Financial Incentives Meant to Address the Recruiting Crisis Mostly Miss the Mark

As the Los Angeles Police Department continues to look for new ways to attract young officers into its ranks, it has unveiled plans for a program intended to lure recruits to the agency that centers on financial assistance for housing.

Doug Wyllie Crop Headshot

Amid a nationwide shortage of police officers, the Los Angeles Police Department has announced its intention to help academy recruits and rookies pay for housing during initial training and for their first year on the job.

The new pilot program—dubbed Housing for Hires—was announced earlier this year and is the brainchild of Steve Soboroff, a local entrepreneur and one of five civilian members who comprise the LAPD Board of Police Commissioners.

Under the plan, landlords in the area would voluntarily subsidize rental properties for new police recruits for up to two years—six months of academy training and the first year and a half on the streets in the FTO program.

Soboroff—who has been on the Police Commission for nearly a decade—said in interviews with the local news media earlier this year that he likes to "take complicated problems and make them simple."

Soboroff added, "What landlord wouldn’t want a cop living in their complex?

By reducing the hefty burden of housing costs—which are reportedly 127% higher than the rest of the United States, according to data from—the agency hopes to attract young officers who otherwise might look at the $70K annual starting salary and decline a job offer with LAPD.

Endlessly Creative Efforts

LAPD's subsidized housing plan is just one of many ways in which departments across the country are attempting to overcome a years-long recruiting drought through financial incentives.

Consider these moves all making news headlines in the past few months.

The San Diego City Council moved to reinstate two incentive programs designed to attract and retain officers. One compensates existing SDPD officers up to $4,000 for recruiting new recruits and the other incentivizes laterals from other agencies a full $15,000 to join the department.

The Coeur d'Alene City Council unanimously approved a recruitment program that will provide $80,000 to help attract eight lateral officers who have at least two years of experience and meet other qualifications. 

The New Orleans City Council is contemplating a proposal that could result in a $30,000 recruit incentive beginning with a $20,000 bonus at the end of the first year on duty after graduating the academy and another $10,000 bonus after three years of service.

Missing the Mark

Indeed, in response to declining numbers of interested candidates, some agencies have relaxed their hiring standards, especially with regard to educational levels, prior drug use, tattoos, and facial hair. Others are shortening the work week. Still others are increasing the maximum age for new recruits.

Earlier this year, the California State Senate passed a proposal that "would remove the provision that requires peace officers to either be a citizen of the United States or be a permanent resident who is eligible for and has applied for citizenship, and would instead require peace officers be legally authorized to work in the United States."

Each of these tactics have ignored the long-term strategic impediment to recruiting and retaining great officers—the continued anti-police rhetoric among many members of the press, the public, and the political elites.

The "defund" movement—and the subsequent de-policing outcome—in conjunction with an increasing tendency among other partners in the criminal justice system to de-criminalize a variety of criminal activities has led to an all-time low in morale among police officers.

Seasoned officers are retiring early, and young people who might otherwise be drawn to the profession are instead electing other career paths. Until and unless there is a swing back toward widespread support for proactive policing police officers as individuals, and the police profession in general, agencies will continue to struggle to find new 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. It may sound hopelessly hackneyed and hokey, but the most common reason officers give for joining the profession is to serve the community—the unstated reward they might seek is the community's support in return.

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