Are You Recruiting Police Officers the “Old Fashioned Way?”

A National Crisis

Police agencies across the United States and Canada have been struggling to fill vacant positions for years now. The number of full-time police officers in America has dropped 11% since 1997, with a number of factors affecting the recruiting shortage, including:

This situation has left police departments desperate and resorting to all sorts of new tactics to recruit cadets. From agencies using billboards to viral Star Wars YouTube campaigns, law enforcement are trying everything that comes to mind.

NPR referred to this national dilemma as a “police recruiting crisis.” And, this dramatic language is entirely justified. We rely on police officers to protect the public, and limitations on deployment means less coverage and increases in unsolved crime. In addition, being short-staffed puts unprecedented pressures on existing staff, leading to a cycle of abuse. Staff are forced to take on more overtime, resulting in lowered morale, increased sick days, and even extended sick leaves from stress and added pressure.

In the face of these new challenges, it’s essential to adapt. Changes need to be made to outdated processes and new methods should be embraced to revitalize the recruitment pool.

Branding for Your Police Department

This advice may make your eyes roll, but the branding and online perception of your department matters. In a time when the media leans towards showcasing the “bad cop” stories, you need to balance out the narrative. It’s crucial to post on social media and share the wins from your department. Showcase your officers’ involvement with their communities, show them making a difference, being respected by community members, and loving what they do. Not only will this encourage applicants, but it also serves to create a stronger bond with the community you serve.

Don’t forget that candidates can shop around. If they’re considering between 2-3 local agencies, and all the compensation rates are similar, they’ll likely make their decision based on culture. An agency that is showcasing its officers online in their day-to-day activities may help to win over undecided candidates.

Bonus Tip: Look at your website and see if it’s in need of an update. Your website is often the first point of interaction between a candidate and your agency. If the website is old and dated, it can imply that the department is also stuck “in its old ways.”

Modern Requirements

It’s more than likely that your agency has held onto recruitment standards of the past. Consider updating out-of-date restrictions that cut out valid candidates. If your department holds onto the “no visible tattoos or facial hair” rule, it might be time to re-evaluate. You don’t have to go to an extreme and accept candidates with face tattoos, but police officers with arm and leg tattoos have become quite common now.

Another option is to consider raising age restrictions. Some departments, like Marion County, have reported that their most fit candidates are in their 40s.

Note that expanding your candidate pool is not the same as lowering your standards. You are simply widening your net and putting more emphasis on testing and requirements that actually factor into good police work. You’re adjusting old rules, such as restrictions on facial hair or tattoos, that don’t speak to a person’s ability to be a good cop.

Expand Your Pool … Because It’s Shrinking

It’s time to evaluate where you are sourcing candidates from and  look at some additional options. Universities remain a gold mine for potential recruits, however, remember to also look outside of the criminal justice majors. Many degrees, such as sociology or psychology, can transition to law enforcement.

Clarify to applicants there are many types of different positions in law enforcement other than just beat cops. Individuals can choose to be a detective, crime scene investigator, criminal profiler, accounting forensics officer, crime laboratory analyst, K9 officer, and more.

Also, look outside of the state or province. If you can make a compelling case, many candidates would consider relocating for a new and exciting opportunity.

According to recent statistics, most people will change their careers 5-7 times in their lifetime. So, don’t dismiss people who are in other careers, as valid candidates. People in retail, banking, sales, or any other occupation, could be ready for a career change.

A Revitalized Hiring Process

It’s not only a struggle to get candidates interested but also to get them to the finish line. For many police departments, “standard practices” are causing candidates to drop out during the hiring journey. The hiring process is notoriously long for police agencies, taking up to 12 months . Review your options for reducing the timeline in the hiring procedures and keep in mind thatthe longer your process is, the more likely you’ll be to lose applicants along the way. Try to keep the hiring journey at 6 months or less if possible.

It’s important to remain in communication with the applicant and update them regularly. Let them know what step of the process they’re in so they know they’re still in the running and don’t lose interest.

If candidates drop out of the process, make it a priority to reach out to them. Multiple agencies have reported that reaching out to people who have left the application process, re-engages the applicant and encourages them to pick their application back up. 

It can also be beneficial to evaluate your hiring process to see if there are specific stages when candidates tend to drop out. For example, when many applicants couldn’t pass the fitness test in Baltimore, they developed a boot camp for future candidates to better prepare. It was also an excellent opportunity for candidates to interact with cops from the force.

Many aspects of policing continuously adapt and evolve, from technology to policing practices. The hiring process should also evolve to meet today’s circumstances. Tattoos are common, social media is expected, and fast turn-around times are required by today’s working sector. Ensure your police agency is keeping up and putting itself in the best position to fill officer positions.

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