This paper will examine the issues of recruitment and selection that plague many police departments around the country. It seems that when the initial entry exams are offered to the public, the problem arises in the quantity and quality of the applicants that arrive to take them. The reader will have an understanding of the reasons that may be responsible. This paper will examine what some police departments, as well as businesses in the private sector, have done to correct the problem of recruitment and selection.
After an exploration of various methods, provided will be educated suggestions in improving the recruitment and selection practices of law enforcement agencies. This paper will thoroughly discuss specific approaches and their objectives. Techniques to inspire management and subordinates with recommendations will also be discussed. Understandably, these suggestions will come at a cost, however, this paper will describe how these cost may be counter balanced. The reader will be provided with the methods used in evaluating the strategies’ effectiveness. Introduction
With any well-ran business or organization, recruitment and selection is pivotal in maintaining its success. However, staffing is no easy task, and this also holds true when it comes to law enforcement agencies. It is not merely sufficient to hire an adequate amount of individuals; it is necessary to hire the right ones that are capable of handling such a demanding job. Police departments face many obstacles while recruiting and selecting their officers that are going to man their streets. While some struggle with these hurdles, other departments have taken to replenishing with ease.
The public sector does not stand alone with hiring issues as private businesses have faced similar challenges. Many strategies may be utilized in the ever-lasting endeavor of recruiting and selecting. Selling these approaches can go a long way in seeing them implemented in one’s agency as well as taking into consideration cost factors. Also, one must be prepared to provide a system of evaluation for any presented proposition. Research Filling openings became more difficult as they seem to have currently increased. The U.
S Department of Justice [USDOJ] (2009) suggests that vacancies in police departments have risen and give the following explanation for its findings: In recent years, several factors have created an unusually high number of vacancies in police departments, according to anecdotal evidence from the field. Police officers called to active duty with military reserve units and the National Guard left their posts to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some veteran police officers, lured away by higher pay, separated from public service to pursue security work at big corporations or to take police trainer positions with contractors overseas.
Officers from state and local agencies accepted positions with federal agencies that were ramping up to fight terrorism. Baby boomer officers who joined the police force in the 1960s and 1970s began retiring in high numbers. The general view among police leaders is that recruitment has not kept pace with the changes. (p. 3) Therefore, recruiters for several law enforcement agencies already find themselves in an up-hill battle. Not only do they have to deal with the increased amount of vacancies; more importantly, they must meticulously fill these positions with the right individuals for the job.
Applicants should have an accurate understanding of what they are signing up for. When applying for occupations in the private sector, most people have an idea of what the job entails. However, the actual details of what a profession in the law enforcement field encompasses may be deceiving. Many of the major cities’ police departments utilize on their job hiring website “an approach that either emphasizes or exclusively promotes the basic needs of money and benefits, and the appeal of the excitement of a police career” (Johnson, 2006, para. 2).
However, compared to many jobs in the private sector, a career in law enforcement simply does not stack up very well against them in terms of salary. As for the excitement aspect, according to Johnson (2006), many who take on the profession of law enforcement officer become deceived by the lackluster nature of police work and discouraged by unwarranted civilian complaints. Not only do most recruiters fail to portray an accurate account of police work, they fail to hire a staff that reflects its community. Police leaders are really committing an injustice to their departments by not focusing on diversity when it comes to recruiting.
White and Escobar (2008) found that there has been supported research that lack of diversity in a department is likely to cause negative community relations and an increase in police misconduct. However, these are not the only areas where not committing to the diversification of an agency can be detrimental. An essential recruitment tool may go underutilized as “the underrepresentation of minority police officers in some departments creates a shortage of role models” (USDOJ, 2009, p. 5). Not only should the pool of applicants be multiracial, but vast as well; because there are other organizations selecting from it.
The private security industry seems to be growing in strength and numbers. As this takes place, private security firms also have an advantage in recruiting over law enforcement agencies because they usually hire officers as young as 18 years old. They are allowed to do so since these officers do not possess the authority to arrest or carry a firearm (USDOJ, 2009). Just as the private security industries, the armed forces select out of the same labor pool as police departments. The competition that law enforcement agencies receive from the military in recruiting efforts is fierce.
