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Improving Police Recruitment Within the Community

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

By Peter Melan
July 6, 2021

Local municipalities face the reality that a daunting challenge exists to recruit for open positions in police departments. It is no fault of the municipality or the chief advertising for an upcoming hiring session, and certainly no fault of any officer within the department. The industry is suffering from a staggering number of applicants. According to a survey of 400 law enforcement agencies by the Police Executive Research Forum, 66% of police departments were seeing a declining number of applicants nationally between the years 2009 to 2018.

What can police departments do to improve the number of applicants to increase the pool of qualified candidates? There is no single method that fits every municipality, and the onus is on the police administration and human resources to put their thinking caps on and start to find ways for enhanced recruitment methods.

One recruitment technique is to conduct prep sessions with adequate time before the test day. A fair number of applicants may be out of school for several years, and additional classes held by qualified instructors and instructional material in hand may prove to be beneficial in raising test scores. Another potential idea is to form alliances with local training professionals who are committed to providing their skills in a group setting in order to save costs or provide the sessions at no cost to anyone. The marketing is critical and may help a small business or a client base increase membership just by collaborating with the municipality.

Some departments require a lengthy application, notary signatures and a fee for processing. Why not make it easy for an applicant to have their application notarized at the end of the prep session? How about waiving the application fee for those applicants who pass the test on their first try? Although minor in value, it is still a viable way to convince applicants who are serious about testing with a small financial incentive to perform well, and with a notary present, it makes the process slightly more convenient without a need to search and pay the associated fees.

In an environment where a police department is in the fight to recruit qualified candidates to apply, so is the department next door and two towns over. A practice known as lateral hiring is becoming problematic, where departments are stealing from each other to recruit qualified candidates. Additionally, restricted by budgets or collective bargaining agreements, many departments are unable to compete purely on financial terms. In marketing materials, consider adding what the fringe benefits are and how salaries are calculated based on current contracts. What about flexible scheduling, a concept rarely used in law enforcement? With robust scheduling software readily available for public safety, using a bit of creativity to lure applicants costs no money whatsoever, and the department could be on the edge of a paradigm shift in police work.

Another solution is to partner with local community colleges and high schools to begin the process of applying to police departments. Outreach is essential, such as when police officers visit these schools during career days to outline what is necessary to qualify. Recently, high schools have introduced programming that integrates criminal justice subjects into the curriculum as a precursor to a career in law enforcement.

The marketing behind any of these suggestions is crucial. Local municipalities operate annually with limited budgets on marketing and advertising. As a young college student where real-world experience is limited, why not employ a concept to request a group of students to create an entire marketing plan from start to finish? In that plan, have the students develop an outline of what they view as necessary to convey the message of the police department, requirements and the community they wish to serve in. Local students will have a direct connection to where they live and may not be aware of certain aspects, but videos and other enticing information may persuade them to apply.

Another suggestion is to reach out to local military veteran offices and offer a “boot-camp” type of program to provide education on the process and what is required to become a police officer. Veterans who are in transition may not be aware of the upcoming civil service test through normal channels, and offering a personal touch by sending material or having an officer stop to speak about the test may help with the recruitment process.

Many of the suggestions mentioned in this article require effort and creativity. In a world where the allure of being a police officer is dwindling, it may be time to sound the alarm of drastically changing how to recruit for the future. Traditional methods worked and utilizing new concepts may show a surprisingly higher number of qualified applicants who may not have otherwise known about the upcoming test or that the department is currently hiring. In some cases, paying a visit to the local college or veteran office may yield a larger pool of applicants, and the cost is virtually nothing except for time and a desire to reach out to the community.

Author: Peter Melan is the owner of PolityInc.com a consulting firm specializing in local government, with an emphasis on data-driven decisions. He is a second-term councilperson in Easton, PA. Peter is also a public speaker and a writer for several online publications. He is currently enrolled at West Chester University in the doctoral program, focusing on public administration.

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