Thousands Tune In to Learn How Law Enforcement and Communities Can Better Recruit and Retain Candidates
WASHINGTON, DC - On October 24, several thousand individuals from across the nation tuned in to view a free public webcast and satellite broadcast addressing law enforcement hiring strategies in our nation's communities. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice's (DOJ) Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) and supported by a host of professional organizations, the broadcast featured law enforcement and city leaders who discussed best practices for attracting and retaining quality officers. Individuals who missed the live broadcast can view an archived video of the program or read a text transcript by visiting www.DOJConnect.com.
In a taped message, U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales opened the broadcast by highlighting the crucial role that police officers play in our communities. "For law enforcement agencies, finding and holding onto quality officers is more than just an ordinary management concern. It is critical to the safety of the public," said Attorney General Gonzales. "We need thousands and thousands of [good officers], and once we find them, we need to guard against the problems of burn out and demoralization. We need to make sure that...our respect and admiration are communicated to them and to their families, and to make sure that our appreciation is more than just talk."
Following this introduction, panel moderator Les Witmer led two round table discussions about law enforcement hiring challenges and best practices for approaching them. Experts on the initial panel discussed what mayors and city managers can do to assist law enforcement in recruiting, hiring and retaining officers.
"The men and women in our organizations need to feel like they're supported by their government, especially heads of government whether it be the mayor, city manager or city council," said Chief Albert Najera of the Sacramento Police Department. "They need to feel like they're properly compensated. And while we don't have to be the highest paid in the region, the pay has to be commensurate with what is going on in the region," he said.
But beyond salary, there are other ways to attract and keep officers. "It all comes down to one word: 'support' - making sure that we support our men and women out on the front lines," said Mayor Johnny L. DuPree of Hattiesburg, MS. DuPree also stressed the importance of creating partnerships between law enforcement, businesses, the media and other citizens in order to foster an educated, involved community.
Ensuring that officers feel invested in their community also is key, said the participants. "I think the smaller community has the opportunity to bring the officer into the community and make it more of a...family orientation," said Edwin Daley, City Manager of Winchester, VA who appeared via video. "The more we can bring [police officers] into that community, the more they are going to be concerned about it, the better they are going to do, and the more they're going to want to stay with that job."
Throughout the discussion, panelists cited police shortages as a critical national issue. However, even with mounting pressure from political leaders to put more police on the streets, panelists warned that departments should resist the urge to hire officers quickly at the expense of quality.
"Hiring quality police officers takes time. Training quality police officers takes time. And if you start shortcutting the process, in the long run, you're going to be in a worse position than where you started, without quality people," said Najera.
Chief Ronald Davis of the East Palo Alto (CA) Police Department agreed that the process takes time and commitment to quality. "If you get five or six good, solid, ethical, communicative officers, you're helping to shape the future of the organization," he said.
Davis, Najera and DuPree added that today's police departments need to look at new, innovative ways to attract and retain a new generation of officers. For example, flexible work schedules, on-site child care, housing incentives and attractive health and retirement benefits can often mean more to candidates than salary. "This generation looks for a more balanced and tempered approach," said Davis. "If we're going to be competitive, not only within the agencies but in delving into some new markets, then I think you either flex, change, adapt - or perish."
But the panelists noted that incentives don't always have to be expensive. General respect and recognition, often in the form of awards ceremonies, can go a long way toward instilling loyalty.
Some participants expressed a need for speeding up the recruiting process, which takes up to 24 months in some areas. "We need to be much more innovative and speed up [our hiring] processes so that we don't lose [candidates], number one, to other agencies, but number two, to other competing job interests," said San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders in a taped message. Other panelists agreed and underscored the value of marketing a community's strengths to candidates.
During Part Two of the program, two additional experts joined the panel discussion -- Major Jim Previtera of the Hillsborough (FL) County Sheriff's Department and Lieutenant Charles Hank of the Las Vegas Metro Police Department. Both discussed today's police recruiting standards and how they are evolving.
"We cannot abandon the standards that the public expects," said Previtera. "We've evolved from a vocation...into a profession, and in order to be considered professional and attract professional people, then we have to have professional standards. There may be certain generational changes and philosophies that we can look at and reevaluate, but I don't think that abandoning standards is the answer - or lowering them just for the sake of getting bodies."
Lt. Hank agreed. "The public has a high expectation of the members of every law enforcement agency," he said. "On the other hand, we must make sure that the future candidates that we're seeking to hire understand what our expectations are. It's important that we reach out to them at a young age to expose them to what our standards are."
Panel members also discussed the changing profile of today's police recruit. Whereas former military candidates used to be plentiful, obvious recruitment targets, police departments now are concentrating on young people and older individuals who might consider law enforcement as a second career. But no matter whom they recruit, departments are hiring people for their spirit of service versus their spirit of adventure.
Panelists advised viewers to apply proven recruitment tactics that work in the private sector such as marketing campaigns and referral programs. As an example, Hank's department in Las Vegas partnered with a creative advertising agency to implement a marketing campaign designed to recruit police officers. Branded with the slogan "Protect the City; Join the Force," the campaign stressed the heroics and service of police work versus the adventurous aspects. Previtera's police department took a similar approach with a broad ad campaign.
Marketing efforts aside, "Your best recruiter is your satisfied employee," said Previtera. "It's that person working for you who takes pride in the uniform they wear, and they tell people about it when they're out there with people in their neighborhoods."
In closing, the panelists discussed the need for police departments to recognize the changing needs of younger recruits without impacting the integrity of the recruiting process.
"We need to respond to the new generation and be flexible," said Davis. "And for the chief executives, just realize that the decisions you make today will affect your organization for the next 10, 20, 30 years."
"People want to be part of something special," said Najera. "You have to make your organization special and figure out 'what is it going to take to get you to work for us?'."
About DOJ Connect
Brought to you by the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) and produced by L&M Production Design Group based in Alexandria, VA, the DOJ Connect Webcast and Satellite Series includes several free, live, interactive programs addressing law enforcement issues impacting the nation's communities. The broadcast series enables viewers to submit questions to expert panelists via e-mail and receive on-air answers. For additional information, please contact Paul Lamonia at (703) 642-6505 or Lamonia@LMpdg.com, or, visit www.DOJConnect.com. For the next 12 months, archived video and text transcripts of the October 24 webcast - titled "Hiring Top Cops - Strategies for Success" - can be accessed at: www.DOJConnect.com.