How Philadelphia City Government Understaffing Affects You

Across Philadelphia city government, approximately 4,000 positions are currently unfilled, creating barriers for city employees trying to provide even basic services.

A report by the Inquirer found that a wave of retirements and resignations during the pandemic has left approximately 1 in 7 municipal jobs vacant. The city has been unable to hire employees as quickly as it lost them, and so far the city is not recovering as quickly as some other municipalities.

Defenders long ago sounded the alarm over the thinning ranks of police officers, prison guards and prosecutors, but the losses are affecting every corner of the city government. Here are five ways understaffing issues affect Philadelphia residents:

Shortages within the police service have been well documented. The force, authorized to have 6,380 officers and nearly 1,000 additional civilian employees, has 400 vacancies and hundreds more officers on leave following injury claims. The department saw 195 uniformed officers retire last year, double from five years ago.

Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw has repeatedly said the department is at its lowest staffing level in years, hampering its ability to fight crime because it cannot replicate the work of a force that was at least 10% higher several years ago.

READ MORE: Philadelphia Police Response Times Increased by 4 Minutes, About 20% Less

It’s a problem in a city that for the past two years has seen its highest rates of gun violence in generations. Reports of other crimes, including carjackings and car thefts, have skyrocketed since the spring of 2020. Meanwhile, average police response times jumped 20% in 2021 compared to the previous year, according to an Inquirer analysis of department records.

The fire department has also reached extremely low staffing levels.

The department is licensed to have more than 3,400 employees, but currently has around 700 vacancies, a department spokesperson said. Most of them are firefighters, EMTs and paramedics. Until last week, the city had not graduated a new class of firefighters or paramedics in more than a year and a half.

The department has struggled for years to recruit paramedics, in particular. Mike Bresnan, president of Local 22 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, said in some cases firefighters who double as paramedics are filling in the gaps where paramedics once worked, even though paramedics generally follow more. of training.

About a third of the city’s inspectors left between mid-2019 and the start of this year — and they quit or retired at a rate three times that of the department as a whole. The department didn’t hire a single new inspector last year, The Inquirer reported in May.

READ MORE: A third of Philadelphia building inspectors have quit since 2019. Critics say it threatens public safety.

The exodus, combined with a construction boom, has some worried about safety or fearing a disaster is looming. Observers fear inspectors are being overworked and advocates for vulnerable tenants said they have noticed staffing shortages at L&I are getting worse.

Defenders of Philadelphia’s libraries, parks and recreation centers say they are at “completely unacceptable” staffing levels, making it difficult for some facilities to be open on a regular basis.

In May 2021, the city allowed libraries to fully reopen after the pandemic, but many are still only open a few days a week for four hours. Some can only open for “document pick-up”, which means there aren’t enough staff to fully open the doors, but people can pick up books or other items they booked online.

Kelly Richards, president and director of the library system, told city council in May that the system was hundreds of workers short, with a third of vacancies in some areas of the city. He said it could take a year or more to fill them out.

At parks and recreation, some employees say they struggle to take even a day off, knowing that if they do, the center where they work might not be able to open. Nearly 50 recreation centers in Philadelphia have only one full-time worker.

The ministry already has more than 150 vacant positions and must proceed with a new wave of hiring. The city plans to open some recreation centers on weekends starting this fall, which will require an additional 500 full-time employees.

Reliance on overtime pay to cover shifts is increasing, meaning more taxpayer dollars are being used to provide city services.

Philadelphia spent $152.7 million on overtime in the third quarter last fiscal year, according to a recent report from a state board of supervisors. This is the highest amount ever recorded in the third quarter and 7.4% more than at the same time last year.

The largest increases have been in police, prisons and parks and recreation, all of which are experiencing severe staff shortages.

The Philadelphia Inquirer is one of more than 20 news outlets producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project about solutions to poverty and the city’s push for economic justice. Find all our reports on brokeninphilly.org.

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