Late last week, it was reported that several police agencies in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia have announced "expedited" training academies in an effort to "entice" lateral transfers by officers from other states to join their ranks. The move comes as agencies across Old Dominion continue to struggle with the staffing shortage that has also gripped much of the rest of the United States.
According to the Virginia Pilot, the Virginia Beach and Chesapeake police departments are among those that have elected to participate in a program—dubbed "Option 5"—which enables officers from other states with at least three years of experience to become a certified officer in Virginia in just eight weeks, as opposed to attending the full-length, 30-week police academy.
The "Option 5" initiative is part of a plan unveiled earlier this year by Governor Glenn Youngkin to conduct a $30 million nationwide law enforcement recruitment campaign.
It is also the latest in a growing number of steps—such as offering substantial signing bonuses—taken by agencies to address staffing shortfalls throughout Virginia. For example, it was reported in April that the Norfolk Police Department was operating at 29.5% below full staffing level and the Portsmouth Police Department was working at 33.8% below full staffing level.
Looks Good on Paper
In order to participate in the program, out-of-state lateral transfer candidates must have the abovementioned three years of on-duty experience "commensurate with those of a Virginia law enforcement officer" such as responding to calls for service, conducting traffic stops, and other basic patrol activities.
Candidates who have left the profession for a period of up to 24 months are also eligible to apply, but must "be in good standing with former employers" and "meet all requirements of 15.2-1705 Code of Virginia."
This certainly looks good on paper. It's wise to recognize the value of a proven record of police service in another community—and/or another state—and be appropriately reasonable, economical, and logical about leveraging that experience in lieu of treating that person exactly the same as a candidate off the street. That's good for the agency, the candidate, the academy, and the community.
While it's a great tactic for solving a specific department's staffing woes, it doesn't solve the underlying/overarching strategic problem. In fact, it shines a bright light on the bigger issue that afflicts nearly every police organization in the country—that everyone is competing against one another for the same shrinking number of qualified applicants.
Mired in a Mix of Metaphors
Earlier this year, the Police Executive Research Forum released a report saying that the police profession is in a hiring crisis affecting large, medium, and small law enforcement agencies in all parts of the country.
Today's staffing problem can largely be traced to the demonization of the police profession that began with the false "hands-up-don't-shoot" narrative following the deadly confrontation on Canfield Drive in Ferguson, MO, and the "defund-the-police" movement following the in-custody death at intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis.
In the wake of those events, good people in the profession left for other careers, leaving in their stead not just vacancies in sheer numbers but a vacuum of intellectual knowledge. Young people who might have otherwise considered a career in policing turned their attentions and aspirations elsewhere.
Until and unless the profession as a whole finds a way to reverse that trend policing will continue to cannibalize the ranks
Agencies should consider investing in programs that develop potential recruits at a young age, such as Cadet and Explorer programs, Police Athletic Leagues, and summer internships for students—much in the same way that high school and college sports leagues eventually produce a viable pool of professional athletes to sustain for-profit leagues.
Agencies should consider investing the time and money required to run regular Citizen Police Academies (CPAs), which can lure top-tier young professionals from all manner of other vocations—simply by providing a more in-depth look at policing than the nightly news or fictionalized television characters.
Agencies should consider investing in top-tier police training infrastructure and facilities—finally abandoning the long-standing practice of using decrepit, decommissioned, and often derelict buildings to conduct academy and in-service training.
It's true that in a crisis, metaphors fly like bad analogies, but when contemplating Virginia's action to attract laterals with a foreshortened academy stint, the sayings "Robbing Peter to pay Paul" and "Missing the forest for the trees" come immediately and inevitably to mind.
Given the current crisis in finding, hiring, training, and fielding police officers in communities across the country, perhaps the American people will be reminded of another metaphor, largely attributed to Benjamin Franklin: "When the well is try, we know the worth of water."