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Local, State and National Law Enforcement: Hiring and Training

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Jeffrey Zimmerman
April 28, 2017

Law enforcement agencies at all levels of the government along with private law enforcement or security companies are faced with the issues of hiring qualified employees and properly training these employees to protect and serve in accordance with policies, procedures, rules, regulations, laws and the Constitution. Susan C. Nichols and Rebecca Hickey in a 2016 Law Enforcement Executive Forum article titled “State of Policing in America”, state there are five pillars that have been identified in Illinois to improve law enforcement. The five pillars identified by this study are: recruitment, selection and retention; leadership; education and training; building trust in the community; and police intervention. In this article, I will focus on only two of these pillars: recruitment, selection and retention, and education and training.

trainingHistorically, law enforcement agencies have not been “recruiting” like many companies in the private sector or even the military as many agencies and the military have specific employees designated to actively recruit potential applicants. Law enforcement agencies in the past have merely been advertising vacant positions compared to actively recruiting new employees. This model has been changing in the last several years and many law enforcement agencies created a full time recruiter position. These full time recruiters are attending job fairs, going to college campuses, military bases, etc. looking for potential applicants.

There are several reasons for the recruiting shift. Some of these reasons are the perception and attitude change towards law enforcement in recent years due to several highly publicized police involved incidents resulting in death, such as Michael Brown (Ferguson, MO), Freddie Gray (Baltimore, MD) and Eric Garner (New York, NY). The unfortunate situations have given law enforcement as a collective a black eye. This article will not be arguing for or against any negative attention the law enforcement community has received because of these and other incidents that have happened in the past — this article is going to discuss how hiring and training practices are important for the future of law enforcement. Law enforcement leaders and administrators across the country are faced with increasing challenges in the areas of hiring and training for a variety of reasons. One reason for this pressure to get the hiring and training of officers’ correct is because of transparency and the emergence of audio and video recording devices coupled with 24-hour news coverage and social media.

Law enforcement agencies are having trouble in recruiting high quality applicants for many reasons. Unlike 20 or 30 years ago, few children aspire to be law enforcement officers. Just about every story in the news or on social media regarding law enforcement is a negative story which permeates negative connotations about the law enforcement profession (rightly or wrongly). Many people do not want to deal with all the liability that comes along with being a law enforcement officer such as making high stakes decisions that could adversely affect a person’s life. As a former law enforcement officer who worked more than eight years in the profession, I see the adverse impact to the law enforcement agencies regarding recruiting and retention of high quality law enforcement officers. Many veteran officers are leaving and going to work for other agencies for a variety of reasons such as better pay and work schedule, to mention a few. Other officers are just flat out leaving the profession as they don’t want to deal with the politics, or the stress of the work and other reasons.

Law enforcement leaders are charged with evolving their recruiting and training programs in more innovative ways that haven’t been seen before in the profession. The training part of this is a delicate issue for many agencies because of the costs associated with training law enforcement officers. Training law enforcement officers today requires a lot of funding, especially to keep up with all the topics today, like the increase in social media or officer involved domestic violence. Many departments push training to the back burner because of funding and staffing issues. All officers complete a basic cadet school, but after the basic training portion of a law enforcement officer’s career, the training varies depending on the agency. Many small agencies cannot afford to send their officers to specified training courses because they do not have the money in the budget and they don’t have the additional staff to cover for that officer to be away from work for a significant amount of time.

Law enforcement nationwide is at a crossroads and must innovate their hiring and training practices to continue progressing into the 21st century. As society continues to change and grow at a fast pace, law enforcement agencies must keep up with this pace. Law enforcement agencies must also continue to win the trust of the communities they serve as this will help with recruiting.


Author: Jeffrey R. Zimmerman, Ph.D. in Public Policy and Administration from Walden University. I am currently serving as a Social Science/Education Research Associate for the North Carolina Justice Academy and as an adjunct professor in the MPA program with Strayer University.  I can be reached via email at [email protected]

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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.

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