Police departments continue to struggle with what has been widely regarded as a nationwide recruiting crisis. In response to declining numbers of interested candidates, many agencies have focused on financial incentives, featuring substantial increases in starting salaries, signing bonuses for laterals, and even housing subsidies for academy recruits.
As attractive as the almighty dollar can be, the fact remains that no police officer ever signed up for the job with the expectation of great financial reward—most want to serve their community.
One agency in North Carolina hopes that merely opening its doors to community members who simply want to see the inside the training academy might spur some people to fill one of the 100+ vacancies in the department's ranks.
According to WGHP-TV News, roughly 50 people recently toured the facility to "get a feel for what it would be like to be an officer."
Lieutenant Kory Flowers—who organized the hiring event—told the local news station that he wants potential recruits to visualize themselves as future officers after spending some time at the academy firearms range, athletic facilities, and classrooms.
Flowers said attendees at the recent event could "literally sit in the chair that they may sit should they be selected for the next police academy."
A Tried and True Tactic
Directly soliciting citizens as potential recruits isn't exactly a groundbreaking new strategy. For decades, departments have put recruiting booths/tents at community events, festivals, parades, and job fairs. Any measure of success for this sort of effort is anecdotal at best.
Conversely, one measureable strategy for filling the ranks is to invest agency resources into developing young people for the job. Specifically, capital spending in cadet academies, Explorer groups, and summer internship programs—while costly in terms of both time and money—can yield quantifiable results.
Through these job-specific programs, young people interested in the law enforcement profession are given a fantastic introduction the inner-workings of police work. Each agency conducts these efforts differently—depending on available monies and personnel, and the complexity of the program—but most share somewhat similar components.
For example, cadet, Explorer, and internship programs almost always incorporate some level of education on the mission and objectives of law enforcement. Each emphasizes the importance of character development, physical fitness, good citizenship, and civic duty. Each involves some level of volunteer work such as traffic/crowd control at local events.
Most programs have specific age and academic requirements (typically kids age 14-18 with at least a 3.0 GPA) as well as passing marks on physical fitness tests and criminal background checks.
Some programs require participants to attend weekly classroom presentations given by members of the department on specific topics before full memberships—and attendant roles and responsibilities—are granted. A typical schedule might be:
Week 1: Agency History
Week 2: Organizational Structure
Week 3: Role of 911 / Dispatch
Week 4: Radio Communication
Week 5: Basic Traffic Laws
Week 6: Crowd Control
Week 7: Specialty Units
Week 8: Ride Along
Week 9: Final Exam
Young people who complete this sort of program are then typically issued (or must purchase) a uniform to be worn when patriating in volunteer activities. Cadets, Explorers, and Interns are often paired with individuals in the sworn ranks who act as mentors and/or advisors. These relationships mirror somewhat the FTO stage of an officer's career, and often become lasting friendships long after a young person has matriculated through the program.
Return on Investment
While time consuming, such "direct action" recruiting—and early job training—is likely to yield quality recruits with the potential to be truly outstanding officers. This tried-and-true tactic is certainly better than alternative strategies such as relaxing hiring standards, especially with regard to educational levels and prior drug use—both of which could quickly and easily lead to the hiring of potentially problematic personnel.
By enabling young people to truly "get a feel for what it would be like to be an officer" through such programs, agencies not only develop potential employees, but build strong community bonds regardless of whether or not any individual goes on to become a sworn officer.
Simply by participating in Cadet, Explorer, and Internship programs, young "recruits" almost always become advocates and ambassadors for police within their families and peer groups—that outcome alone is worthwhile return on investment.