Is your agency short staffed? For a variety of reasons, police departments across the nation are experiencing unprecedented staffing shortages, resulting in an increased emphasis placed on the importance of recruiting new talent and retaining the employees a department already has.
These topics, recruitment and retention, were the focus of a recent webinar presented by POLICE Magazine and sponsored by Vector Solutions.
The webinar was moderated by POLICE Editor David Griffith, and featured a panel of police chiefs from across the U.S.
Over the course of the presentation, “Recruiting and Retention Through Excellent Officer Training,” Griffith and the panel discussed tactics to retain experienced officers, how to attract the next generation of officers, and how to make your department an attractive location for lateral transfers.
Uphill Battles in a Two-Front war
To be frank, the current situation for recruitment and retention in law enforcement seems bleak. There are fewer available police officers than there are open positions, officers are leaving the field due to burn out and other related issues, and agencies are now reaching the point where they are looking to poach officers from other departments.
According to Chief Steven Casstevens, chief of the Buffalo Grove Police Department, some agencies are actually choosing to relax certain hiring requirements to widen their pool of candidates, including relaxing tattoo and marijuana use policies.
“A lot of agencies are looking back at their policies and realizing that the old way that we’ve done this for years just isn’t working,” Chief Casstevens said during the webinar.
So if the old way isn’t working, what should the future look like? Work life balance and flexible hours are two things the new generation of officer candidates are looking for, Chief Casstevens said. Some agencies are also looking at increasing pay and offering signing bonuses.
When it comes to retention, providing opportunities is the key.
“Officers need to know that they have opportunities in the future, not just for promotion, but to be part of something, whether it’s a special assignment or additional training,” Chief Casstevens said.
These opportunities can also include attending conferences or joining a committee, he said.
Retired Chief Bill Harvey added that in his opinion, younger officers are “smarter shoppers.”
“The young adults today make sure that when they apply, it’s for a department they want to be at...I think this younger generation makes this a challenge, but it’s one we must adapt to, and I think we are,” Chief Harvey said.
The Connection Between Litigation and Training
Facing litigation is a rising fear among law enforcement and prevention is absolutely key. The first step to preventing an incident that could result in litigation is to provide officers with the training they need to feel confident going into a potentially hazardous situation.
As shared during the presentation, in addition to reducing the likelihood of a situation that results in litigation, when training is combined with comprehensive record keeping, it can improve outcomes when litigation does happen.
In regards to retention and recruiting, an environment that prioritizes training, promotes best practices, and gives officers what they need to be successful can be a powerful incentive for officers to join or stay at your department.
“If we focus on decision making and putting an officer in a good place to make decisions that make things better, we end up reducing liability and have a happier officer too,” said James Small, public safety director for the Village of Palmyra, WI.
“Tend to the House”
Providing a positive and supportive environment for your officers is a key tactic in improving recruitment and retention. To do so, you often need to, as shared in the webinar, “tend to the house.”
“One of the first things I ask people is, ‘Are you running a professional department or are you running a frat house?’” Chief Harvey said. “How do you treat your employees? Are they living and working in a professional environment?”
Exit interviews, he added, are an exceptionally useful tool in learning more about the environment that your officers are experiencing.
“I always ask three questions. ‘What do we know? What do we think we know? And what do we need to know?” he said.
In addition to getting direct feedback from your officers, you can also look for other departments that are having success in retention and recruitment and follow their example.
Training as a Tool for Recruitment and Retention
As previously mentioned, training as a tool for recruitment and retention was heavily endorsed during the presentation.
Beyond attracting talented personnel and giving them incentive to stay, training events can also act as networking opportunities for your officers.
“Don’t discount your officers being your best recruiters,” Chief Harvey said. “I would tell them, ‘take your business card with you and network.'”
Word of mouth is a powerful tool in law enforcement. If you provide a positive, professional environment for your officers, with plenty of opportunities for training and advancement, and then send them to events where they share their experience, word will spread quickly.
“For millennial and post-millennial generations, training is something that incentivizes them to be part of your workforce. I think that they want to be growing and feel purposeful,” added Public Safety Director Small.
Several “hidden” ways training boosts retention and recruitment were also shared during the webinar:
- Besides just keeping your officers happier, training also reduces the likelihood of injuries or other situations that could result in officers leaving the profession sooner.
- Better trained officers also typically have more pride in the profession and look for opportunities to stay and advance their careers instead of moving out of law enforcement.
- Officers can lead by example. Knowledge and best practices can move from one individual to another just through observation.
The bottom line is that when your officers feel confident in their training and feel supported by their department, your agency will experience increased retention and more officer candidates will be interested in coming to work for you.
To support these efforts, Vector Solutions offers a full suite of workforce management, training, and asset management solutions. From Vector LMS training management system, which helps manage all your FTO, annual performance reviews, ongoing training, and policies in one place, to Vector Evaluations+, which offers a way to capture and review field training data, to Guardian Tracking, an early intervention system that increases transparency and reduces liability, they can help you attract and retain officers, reducing the impact of law enforcement staffing shortages on your agency.
To learn more about the topics covered in the webinar and watch it for yourself, please click here. To learn more about how Vector Solution can support your staffing initiatives, please contact them today to request a demo.