Like private security firms, the military can hire officers as young as 18 years old. In the past, the population that was discharged from the military often pursued a career in law enforcement due to similarities in the nature of both professions. However, it is not certain how an all-volunteer military affects police recruitment (USDOJ, 2009). What is certain, the long and burdensome employment process that one must endure in getting hired is working against police recruitment. Usually, after the initial interview for most jobs in the private sector, the applicant knows shortly after whether employment was obtained or not.
This greatly differs from the hiring process for law enforcement agencies as they tend to be drawn out and contain many steps. According to USDOJ (2009), many departments lack the flexibility to expedite the testing process as applicants often have repeat visits to participate in the selection stages. A highly desirable applicant “may be lost to another employer that is able to test and assess the candidate and make a firm job offer in less time” (USDOJ, 2009, p. 6). Many obstacles stand in the way of police departments who are determined to implement a successful recruitment and selection program.
Therefore, strategies must be utilized with the utmost thoughtfulness. Engaging the exact community in which the department serves can go a long way in a successful recruiting effort. Logically, this will assist in making a department a reflection of its neighborhood. The USDOJ (2009) presented the following examples of two different police departments effectively engaging its community in obtaining members to select from: The city of Hartford, Connecticut, experimented with community engagement as a means to improve police recruitment of minority officers.
Citizen focus groups helped police identify a primary barrier to recruitment, namely, the lengthy period between an applicant’s expression of initial interest and the offer of a job. In the mid-1990s, Lexington, Kentucky, lost some community support in the wake of an officer-involved shooting, two lethal-force incidents, and a charge of biased traffic enforcement. The chief of police supported a move to overhaul the police recruitment, selection, and training program and enlisted the help of a citizen minority recruitment committee. (p. 7)
The two departments showed that there is an advantage in involving the community in its recruitment and selection process. The need of community support in lowering the obstacles of diversification was displayed in both efforts. In terms of police recruiting, there is also a need to paint an accurate picture of what the job actually offers. Not too many professions can truly offer the opportunity for one to directly make a difference in one’s neighborhood. Law enforcement officers have the potential to create a positive impact on their respective communities. Johnson (2006) recognizes hat law enforcement is an honorable profession and that the idea of making a difference should be front and center as a recruitment tool. There can be an exhilarating sense of self-fulfillment in helping others in the community. What a department is offering candidates is “an opportunity to make a difference by doing good, easing pain and suffering, saving lives, bringing a calm presence to stressful situations, and helping and serving those in need” (Johnson, 2006, para. 7). An effective method in conveying such an opportunity to aspiring individuals is via the internet.
With many people utilizing the internet in search of employment, it makes sense for police departments to have a presence on the web. According to Binns (2010), every law enforcement agency should be prevalent on the internet; an agency’s website was described as the most effective strategy for recruitment. Departments can use their websites to market their agency to potential candidates. In turn, candidates may gather information concerning a department’s mission, hiring standards, community presence, and possible career tracks.
Posting departmental information along with applications on the internet “makes it easier to recruit officers from other regions of the country” (Binns, 2010, para. 3). There are several other outlets recruiters can use to share information through. People have their own source of preference in receiving their news. Therefore, it is essential that police recruiters utilize every outlet available in their recruiting effort. USDOJ (2009) suggest involving the news media to increase awareness of recruitment issues and how they affect the department and community.
Also suggested was the use of public-access television channels which provide an opportunity to sound off before a community about issues that require community action. Finally, using talk radio may be effective in conveying an agency’s message to the “entire community or drill down to a specific segment or niche of the population” (USDOJ, 2009, p. 12). Furthermore, of those in the community, the youth might be the most important to reach out to. It is no surprise that many children aspire to be firefighters and police officers when they grow up. However, as they get older, some may still want to fight fires as many lose interest in policing.
This phenomenon is especially prevalent in high-crime areas where police presence is high and interactions are not always positive. Many young people lose their faith in the police, and it will greatly benefit the police and the community to change that around. Changing the youth’s perspective of the police will assist in making the future generation understand the significance of the police and fortify a future wave of officers (USDOJ, 2009). Connecting with the youth and others in the community would be made easier if it was an entire group effort.
A total-organizational approach to correcting an issue is likely to be very productive. According to Binns (2010), the culture of a department must consist of everyone having a sense of responsibility when it comes to recruitment. This includes patrol men up to the top of the chain-of-command; since they all possess the opportunity to recruit new candidates. Each member should be aware of the department’s recruitment and selection process and “be given information on the agency benefits, starting salary, and any testing requirements” (Binns, 2010, para. 11).
