Rethink Law Enforcement Recruiting

April 26, 2024
Recruitment strategies and efforts for police and law enforcement agencies need to be closely scrutinized and adjusted to fit into today’s volatile job markets.

I keep hearing alarming statements wherever I go regarding today’s law enforcement recruitment efforts. Most are tales of doom and gloom, with little to no hope in sight. Your recruitment strategies and efforts need to be closely scrutinized and adjusted to fit into today’s volatile job markets. Enough already, there is nothing wrong with the current generation. Let’s stop that conversation. Granted, they are different and have skill sets far different from what most of us who are long in the tooth possessed.


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Now, they are not falling for flash and glitter sales of some departments. I keep seeing and hearing, “We are giving hiring bonuses for experienced officers!” Well, great, what department isn’t for that matter? Not all are falling for the sign-on bonus and smoke and mirrors sales pitches. Why, yes, there is more to this career than money. Speaking to several who contemplate leaving their current job, many just want job stability and add in a positive work culture. Often, their exit may be from bad sheriff’s elections, a new chief’s arrival, current internal politics, or just a crappy departmental atmosphere to begin with. Be ready to broach questions on internal and external climates that influence the employee and their perceived job satisfaction.

The younger candidate’s motivations are different from most of what ours may have been. There are several of the senior generations of officers who took the job because it was the only place hiring back then. In the late 70s, 80s and even 90s—there was a labor shortage. You took the job from whoever offered it to you first. Job markets have changed through the years and have become more harrowing to work with today.

Now, if you want to enter this vocation, why are you motivated to work here of all places? With the current job markets, young men and women have far more opportunities open to them. This enables them to be selective shoppers for their employment options. In other words, it is more than just a paycheck, there are other needs that they wish to be fulfilled. They also want a climate that does not detract from their private and family lives. Here we must explain the staffing requirements for holidays and how their lack of seniority plays into it. Again, it goes from those who were just happy to have a job, to now, there is more to life than the job. Times change, and we must adapt to the present-day world.

Some recent observations that need to be reconsidered are:

Recruiting Team members—I continue to see senior staff members at most of the job fairs. Guess the perks of seniority must be out-of-town trips. We all understand that recruiting and onboarding are skilled job tasks. However, look at the age and cultural gaps that have been created. If you are targeting for seasoned officers from another agency, address two areas of concern—transition and age. If you have never transferred from another department within the state or more especially out-of-state, then you need to have staff members qualified to speak on this experience. I asked of one recruiting team had anyone came from outside, no; all were career homegrown officers from that agency. It would be prudent to have someone to address this area. You may even consider taking Human Resources with you for the benefits questions. Transitioning to a new department is one thing but moving to a new city or town adds to the litany of questions and concerns. Do you have anyone who can discuss the availability of residential apartments for them? If you really want to land those good officers, be ready to become the tour director for the town or city. You welcome them, they will come.

What is the average age of the candidates that you are targeting? Probably the 21 to 25 set. Now, what is the average age of your recruitment team? If there is a large gap, then have a similar-age officer on your team. Even better, maybe one that has transferred from another agency to offer an up-close view of what these candidates are going to face.

Recruitment/Job Fair circuit—Question: You are at 100% staffing, so you stop or slow your recruiting efforts? Answer is NO! You must build your base for there are factors that could change rapidly. There is no way to predict staffing, one minute the department is staffed and the next minute some have been lured away or departed for any reason. Recruiting and staffing should be a consistently funded program.

What pond are you fishing from? If you are considering career technical or community colleges, (sometimes these host regional police academies) take a close look at the ages you are interacting with here. Many may not yet be of age to hire, so you keep them in your contacts for announcements in the future. Give the under-aged contact a card and remind them to contact the department when they reach the required age. The attention you give them may create a connection for them to seek you out when they become employable.

Create and maintain contact with the staff of your local police academy. Do the same for the larger metro police academies as well. Larger metro departments, sometimes having higher turnover rates, may give you a few leads from their incumbents seeking a better place.

Make contact with your state’s chief of police and sheriff’s associations. They will advertise for your agency for free or lower cost if you are a member. Having inside contacts there will pay off as they may share trends with you. Check with your state lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, again another great contact and advertisement venue.

Evaluate your current offers—Earlier it was mentioned it seems everyone is offering sign-on bonuses. Compare what the competition is offering for seasoned and entry-level officers, and compare theirs to what your current plan is. This has turned into a bidding war for officers, be ready.

No, these are not all the insights, just ones that I have gleaned here recently. Recruiting and retention are hard work. I wonder if we reinvest in current staff, will our retention rates improve? The last observation is when we treat the new ones better than our staff, what message are we sending to our veteran staff members? Treat your entire staff as if they are your most important asset…for they are!

About the Author

William L. “Bill” Harvey is a U.S. Army Military Police Corps veteran. He has a BA in criminology from St. Leo University and is a graduate of the Southern Police Institute of the University of Louisville (103rd AOC). Harvey served in leadership positions including chief during a career that spanned over 40 years.

About the Author

William L. Harvey | Chief

William L. "Bill" Harvey is a U.S. Army Military Police Corps veteran. He has a BA in criminology from St. Leo University and is a graduate of the Southern Police Institute of the University of Louisville (103rd AOC).  Harvey served for over 23 years with the Savannah (GA) Police Department in field operations, investigations and completed his career as the director of training. Served as the chief of police of the Lebanon City Police Dept (PA) for over seven years and then ten years as Chief of Police for the Ephrata Police Dept (PA). In retirement he continues to publish for professional periodicals and train.        

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