Police recruiting and retention are facing unprecedented challenges during these uncertain times. With the ongoing civil unrest associated with police use of force, and the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, and the non-stop media coverage when critical incidents occur makes it difficult for recruiting and retention of seasoned officers. It also makes it extremely difficult to attract minority candidates. Having a diverse workforce is beneficial to the department and the community.
Defunding the Police
Part of the uncertainty with recruiting new officers is that recent high-profile incidents has caused many community activist, local politicians, and local community leaders to call for the “Defunding the Police”. The problem with this call to action is that there has been no clear message of what defunding the police means. To some defunding the police means abolishing police departments and not having police service available any longer, while other activist are claiming defunding the police means limiting departments budgets and reallocating funds to other community projects, and still others claim that defunding the police means to reinvent policing to better meet the needs of the community.
This uncertainty about what change is and how it can occur is causing morale issues in policing that is causing retention issues and limiting the pool of new police recruit candidates. With the main-stream media and social media coverage of critical police incidents it is not making it any easier for a young person who wants to enter this noble profession when they see signs and graffiti calling for violence towards police officers and #defundthepolice. Policing is already a stressful profession simple because officers are on the front lines dealing with unpredictable human behavior. It takes a special type of person to want to become a police officer and with uncertainty as to their personal safety, their family’s safety, and being ostracized within our society for just wearing the uniform it makes recruiting and retention difficult.
When recruiting becomes difficult lowering the hiring standards might widen the pool of candidates for departments struggling to fill vacant positions but lowering the minimum standards for police candidates is never a good thing and when this has occurred in the past it has led to even greater problems later.
The current minimal hiring standards for most police officers is a high school diploma of GED. It is difficult to argue for increase in new hire pay when the standards of a demanding and stressful profession are at the basic education level requirements for most jobs, let alone a demanding career that requires the highest integrity and making complex difficult decisions under pressure. Society is demanding that the police hire only the best qualified, but that cannot happen if we only require the minimum educational standards. You cannot teach common sense, but you can develop through education cognitive critical thinking skills and emotional intelligence to help make better decisions when under pressure. Most critical professions have higher educational requirements for a reason and with this higher educational requirement there is also a greater pay incentive. If community leaders, elected officials, and even senior police administrators want the best possible police recruits then they need to raise the educational requirements and match the pay of what they need and want. To keep doing the same thing and expecting different results just keeps us spinning wheels and nothing changes. There was a time when all that new police officer needed was a high school or GED certificate and perhaps being a veteran was always a plus. They were simpler times and authority was respected and not questioned. That is no longer the case and with the demands now required of officers we must proved them with the best possible opportunity to be successful in a demanding society.
Higher educational requirements can also help address retention issues. There also needs to be real opportunities for current officers to complete their degrees. This means that local and state departments must invest in their officers and provide financial incentives to go to school and a significant pay increase when they have earned their degree. This cannot be achieved without local elected officials and the federal government investing in the needed change and providing educational opportunities through grants and scholarships. If there is to be real change you must start with developing police officers to properly be prepared for the challenges they face today and beyond.
This is the time for change. Society is demanding the police make changes in how they respond and address problems. It starts with higher education and higher starting salaries. Society demands a lot from our police, now support that change you demand and work with local and state officials to make it possible.
Recruiting and retention is becoming more difficult with minorities. Police departments have struggled recruiting from minority communities and given the current climate it makes it almost impossible. Departments want their officers to mirror the communities they serve. Current minority officers are facing additional verbal abuse from citizens when they enter communities and the BLM movement, and their supporters have not made it any easier for current minority officers who are part of the police presences during protest. Career burnout is real, and we have seen many recent examples in which officers have just had enough and it is no longer worth it, this is not what they wanted or signed up for when they became police officers. Officers are taking early retirement and pursuing alternate career paths. We are losing a lot of experienced officers because they no longer feel supported. When departments are losing officers faster then they can be replaced it makes it unsafe for officers and the community.
Recruiting minority officers will take patients and greater outreach.
Mark Bond worked in law enforcement and has been a firearms trainer for more than 30 years. His law enforcement experience includes the military, local, state, and federal levels as a police officer and criminal investigator. Mark obtained a BS and MS in Criminal Justice, and M.Ed in Educational Leadership with Summa Cum Laude Honors. Mark has a Doctor of Education (Ed.D) with a concentration in college teaching and learning. Mark is currently an Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at a university and adjunct professor of administration of justice studies at a community college.