We document and discuss the implications of a striking feature of modern American policing: the stasis of police labor forces. Using an original employment dataset assembled through public records requests, we show that, after the first few years on a job, officers rarely change employers, and intermediate officer ranks are filled almost exclusively through promotion rather than lateral hiring. Policing is like a sports league, if you removed trades and free agency and left only the draft in place.
We identify both nonlegal and legal causes of this phenomenon—ranging from geographic monopolies to statutory and collectively bargained rules about pensions, rank, and seniority—and discuss its normative implications. On the one hand, job stability may encourage investment in training and expertise by agencies and officers alike; it may also attract some high-quality candidates, including candidates from underrepresented backgrounds, to the profession. On the other hand, low labor mobility can foster sclerosis in police departments, entrenching old ways of policing. Limited outside options may lead officers to stay in positions that suit them poorly, decreasing morale and productivity and potentially contributing to the scale of policing harms. In turn, the lack of labor mobility makes it all the more important to police officers to retain the jobs they have. This encourages them to insist on extensive labor protections and to enforce norms like the “blue wall of silence,” which exacerbate the problem of police misconduct. We suggest reforms designed to confer the advantages of labor mobility while ameliorating its costs.
Jonathan S. Masur, Aurélie Ouss & John Rappaport, "Labor Mobility and the Problems of Modern Policing," Coase-Sandor Working Paper Series in Law and Economics, No. 982 (2023).