In line with the experience of other police forces, resignations are sharply up in the Prince George's County Police Department following the shooting deaths last June of two county policement.
The resignations of 22 officers this year has come at time when morale has been low not only because of the deaths but also because of drawn-out contract negotiations and the firing of a popular officer who shot to death an unarmed shoplifting suspect in Seat Pleasant last Christmas Eve.
The resignations, retirements, deaths and dismissals have left the Prince George's force - normally numbering 894 - short 54 men. Training and readying new officers for street duty will take at least 14 months.
Police Chief John W. Rhoads said this week that his tentative budget fornext year calls for recruiting between 30 and 35 officers. But he conceded that by the time those men are trained and ready for street duty in November 1979 there could be between 80 and 90 vacancies.
The number of vacancies is expected to be increased by a new contract provision that allows police officers to retire after 20 years with a pension equaling 48 percent of their working paychecks, instead of the previous 25 years at a 50 percent pension.
Rhoads said he was concerned about the attrition problem and the resignations but not ready to hit the panic button.
"This type of thing (the resignations) is a phenomenon which occurs after the death of an officer almost always," he said. "There are always latent concerns among a lot of officers' wives about the safety of their husband and when something like this happens, those concerns surface. Often during a time like this people with some time on who have other opportunities take them, when ordinarily they might not."
Under the current county budget the police department is authorized 894 officers. Now there are 840. To compensate for manpower problems during the past two years, Rhoads said the department has been trying to handle some service calls on the telephone without sending an officer out. He said about 15 percent of the calls are handled that way.
In addition, Rhoads said he is considering following the lead of Montgomery County and the District by eliminating traffic accident investigations to free more officers for other duties.
Finally the county agreed under the new contract to pay officers double time and a half on holidays instead of paying time and a half and giving them a day off. This was also done to try to create more man-hours.
"Anytime we get to 50 below our authorized strength I get concerned," Rhoads said. "But we have nine men in the academy (recruited one year ago) who will be on the street Dec. 5." He conceded, however, that by that time more men will probably have left the force.
County Executive Winfield M. Kelly Jr. said he would like to add more men to the police force and hopes to recruit a new class next year. He added that no guarantees could be made, however, until after the Nov. 7 election and until the fiscal 1980 budget is drawn up.
Fraternal Order of Police president Laney Hester, who has been critical of Kelly's handling of the police force, called the attrition problem "critical."
"It's gotten to the point where manpower on the street is going to start being reduced and that just shouldn't happen." He said he agreed with Rhoad's theory that the death of a police officer is bound to cause some resignations.
Rhoads said that he and his staff had considered the possibility that manpower on the street could become a problem.
"If that were to happen I would go into my overtime budget and put men on overtime to keep the patrols at full strength," he said. "But I'm hoping that won't be necessary."
Montgomery County's police department, which has also gone through a tumultuous year, reports only seven resignations thus far.
"The last time he had an officer killed (in 1973) we lost 11 men in four months," Rhoads said. "We're through three months now and we hope the trend that way is over. But there's no question that this has to be a serious concern for us."
At last count, the Prince George's Police Department had 1,000 persons on a waiting list for jobs as county police officers. The list has not been updated for two years and contains names of applicants who have taken a preliminary examination.