Once applicants are found, streamlining the recruitment and selection process may prove to be beneficial. It may be discouraging for applicants who are in a state of uncertainty for a long period of time regarding their offer of employment. USDOJ (2009) states that “the most effective recruitment and selection processes are those that are completed quickly and allow a candidate to move swiftly from application to employment decision points” (p. 9). Agencies that have adopted this philosophy have condensed their recruitment and selection process to a few days from first assessment to conditional offer of employment.
The important selection standards should be greatly monitored to ensure applicants meet them. Departments must reconsider the relevance of disqualifying factors, such as credit scores, to assess their necessity in selecting officers (USDOJ, 2009). As different strategies of recruiting and selecting are proposed for the law enforcement agencies, the public sector has developed some of its own. Filling vacancies with quality people is also an objective shared with private businesses throughout the country.
Therefore, individuals have devised plans to accomplish this goal with the aspiration of seeing businesses prosper. Male (2010) suggests using a method of self-selection in weeding out applicants who halfheartedly applied for open positions. This involves adding another step, such as an open group event, to the hiring process in between resume-submission and the initial interview. Self-selection will demonstrate which applicants are serious about the position by their mere presence at the event (Male, 2010). Furthermore, the group interaction reveals much more about potential candidates.
While in a group, people often display distinct characteristics about themselves. As applicants interact amongst themselves in a group setting, it presents “an excellent way to see their character, level of interest, working knowledge, and communication skills” (Male, 2010, para. 8). With this opportunity, recruiters would logically be at an advantage by being more prepared for the one-on-one interview. Searching for a person’s attributes without focusing on industry experience is also beneficial. Certain features about people cannot be taught such as being hard-working and passionate.
Therefore, recruiters should go out and interact with workers from unrelated industries and “offer interviews to those who really stood out” (Male, 2010, para. 17). By doing so, recruiters can select those who meet the characteristic criteria wanted and teach them industry knowledge at a future time (Male, 2010). Current employees can also assist in finding potential candidates, and relieve some of the workload from recruiters. A monetary incentive usually works flawlessly in getting individuals to accomplish certain tasks.
For this reason, Male (2010) suggests referrals as an excellent source for great applicants and offering rewards to employees for successful recommendations. A byproduct of an incentive program is referrers possibly mentoring their referrals throughout the hiring process (Male, 2010). Utilizing the various strategies that have been proposed, as a guide, one can develop a specific plan in improving recruitment and selection in a law enforcement agency. Implementation It is widely accepted, the notion of having a department being a reflection of its community.
That is why it is vital to use patrolmen as part-time recruiters since they spend most of their time in the community. Departments must take time to educate their officers about basic information such as qualifying requirements, starting pay, and benefit packages. Providing squad cars with brochures containing the same information would allow officers to hand them out to citizens during down time. Also, placing a slogan like “join us” on squad cars gives community members a welcoming feeling to apply. Another act of embracement would be to actively seek people via the internet.
Presence on the internet has already been established as a priority in improving recruitment. In addition to the department’s website, agencies must take advantage of the recent craze of social networking. Facebook and Twitter allow agencies to search specific demographics and create a two-way avenue for departments and curious individuals. Agencies can post announcements via these networks and accept and answer questions that people might have. This would establish an early relationship with the department and potential candidates.
Constituting and maintaining relationships with young people can go a long way in recruiting as well. As mentioned before, embracing the next generation of police officers would increase the selection pool in the future with desirable people. It is imperative that agencies proactively seek out children within its community and get them on the right track in becoming future officers. Departments must send liaison officers into community elementary and high schools. When at these schools, they must target only the students that are succeeding academically and behaviorally.
This will avoid distractions from students that are not yet ready to receive information about career paths and wouldn’t present them with an opportunity to ridicule the students that are. Principals and teachers may offer field trips to police stations as an incentive to those students on the honor roll. Minimizing discouragement of the youth would strengthen their rapport with law enforcement. Eradicating the discouragement cause by the lengthy hiring process is also essential. It is no secret that many companies employ applicants much faster than most law enforcement agencies do.
Therefore, in order to compete with the private sector, police departments must take a page out of their book. Hiring weekends must be announced using different outlets such as television, radio, and internet. Condensing the process to a few days would keep applicants interested in the position and disallow competitors from hiring them. The first day would begin with background checks which will quickly remove those from contention who do not meet the standard. This can be followed by a drug test and physical agility tests.
