Maintaining Your Force

To avoid needlessly recruiting additional officers, agencies are working to keep current officers happy in their careers.

Melanie Basich 2012 Headshot

Photo: POLICE filePhoto: POLICE file

Keeping employees is important. Even if you recruit a bunch of new officers, if they leave quickly you'll just have to recruit more of them. Retention is therefore closely tied to recruitment. Better retention means less recruiting. It sounds obvious, but can sometimes be forgotten.

Being able to offer higher pay and better benefits than other surrounding agencies is certainly helpful in keeping officers on the payroll, but not every agency can do that. Nor is it the only way to satisfy officers.

In her relatively new position, Chief U. Renee Hall of the Dallas Police Department has announced a combined plan for recruitment and retention. One part is rewarding officers who recruit candidates with a new initiative called "Every Officer Is a Recruiter." "We're allowing all of our rank-and-file officers to participate in recruiting," explains Hall. "If they are successful in recruiting an individual that actually gets hired, then we're incentivizing that with days off."

Officers get two to three days off for each person they recruit who enters the academy, and another two or three days of time off if that person graduates. The idea is for officers and the trainees they usher into the hiring process to develop mentoring relationships. This program gives officers a feeling they have input into the recruiting process and a stake in growing the department's numbers.

Chief Hall also plans to start a pilot program to issue take-home patrol cars to officers who live in Dallas' high-crime areas. The idea is that the presence of police vehicles will affect crime and the agency's ability to fight crime in these areas, while providing officers a perk.

But if officers truly aren't interested in sticking around, an incentive isn't going to be enough to keep them at their department. That's why agencies worried about retention need to listen to what officers want and need to find their jobs personally fulfilling, says Michael Parker, a consultant and former commander at the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department.

"It is one of the most commonly omitted actions that could be addressed by chief executives at policing agencies today. Many 15- to 20-year veteran officers are feeling taken for granted and not listened to. One of the best things to do, is to listen to them," says Parker.

Many officers are leaving law enforcement for other professions. You can't always keep that from happening, but providing more of what officers say they want could help keep on those who are called to serve the public and want to be there.

To that end, the Dallas Police Department is planning to change shift schedules so they will be more desirable, as well as make it easier to move to different details or units within the police department. Chief Hall believes this will keep especially younger recruits from getting bored with their jobs and help keep them on the department.

When the Charlotte-Mecklenburg (NC) Police Department began luring lateral transfers by offering salaries and benefits commensurate with their experience if they joined, not everyone was happy about it. Longtime veterans of Charlotte-Mecklenburg PD expressed their displeasure at something they viewed as unfair. If someone could walk in and get the same treatment as them, what were the veteran officers' years of loyalty and contributions to the department worth?

Instead of dismissing their concerns, the agency is working on creating a system for providing these officers opportunities for pay advancement. "We're listening to the feedback of our officers and trying to formulate a response to make it right," says Capt. Dave Johnson, who heads up the department's Training and Recruitment Division.

As for the lateral transfers, while they are expected to do their jobs just like any other officer, Johnson says the agency is careful to be respectful of their schedules when they first start. They typically get assigned day shifts so they can be pulled from the field to attend academy classes along with rookie recruits until they've met their remaining requirements for state certification.

"We want them to be good ambassadors for us," says Johnson." In addition to hopefully staying at CMPD for many years to come, if they have a good experience joining the department, they'll likely spread the good word to friends and family and bring in even more officers.

As an added benefit, while periodically attending classes with rookies, the lateral transfers Charlotte-Mecklenburg PD has recruited share their knowledge and perspective, often serving as mentors to the brand-new recruits, Johnson says. These relationships will likely bolster retention of rookies and lateral transfers by facilitating camaraderie and connection among the classmates and enhancing their satisfaction at work going forward.

Fostering a culture of understanding and an acceptance of change is the best way to both recruit new officers and retain those already at a law enforcement agency.

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Melanie Basich 2012 Headshot
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