Recruiting and hiring new officers is a challenge faced by law enforcement agencies across the nation. Fewer people are drawn to a career, and, unlike many veteran officers, often new candidates don’t see a career in law enforcement as a calling. Agencies are facing extreme staffing shortages, where more than 25% of their work force is vacant, injured, or retiring.
This creates a burden on departments to address workload and morale issues with their current officers, while also seeking new ways to find viable candidates. Departments are challenged to continually find new candidates. Simultaneously, we must not become so focused on adding numbers that we accept candidates who aren’t committed to the career or the community that they serve. Such candidates fill positions. However, they often create greater problems in the future or have a higher tendency to leave the department or the career when faced with the gritty side of dealing with society’s messier social and criminal problems.
Let’s be honest: Many are seeking the job because on face value the job seems interesting. Others have a sense of entitlement, meaning they feel they’re a good candidate so the department should go to extra lengths to hire and recruit them. I’m guilty of having held this sentiment. However, after 50% of the recruits in one hiring batch resigned during the Academy and FTO, I recognized that there has to be more to hiring candidates than finding those with clean backgrounds and the aptitude to successfully go through the hiring process.
These were candidates who were not failing the training program but had became disheartened early on when faced with the realities of law enforcement. There was a need to get these recruits more invested in the job, with a greater understanding of the demands of the job, and a clear understanding of the needs of the community they will serve. Being able to create this sense of purpose and investment needs to start early on in the hiring process, and departments need to be willing to add clear expectations of their candidates.
Bottom line: Know the job, know the community, and know how each candidate would fit into the agency.
Start at the beginning. Creating this expectation and providing them opportunities to become invested in the organization can start in the hiring process. If the department hosts a written test or schedule hiring orientation meetings, an officer and a member of the command staff should address the group.
What sets you apart? Often, we try to sell our departments at these initial meetings by mentioning the specialty units, opportunities, and benefits. I believe this is misguided. Instead, recruits should be made aware of what makes the department and community unique. Present them with the demands of the job, the workload, and the specific needs of the community, but also offset this with the positive reality of the camaraderie they will experience being a part of a committed team, the opportunities they will have, and the pride of serving with a sense of purpose.
Additional expectations can be laid out as well. Study the career, know the current issues facing law enforcement, and study the department and community.
Get everyone involved. The next step requires that departments get more line staff involved. Senior and newer officers want to have a part in the hiring process. They are the ones that will share shifts or a patrol car with the recruits in the future.
Each new recruit should be assigned a guide. My department usually does this after an initial oral board interview. The guide is not there just to help get them through the process, but to mentor them and direct them towards resources that they can study in order to be better prepared for the job. Early on, this builds a relationship between the recruit and the department.
Bonus:Another step that can be taken is to create the expectation—or if your Human Resources department will approve, the requirement—that each recruit complete a set number of ride-alongs during their background investigation. Officers that host the ride-alongs should be provided with a survey to be completed regarding the recruit. Officers have the opportunity to ask questions and identify if the candidate has an understanding of the job and is a fit for the department. These surveys are later reviewed by command staff or hiring personnel prior to the final executive level interview and conditional job offer. The recruit has the benefit of seeing firsthand the workload and dynamics of the department and the officers have the opportunity to provide input on those that are hired.
Executives can take this information and complete an individualized interview of the candidate during the Chief’s interview or job offer interview. If the earlier steps were successful, the candidate should be able to articulate an understanding of the job demands, the community they will serve, and a commitment and fit for the agency. Executive staff should have an understanding of this process and should not be tempted to make compromises in order to simply fill positions.
Hiring individuals who are invested in the career and have demonstrated a level of commitment early on will be a better officer in the long run. The end goal cannot simply be to fill positions. The goal must be to fill positions with people who will last and who have built a relationship with their department and the community they service.