The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.
By Carletta Walker
March 17, 2017
The rising crime rate in the 80s and the 90s served as an awakening to the desperate need to hire additional law enforcement officers. As a remedy, Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) and the Violent Crimes Control Act of 1994 was birthed under former President Bill Clinton. From 1990 to 2000, agencies who served a population of 250,000 or greater increased full-time law enforcement personnel by 17 percent. Federal grant dollars enabled agencies to hire more than 100,000 Law Enforcement Officers (LEO). This bill was the government’s way of getting smart on crime; however, many of the programs the bill encompassed were authorized for only six years. Although the Violent Crime Act has been scrutinized throughout the years for various reasons, we are certainly reaping the effects of it. So where does that leave us today?
Looking for a Few Good Men and Women
Although there is not a national standard for staffing police officers per capita, both the military and law enforcement report a shortage. This shortage is due to a myriad of contributing factors such as:
- Retirement: Officers hired during the Violent Crimes Control Act have retired or are facing retirement. Many agencies are facing high attrition rates due to officers retiring one agency and transferring to a different one. Thus, the officer and his/her experience and training walks out of the door.
- Budget Restraints: The economic downturn almost 11 years ago had an adverse effect on staffing. According to COPS, approximately a third of American cities reported public safety budget cuts. These cuts also affected advancing technology and equipment. According to a survey conducted by PEW Research Center, only 69 percent of officers felt as though their department did not fully equip them to effectively do their job.
- Public Opinion: The integrity of law enforcement has taken a beating in the media that has penetrated throughout the country. Whether you are pro-law enforcement or standing on a picket line, recent shootings and protest are leaving potential applicants indecisive about diving into a law enforcement career.
- Qualified Applicants: There is not a federal requirement to become an officer; however due to the nature of the work, law enforcement officers are held to a high standard. Age requirements also vary from state to state with anywhere from 19 to 21 to apply. Because an employee can enter into policing during what’s known as the best years of one’s life, maturity and generational trends force administrators to reconsider traditional hiring standards such as:
- Physical Standards- Because obesity is a national health crisis and Americans are not as active, physical standards is another obstacle currently affecting future applicants. Many states/local municipalities are “relaxing” physical standards, in order to reach applicants who would otherwise be considered as a good hire.
- Second to health related barriers is gender. Females only represent 12 percent of law enforcement officers. This low percentile could be related to the perception of the nature of the work or because women are physically unable to meet physical hiring requirements? In either case, the hiring pool lacks an adequate male/female ratio.
- Criminal History- Most agencies require a criminal background check; however, some are more extensive than others. Some agencies are accepting applicants who have bad credit, misdemeanor arrest and some prior drug convictions. This would have been a deal breaker ten years ago.
- Recruitment: Another change since the early 90’s is the way in which agencies recruit. Typical recruiting grounds included high school career day, universities, job fairs, newspaper and radio advertisements. Nowadays, social media is the number one form of advertisement. We’ve gone beyond the days of having a monitor embedded in a table display. Tech savvy employees are posting recruiting videos via YouTube and Twitter to reach beyond the typical recruiting prospect. It is a great recruiting tool but can not stand in the absence of a physical meet and greet.
Back to the Future
Some would say we are bad off. I’m an optimist. One of the most important values an employee can bring to any organization is commitment and a wiliness to learn. Should an officer be physically fit? Absolutely. Can an agency train an officer to become physically fit? The short answer is yes. Should an officer be trustworthy and possess good character? Again, absolutely. Will misdemeanor arrest absolutely predict future behavior? No. In order to reach a diverse pool of applicants, we must open the borders of our mind to the possibilities of change.
Author: Carletta Walker is a POST Certified Officer & Academy Instructor. She has a B.S. in Criminal Justice, M.P.A. She can be reached at [email protected]
The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.