NEW DAY, new challenges

Looking for solutions in all the right places

In a popular television reality show, talented chefs vie for top honors in a food competition. An integral part of that competition is financial: They have to spend their resources wisely. Typically, this means they are given a scenario: "cook a four-course meal for 12 people" -- then sent to the store with $150 to buy their supplies.

The contestants on the show must not only buy enough to go around, they can't stray over their budgets. Staying within the parameters of the contest, yet consistently turning out gourmet dishes that please their demanding diners and the show's judges is a difficult feat, but the producers also throw them a few curve balls here and there -- unforeseen factors making their tasks even more difficult to execute.

If you're wondering what a cooking show has to do with running a law enforcement agency, look at it in this context -- law enforcement executives are given a budget and told to work wonders with it. Not only do they have to stretch that budget, but often dodge unforeseen circumstances thrown in by elected officials, the state, the federal government, politics, a changing social climate, technology … the list is pretty much endless.

Policing is not a static business. Executives, and agencies, must bend and change to meet those challenges, even if the challenges themselves seem insurmountable and the tools to effect those changes appear out-of-reach.

At the top of everyone's list
Before changes can be tackled, identify the problem. There's no management issue more perplexing and difficult than recruiting and retention. With many new officers entering the field with intentions of leaving after two to three years, and older, more experienced officers cycling out of the door and into retirement in growing numbers, agency managers are grappling with one of the toughest issues ever to face law enforcement.

Dr. Kevin Love, industrial psychologist and professor in the Department of Management of Central Michigan University, sums up the challenge facing law enforcement executives with this question: "Will an accounting major who can start at $50,000 a year and move into a six-figure salary within three years choose to go into a forensic accounting unit for half that?"

As many agencies have discovered, the most common answer is disappointing, but manpower needs don't go away simply because there's no handy solution. Here are some approaches that are working:

  • The Los Angeles (California) Police Department, like many large agencies that hire from smaller departments, offers a good lateral entry program. By showing up at job fairs, advertising and sending their recruitment teams on the road, LAPD plays heavily to experienced officers.
  • Another tactic used by many agencies is to recruit first-hand on-site at military bases, hoping to snag men and women at the end of their military careers. Former military usually find the segue into policing a natural fit.
  • One problem with recruiting officers from lower-paying areas is that the salaries in larger cities and resort towns are often not adequate to cover the higher cost of living. Some city governments have looked into creating lower-cost housing for essential professions such as nursing, teaching and law enforcement.
  • Opportunity is the key to staying in a job for the long haul. Does your department offer plenty of chance for advancement or specialization? And if an officer chooses patrol as a career, is there a carrot to make that an attractive option? Are you still stuck in assessment-center based promotions, or are they more personalized? Take a hard look at how you're handling these issues. They can be key to both attracting good candidates -- especially lateral hires -- as well as retention.
  • The New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, which controls all state police training including corrections, has jumped on the same bandwagon as North and South Carolina and some other states. Instead of hiring officer candidates and sponsoring them through state certification-based programs, they pre-qualify candidates before hiring them. These programs, like the one at Caranozia College, allow officer candidates to go through mandated training before even applying for a job, saving the agencies time and money.
  • Hire older rookies. In places like Jacksonville, North Carolina, a large number of officers are in their second careers. Many are military retirees in excellent physical condition, who are more than prepared for the next challenge. Sometimes the guy or gal who has always wanted to be a police officer but kept putting it off may be a better bet than the recent college grad who isn't sure where the river of life is taking him. If your agency has age limits, consider changing them. While a 45-year-old rookie probably won't give you 25 years, he might give you 10 years of hard work and loyalty. Base your hiring on the individual, not a preconceived notion of who can do the job and who can't.
  • In Minnesota, retired officers can work a reduced number of hours on the clock for their former agency while still collecting their pensions. It's a total win-win for law enforcement and the jurisdictions for which they work. All that experience -- and no benefits to pay out. If your state has rules against double-dipping, maybe it's time to light a fire under your state lawmakers. Police officers are in short supply. Experience can go a long way. Get those laws changed.
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