For those who successfully pass these steps, the next day would include medical and psychological testing. At this time, both the department and the applicant would have a good idea of whether or not employment is on the horizon. To spread the message of these hiring weekends, departments can utilize its own troops. Two different experts agreed; current employees make great recruiters. As previously stated, agencies must tap in to this resource and supply officers with the information necessary to equip them while in the community.
In addition, they must also offer incentives to their officers for recommending an individual who eventually gets employed. One incentive may be a generous bonus that includes extra money. Another incentive may be a considerable amount of time-off hours in which the officer can use when needed. With these rewards available, most officers would make a valiant effort in finding applicants that they believe have the potential to be great officers. Implementing new strategies to better recruiting and selecting can establish the foundation of a successful department.
However, their effectiveness might be hindered if department members do not buy into the strategies. Marketing innovative programs to members of the agency, from top to bottom, can really increase the chance of the programs being successful. All members must be made aware of the importance of bettering recruitment and selection. Improvement means better morale amongst colleagues, since hiring the right people who joined for the right reasons, creates a sense of cohesiveness. Everyone would work together with the same mission.
This message can be conveyed to officers via streaming videos played during roll call. The supervisorial staff needs to understand that these strategies can rectify the relationship between the department and the community, making their jobs easier. Although, one concern they might have is the monetary cost of implementing new programs. Putting management at ease concerning the financial aspect is extremely important. It is obvious that putting these recruitment strategies into motion will cost a considerable amount of money; especially for advertisement and manpower.
However, agencies must realize that the cost would be eventually recuperated. The most prominent way is through a decrease in civil litigations from citizens. A more qualified and diverse department translates to a more established rapport with the community as well as reducing the likelihood of police misconduct. Also, agencies would not waste money in having to hire replacement officers due to poor retention, because the new strategies would ensure the employment of officers who are more suitable for the job.
Displaying how the new strategies would be evaluated after implementation instills confidence in the probability of their successfulness. Evaluating how well recruitment and selection strategies have worked would take a few strategies in itself. A good barometer would be to observe the number of complaints on officers that were classified as sustained since the implementation of the new strategies. A decrease in the amount would indicate that the newly hired officers are more prepared in dealing with the community.
In addition, an increase in the retention rate since the employment of the strategies illustrates their prosperity. Recruitment leaders may also want to conduct survey questionnaires of both officers and citizens. Questions concerning their opinion of the department’s morale level since the beginning of the new recruitment strategies can provide an accurate portrayal by officers. Citizens may be asked to rate experiences with officers during noncriminal interactions such as traffic accidents and missing person reports. Surely, a good recruitment and selection strategy would withstand any of these evaluation methods.
Conclusion Positive changes in a department would not be a product of remaining stagnant in the way an agency looks for and hires its officers. The initiative must be taken in developing strategies in spite of all the obstacles that hinder current recruitment and selection processes. Many plans have been cultivated by other law enforcement agencies as well as individuals from the private sector. Using these plans, one can develop a specific process geared towards improving one’s respective department; while taking into consideration marketing plans, cost measures, and evaluation procedures.
Binns, J. (2010, December 16). Recruiting the 21st century police officer. PoliceOne. Retrieved September 13, 2012 from http://www.policeone.com/police-jobs-and-careers/articles/3058269-Recruiting-the-21st-Century-police-officer-part-2/
Johnson, R. R. (2006, December). A better recruiting approach. Law and Order. Retrieved September 13, 2012 from http://www.hendonpub.com/ resources/article_archive/results/details?id=3453
Male, B. (2010, February 25). 10 creative recruiting strategies to hire great people. Business Insider. Retrieved September 14, 2012 from http://www.businessinsider.
U.S Department of Justice [USDOJ]. (2009, June). Law enforcement recruitment toolkit. Washington, D.C. Retrieved September 13, 2012 from http://www.cops.usdoj. gov/pdf/vets-to-cops/e080921223-RecruitmentToolkit.pdf
White, M. D., ; Escobar, G. (2008). Making good cops in the twenty-first century: Emerging issues for the effective recruitment, selection and training of police in the United States and abroad. International Review of Law, Computer ; Technology, 22(1/2), 119-134. doi:10.1080/13600860801925045.