Earlier this week, we reported that the Police Executive Research Forum recently released a report saying that the police profession is in a hiring crisis—confirming a conclusion that command staff at nearly every police agency reached several years ago.
The report said, "Fewer people are applying to become police officers, and more people are leaving the profession, often after only a few years on the job. These trends are occurring even as many police and sheriffs’ offices are already short-staffed and facing challenges in developing a diverse workforce."
The report said further that the workforce crisis is affecting large, medium, and small law enforcement agencies in all parts of the country, and is affecting local, state, and federal agencies.
The report is based on a survey of PERF members that examined trends in officer recruitment and retention. The report concluded that fewer people are applying to become police officers, more officers are leaving the profession prior to retirement age, and an increasing number of officers are nearing retirement age and are likely to soon leave the profession.
The PERF report shined a light on a problem that has been festering for years—young people look at the fact that a police officer can be jailed or sued in civil court for simply performing their job within the law and agency policy and are saying "no thanks" en masse.
Ever since the August 2014 officer-involved shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson—and the subsequent mainstream media persecution of Officer Darren Wilson, whose career was summarily destroyed—young people are looking at the profession and seeing much better options elsewhere.
The pay is not comparable to a job as a software engineer at a start-up tech company.
The hours are brutal—an officer needs to get a decade or more of seniority before they get to take their first Christmas off with their family.
Oh, and a certain number of people you might encounter on any given day are more than happy to kill you.
When you look at this landscape through the eyes of a potential recruit, it's kind of a miracle departments are getting any recruits at all.
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.
In Colorado, one agency even removed the citizenship requirement for new recruits. The civil service authority in Aurora ruled that citizenship is no longer a requirement to work for that city's police and fire departments—anyone with a green card who is here lawfully in the United States can apply for jobs with those departments.
Many law enforcement experts oppose "lowering" standards for hiring, arguing that at a time when law enforcement officers are under incredibly intense scrutiny and are being asked to do more things outside the historic scope of the policing profession—such as administering Naloxone to overdose victims and dealing with mentally ill subjects—the standards for recruits should be higher.
I happen to agree with those who say that standards should be higher.
I'm not talking about requiring a four-year college degree. An argument can be made that throwing $100,000 or more at a framed piece of paper is counterproductive, and I agree with that as well.
No, I'm talking about the character and the capability of the recruit(s). Departments should look for multi-lingual individuals who can better connect with the local community, whether that's Asian, Hispanic, or another culture. Agencies should be looking for individuals who are tech savvy. They should be looking for people who have volunteered in soup kitchens or otherwise demonstrated a willingness—perhaps even an eagerness—to provide care and comfort to the needy in their community, because increasingly, that's what cops are being asked to do.
Most of all, law enforcement should be looking at the young people in their community.
I don't remember what marketing genius said it first, but it's become a trope because it's true: "Get 'em while they're young."
Investments in Explorer programs, Police Athletic Leagues, Teen Cadet Academies, summer internship programs, and other initiatives that benefit kids can pay untold dividends down the road. Those kinds of initiatives expose interested kids in what policing is really like, and give those individuals a head start on crushing the application process.
The fact that officers are leaving the profession years ahead of their retirement age is not reflective of the officers—it is reflective of the agencies they work for, the leadership at the departments, the elected leaders in their jurisdictions, and the widespread anti-police rhetoric in the mainstream media.
While command staff cannot control the press or the politicians who vilify the police, they certainly can influence the discussion in the squad room.
Earlier this week, we reported that Chief Steve Conrad of the Louisville Police Department apologized for comments in which he stated that he is not responsible for the morale of his troops.
Perhaps he misspoke. Perhaps he was misquoted. Perhaps he was misunderstood.
I don't know the man so I cannot say for certain what was in his head when he allegedly said what he reportedly said.
However, what I can say for certain is that such a sentiment is totally toxic, and is emblematic of the type of missteps among police leaders that's fed the exodus at police agencies.
Officers across the country increasingly feel that command staff "doesn't have their back" and will "throw them under the bus" before jeopardizing their own positions as police leaders.
Police agencies must re-examine the way they treat their current employees and work to implement programs that support them. Agencies need to reexamine mental health treatment for officers who accumulate debilitating stress.
Agency leaders need to understand that career advancement issues like promotions and special assignments have a huge impact on an officer's job satisfaction, and that many officers feel that the processes for those things is unfair.
Agency leaders need to redouble efforts to support officers by actively countering anti-police critics who constantly seek to tear the profession down.
We recently reported on the fact that the Dallas Police Department—bucking the national trend—welcomed 82 new recruits, the largest recruiting class in the department's storied history. DPD Academy class 368 consisted 66 men and 16 women—36 Caucasians, 21 Hispanics, 20 African Americans, and five Asian Americans. The recruits are from Texas, California, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, and Virginia.
By all accounts, a model group that any agency would eagerly welcome.
It remains to be seen how many of those cadets will graduate the academy and join the ranks at DPD, but the story itself is certainly encouraging.
I'm not entirely clear on how DPD landed a catch of nearly a hundred individuals interested in joining a police department that in recent years has faced its own recruiting challenges, but I commend the agency on the accomplishment.
I hope we begin to see more examples of successfully recruiting great candidates into the greatest profession.
Video: Addressing the Recruiting and Retention Crisis in Law Enforcement
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