NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – North Charleston Police Chief Reggie Burgess is addressing staffing challenges his department is facing.

Chief Burgess says his department is about 90% staffed after losing roughly 30 officers to the city’s vaccine mandate. He says his goal for 2022 is to fully staff the department.

“Staffing has been a problem in law enforcement for a couple years now, it’s always been a problem,” says Chief Burgess.

Chief Burgess says his department was fully staffed in 2019 for the first time in his career but the numbers started to drop at the onset of COVID-19. North Charleston implemented a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, Chief Burgess stands behind the mandate but says it led to a drop in staffing.

“I want to say between 28 and 31 I believe, I don’t really have that exact number but I will say the officers that we lost they had a lot of seniority,” says Chief Burgess.

One of the areas hardest hit in the department was school resource officers. Chief Burgess says some officers had to be pulled from schools to staff patrol units due to the shortage. Chief Burgess says supervisors remain staffed in the schools and the department plans to return officers to the schools soon.

“Officers, they may not be there all day but they are right there where they can get to the schools,” says Chief Burgess.

The department is working to reverse the shortage through heavy recruitment and specialized training to bring new officers to the department. A focus for Chief Burgess is retention rates and making sure the police department represents the community it serves.

“At the time they started it and it was like in April, they were recruiting hard,” says Chief Burgess. “We we’re able to hire 30 some officers.”

As the department works through the shortage and adjustments in manpower, Chief Burgess says residents shouldn’t expect a drop in service.

“A lot of things change but as they change, we still have to provide a service to the people,” says Chief Burgess.

Chief Burgess says the recruiting team will continue to travel around the state to help fill the holes, the group also has a trip planned to Puerto Rico planned to recruit additional officers.