The Wrong Way and the Right Way to Recruit

Some agencies seem more concerned about de-selecting good candidates than getting good ones. Those that do not get the best candidate will pay for it in liability, turn-over and public acceptance.

I won't mention any names, but we'll take a look at two agencies, one eastern and one western, that seem to be stuck doing it the wrong way. They seem to put obstacles in the way of getting quality applicants. The degree to which one large agency goes is mind numbing.

According to the eastern agency web site: "The (name deleted) has a critical need to hire..." yet their web site also says: " must also be a resident of the city for at least one year prior to taking the civil service exam." That seems self defeating. The need must not be too critical.

Next veterans, such as me, are encouraged to apply. However as I understand it, veterans get head-of-the-line privileges. A vet who scores 70 goes to the top of the list over a non-veteran who scored 99. Not all veterans can be good cops. Shouldn't someone smart enough to score 99 be given fair consideration?

Real diversity involves not only race, but people of all ages, backgrounds, cultures, and ethnicities. I know a small agency where every supervisor was a veteran and almost all Marines like the chief. Regardless of race or ethnic background, that's not diversity.

So an experienced out-of-state cop who speaks Spanish and has a college degree need not apply. The GED veteran, city resident gets the job. This really seems to be very counterproductive to both getting quantity and quality applicants.

For those who still want to take the test, it is only offered once every two years! According to their web site, the next test is April 23, 2007. You missed it, but you can re-apply in two years! The web site further discourages applicants by saying that it has a consent decree to hire minorities. Apparently that is outdated information as well.

They have already dramatically dissuaded the applicant pool but to compound matters, they charge $75 to take the test. Yes they charge you to fill this "critical need."

Okay, by now they have ruled out the vast majority of potential quality applicants, but it gets even worse. I have found that retired military, many aged 38-42, make excellent cops and many are physically and mentally conditioned. Many can run circles around out-of-shape, much younger applicants. This agency has an age limit: 31, or 35 for some veterans (apparently they plan to up this to age 40 next time). My teaching partner is a retired Army Ranger, almost zero body fat and now a successful police sergeant.

Overall, this agency's de-selection process is the most egregious example of poor recruiting and hiring that I have ever seen.

A moderate sized western police department that I have knowledge of is an example of common bad practices.

I have never seen any western or national ads for this agency. A recruiter needs to get out and actively recruit and contact those who call or e-mail. The web site is fair but not good. A good web site needs to sell and market the agency, the community and the quality of life.

The most serious glitch in their process is the length of their process. They test about twice a year on specific dates. Not good for out-of-towners or those in the military. Now let me tell you about the competition.

Those who do show up for the physical agility and written test have only just begun a process that can stretch seven to ten months. If you fail the agility, you can re-apply in six months. Let's look at their competition: Sacramento PD offers mentoring to help applicants understand and succeed in passing the agility test. We want females but frequently the physical agility has a higher failure rate for females.

Okay, so you come from out of town and pass the written and agility for this un-named department; what's next? Well in a few weeks or months you will be called for an interview. Now the average qualified candidate is probably not waiting by the phone. They need to eat and they want to be a cop. By the time they get around to calling, these good candidates have often accepted employment elsewhere.

One candidate reportedly applied for this agency, was hired by another, and ten months later already finished their academy before receiving a call from this slow agency--which he declined. I spoke with a candidate who took the written in November and waited two months just to receive a letter with his placement score! The next step would be the oral, and once again about ten months start to finish. Do they really think that good candidates will sit around waiting for that possible call?

For those who take the oral interview and pass, they don't tell you how you did--just that you passed. You simply wait by the phone a few more months until a background investigator contacts you. Another trip to the city may be required to meet them and do background, medical, psychological tests, and other administrative tasks.

If you pass these and are selected, there may be a wait of many weeks or months until you actually show up at the academy and get your first paycheck two weeks later. What happens if another agency you applied with calls you first and offers immediate employment?

In the Pacific Northwest, a number of agencies have coordinated testing that is conducted at various sites in multiple states. One test is used by all these agencies. Some smart agencies will hire successful candidates right away before the academy, so as not to lose them. The other agencies that are "old school" get what's left. They will pay for that in academy and field training failures, liability, poor morale among motivated officers, etc.

Defenses I hear to the glacially slow process and impediments of systems like those mentioned and others are things like; "That's how we always did it, it has worked OK for years, we are afraid of liability- this is tested, it is done by Human Resources and out of our control, it is city or state law", etc.

One innovative way to support your recruiting effort is through grants and similar funding. The Las Vegas Metro Police Department has funded a recruiting & retention position through CPS-Human Resources Solutions and the IPMA: International Public Management Association for Human Resources.

According to Lt. Charles Hank of Las Vegas Metro, they recruit about 40% of the force from out-of-town applicants and found they were losing many for family reasons. Many of the spouses were not adapting to the new environment. Lt Hank said, "We hire the entire family." As he put it, the recruit "has ninety friends in the academy but the spouse and family have none." Those of us who have served in the military have seen it and the military has programs for the spouse, but most law enforcement agencies do not. LVMPD submitted a grant proposal to CPS for the "HIRE" program: Household Inclusion Recruitment and Employment. They received a $25,000 grant. Part of that money went to hire a "Recruiter Assistant" who happened to be a police spouse and a former police officer herself, so she understood both sides of the issue. By including the family in activities including a message board, housing advice, bringing the spouses and families together, etc. they believe they will see a major decrease in turnover of new officers. Now that's a well thought out and innovative approach, with or without the grant!

Finally, California has often led the field in law enforcement innovations. Their state standards commission (POST) has an individual assigned to recruiting research and dissemination. They have sponsored seminars and publications. California has further been very innovative with Assembly Bill (AB) 325. While still under consideration, it would create a mechanism for the state to take a leadership role in actively recruiting candidates to consider California law enforcement in general, not directing them to a state agency, but just selling the concept of being a peace officer in the state. This would help both large and small agencies who can't afford the high costs of job fairs, travel, expensive media ads, etc.

The look at the two agencies that put obstacles is interesting. The look at others that use innovative and expedited techniques shows the competition that others are up against. The California idea of recruiting for statewide jobs is innovative and perhaps the way of the future.