safety said people aren’t applying and if people are called for an interview or offered the job, they don’t show up for testing or training.

“It’s just getting people in the door period; not that people can’t just pass the test,” he said. “It’s like we can’t get them to apply for one.”

Sawyer said getting good applicants for the position is hard because many can’t pass the basic physical fitness and written tests. He said even though the department has slots to fill, it wants to put the right people in those slots.

“We have brought groups in for testing and didn’t hire anybody,” Sawyer said.

Sawyer said there are times when someone is hired, but after about six to eight months the individual feels like the job isn’t a good fit for them and leaves the department.

Sawyer has been in law enforcement since he was 16 years old as a cadet with the volunteer fire department. He applied for the job in 1989 and has been there since then.

“I feel like it is very rewarding,” Sawyer said. “I could have retired years ago, but I still enjoy getting up and coming to work every day. I think it is probably rewarding for anyone that works in law enforcement because we aren’t here for the money.”

Hayes said when she started working for public safety hundreds of applicants would apply for one position but now the department could get five applicants for 30 positions.

“The applicants have dried up,” she said.

Edgefield County Sheriff Jody Rowland has had a long career in law enforcement and said he has seen the change.

He said the Tyre Nichols incident in January is one example of another hit to the profession of law enforcement.

“To be successful in law enforcement today, you have to have a servant’s heart, a servant’s mind, a servant’s thought process and we have lost that in a period of time,” he said.

Rowland, who has worked in various law enforcement agencies including the Aiken Department of Public Safety, said he has seen the interest in law enforcement decrease.

“Over my 20 years here I have seen an influx in which it will be to where we are full and folks are retiring, moving on to something else that is beneficial to themselves or to their families,” said Capt. Eric Abdullah with the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office.

The Aiken County Sheriff’s Office has about 131 sworn officers out of 145. The number includes command staff, investigators, patrol staff and detention center officers. Abdullah said they are still hiring people to fill those roles.

“The application pool is low right now,” he said. “We are looking for anyone looking for a professional home.”

Abdullah said the application process to work as a deputy includes a general background check, a drug test for illegal substances including marijuana, a physical fitness test, a mental health evaluation and a polygraph test before you have a conditional job interview.

He said a candidate completes four weeks of academy training at the sheriff’s office, which includes a cumulative test in the four weeks and a physical fitness test. If that is complete, applicants will get a date to complete the final eight weeks of training.

“From start to finish it takes about six to eight months before we have a sworn law enforcement officer that has gone through academy training as well as field training before they are solely working by themselves in a uniformed patrol shift,” Abdullah said.

Employee perks, salaries

Local law enforcement agencies have become creative and have changed the way they recruit applicants as well as becoming more competitive with their salaries.

Abdullah said the recent salary increases for deputies have helped a lot and recent applicants have graduated from the academy and are currently training with the department.

“We are doing our best to try to get our numbers up in personnel,” he said.

Abdullah said the starting salary range for a deputy is $50,300 to $55,000, while salaries for detention center officers and dispatchers are between $43,101 to $47,893

Abdullah said the department has a recruiting program, passing out a business card that includes an application and department cars with QR codes that will take people to the application.

For the Aiken Department of Public Safety, the starting salary for someone with no experience is $22 per hour or around $47,000 a year.

Hayes the department has included a recruitment bonus for current employees who find people to work with the department, a take-a-car home program and a recruitment team.

Culture, demand and burnout

University of South Carolina law professor Seth Stoughton said there are a lot of factors that would contribute to a shortage in law enforcement.

“There is no simple explanation because it is complicated,” he said.

Stoughton said some reasons for communities not having the number of officers they need are because officers are retiring after 20 to 30 years, burnout and people leaving the profession altogether. He said those factors added to low recruiting numbers, a generational shift to fewer qualified applicants have made it hard for some law enforcement agencies to have enough staff.

“We have seen it at the career-level position,” he said.

Stoughton said police officers now have more options to pursue a different career and a job in law enforcement might seem less attractive.

“Being a police officer at many agencies will get you a pretty decent salary and benefits without the need for a college degree,” he said.

Abdullah said one reason people are not choosing to go into law enforcement is because of how police are portrayed in the media.

“If a law enforcement agency in California is in violation of law and policies, it not only affects that department but it also affects the law enforcement profession as a whole,” he said. “We should be in the public eye, we should be held accountable, not only to ourselves in the community but as the profession as a whole.”

Hayes said public safety is not like most jobs in which you can have all the time you want off and also the job demands are high.

“People want more flexibility and this job is not the one that allows for that,” she said.

Rowland said that society has changed and people don’t have the respect for law enforcement they once had.

“About 20 and 30 years ago, it was a sought-after job and now recruiting and retention is so hard,” he said.

He said another issue he sees is trying to recruit people who want to stay in law enforcement; about 35 percent of police academy recruits leave the field within two years and go to another profession.

He also said about 20 recruits fail during training at the police academy.

Rowland said he currently has three deputies and would like more, including more female applicants.

“A small county like Edgefield, those things can take a toll,” he said.

Swindler said that between 10 and 20 percent of new police officers leave the profession the first year, but during the height of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, 30 percent left the profession after their first year.

“That was quite alarming,” he said.

Swindler said the demands of the job are different because each agency is different. He said some offer swing shifts while others may offer 12-hour shifts, and the job can be stressful — constantly being on alert or not knowing what is going to happen next.

“It is a service job, and it is something that you take on and makes a difference in people’s lives,” he said. “It is not about yourself, it is about what you do for others.”

Swindler said officers have a lot of post-traumatic stress and the job is tough but people can make a difference by serving others.

“Not only the physical demands but also the psychological demands,” he said. “Sometimes you see people at their worst, you deal with people who are ugly, angry and nasty. Sometimes you deal with a mental illness episode right then and you see things you can’t get out of your head.”

Sawyer said helping is one reason why he has stayed in law enforcement and is a reason why other people stay, as well.

Officers have the ability to help people during the worst time of their lives, he said.


Rowland said there are concerns about not having enough staff, including officers completing a lot of overtime and said it’s expensive paying for overtime.

“You have deputies who love to work overtime, but the truth is that they are tired, they get worn out and burned out,” he said. “Once you get burned out in this job, it is so hard to get back on level and there is no level time to get back on level ground with this job.”

Stoughton said it is a strain because departments have to operate with a certain amount of staff.

“We are seeing a strain because we have gotten used to providing a service to people” and we are trying to provide services with fewer people, he said.

Abdullah said with fewer deputies, investigators and dispatchers, more people will have to work overtime.

He said evening shifts are hard to cover because the number of staff is reduced to cover Aiken County. Abdullah the sheriff’s office averages about 11 to 13 deputies per shift.

Swindler said at one time there were at least 70 per class but that dropped around 2020 and 2021. He said as the pandemic begins to recede 40 to 60 recruiters are in class which is held every two weeks.

“Most people leave before they get here when they realize that this is not what they are called to do,” Swindler said.

“There are a lot of factors, I believe, that are causing people to decide that this isn’t their career choice and that is a good thing because we want those who are called to do this and are in for the right reasons,” Swinder said.

He thinks law enforcement will become popular again in time because the profession is like most service professions.

“My dad was in law enforcement for a long time, so as a kid, I was always around a bunch of police officers,” Sawyer said.

Sawyer said he got a chance to see people and how they helped them.

“If you are considering a job (in law enforcement), you will never find another rewarding job than this if you do it right,” Sawyer said.

More information

Anyone interested in working with the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office can complete an application online at

Anyone interested in working with the Aiken Department of Public Safety should call 803-642-7260.

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