How can small agencies compete with an agency that has a recruiting staff of 12 and a $500,000 annual budget? There is hope.
Recruiting is at a crossroads. There are not enough qualified bodies to fill existing openings. Las Vegas Metro has a staff of about eight recruiters and has hired a professional marketing company to help. The Los Angeles Police have 27 persons assigned to recruiting and a recruiting budget more than many entire police departments'. The U.S. Border Patrol seeks over 2,000 new agents per year and has millions of dollars to spend on getting the word out. The military is seeking even more people. In spite of big budgets, larger agencies are still not meeting goals. How can smaller agencies compete? Well there is some hope.
The major trend that I forecast is the growing involvement of state training and certification agencies, commonly called POST, in assisting local agencies. Most states have a POST (Peace Officers Standards and Training) and others go by different names such as division of law enforcement standards.
In California, POST has a specific individual assigned to recruiting issues and has hosted conferences on Recruiting and Retention. They have also published a research publication called "Recruiting and Retention, Best Practices (Update April 2006)." Take a look--it's very good reading.
However, what I'm predicting is way beyond that. I'm suggesting that your state POST or similar office actually run a website and active recruiting program to lure candidates to agencies within the state. Not just to recruit for their highway patrol or state positions, but that there be a major website that sells the benefits of being a law enforcement officer in that state, including sheriffs, police, bailiffs, school police, etc. Picture a website that sells the state as a place to be a cop. Included are schools, recreation and quality of life issues. Then there would be badges or patches to click on that would take you to each agency's recruiting site.
The cost of a recruiting booth or ad is the same regardless of agency size. They don't care what your budget is. So, once again picture a POST sponsored ad online or in magazines touting the advantages of being a cop in that state. The state should have a road crew of recruiters to go to job fairs, schools, and military bases. Once again the purpose is to direct people to all the agencies within the state.
How would this be accomplished? There is only one way that will be effective-- by lobbying by sheriffs and chiefs putting pressure on the governors, state POST director and legislature. Also check into possible federal or state grants to fund this!
If your state won't step up to the plate, small agencies should form a coalition. Do exactly what I proposed. Sell your state, or in a big state, sell your area. Small agencies must coordinate with others to have one website, one booth, one ad, one recruiter. Then do what one area has done; set up your own job fair. Don't wait for some for-profit to do it and overcharge you.
More and more agencies have set up coordinated and shared testing. We need to go beyond that.
If you read my previous article on "The 10 Golden Rules of Effective Law Enforcement Recruiting" you saw rule #9. Your chief, sheriff, director and perhaps your mayor, manager or commissioner must get involved to make this happen.
Moving along to other trends, I also see more non-profits getting involved in mentoring candidates and even funding them through the academy. Such a program is already in place in Napa, California and believe it or not, some cops actually volunteer their time for free to work with kids. Non-profits have much more flexibility in working with minorities and disadvantaged kids without the bureaucracy of a government agency. Law enforcement professionals may serve as board members on these non-profits. If your area non-profits won't do it, start one!
A third trend is civilianization. Do we really need more cops? Can a civilian, maybe a retired or former professional peace officer, serve as a civilian in such areas as recruiting, internal affairs, crime prevention, Public Information Officer (PIO), or backgrounds? How about hiring a professional accountant or computer analyst to work as a civilian in your fraud or computer crimes sections? They can even be dual utilized to help with agency budget. More and more agencies are using contract or civilian background investigators. The Manatee County Sheriff's Department is hiring a civilian recruiter. Las Vegas Metro is looking at hiring a former peace officer part time in recruiting to augment the full time staff. Many agencies have CSOs or PSTs (Public Service Technicians). Can these civilians assist in investigative or traffic functions? Along the line of civilian help, what about part time cops? There are many retired cops who would be happy to work part time or full time for three to six months. We gotta get our motor home time in! While most agencies out west hire only full time, the Reno Police Department hires part time paid "reserves."
One trend that already exists is reduced police services, such as responses to cold property crimes and private property accidents. Each agency is different. These changes make us less popular with the community we serve. Yet the paperwork burden seems to increase. My former agency implemented a computerized report system that set us back ten years and required twice as much time to write a report. Administrators must look at making each individual more productive, not less.
One unfortunate trend in business that will be a major positive for police work is the retirement and medical care most provide along with civil service job security. Some agencies in Alaska and others have done away with the conventional retirement system; this will be a major draw to steal away those officers to an agency that does offer a good system. A strong retirement system, job security and medical care will draw in those from other professions who had not thought about law enforcement.
A final trend will be technology. As more and more technological and scientific improvements arrive (too many out there to imagine) they can replace some functions of humans and at least make us more productive.
So, as you can see, there is light at the end of the tunnel. The answer may be in asking if we really need more cops, or are they ways to free up the cops we have? Are there alternatives to full time sworn personnel? Do all detectives have to be cops or might a specialist in computers or accounting do better?
Also, should we look at some means of state-sponsored or other coordinated regional recruiting systems with multiple agencies to save money and make the smaller agencies competitive with those with big budgets and staffs? As part of that, more and more professionals outside of police work may give us a second look depending on the job security and benefits we provide. Finally, can non-profits be enlisted to help mentor and financially assist youths toward a career in law enforcement?
Hopefully this article will be copied and find its way under the door or on the desk of your administration. Underline the strong points. Hopefully administrators will work with other agencies and the state standards commission to step up to the plate and help solve the problem in a cost effective manner.
There is hope!