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Recruiting the 21st Century police officer

Editor's Note: We’re pleased to introduce the newest addition to the PoliceOne roster of writers. Sgt. Joe Binns is a 17-year veteran with the Garner (N.C.) Police Department, currently serving as a patrol supervisor. He has served in many positions within the PD, including investigator, D.A.R.E. officer, public information officer, and training coordinator. Joe’s debut article below is the first in a three-part series on the challenges of recruiting the best young officers from the so-called “millennial generation.” You can send Joe feedback via email at joe.binns@policeone.com.

“The citizen expects police officers to have the wisdom of Solomon, the courage of David, the strength of Samson, the patience of Job, the leadership of Moses, the kindness of the Good Samaritan, the strategical training of Alexander, the faith of Daniel, the diplomacy of Lincoln, the tolerance of the Carpenter of Nazareth, and finally, an intimate knowledge of every branch of the natural biological, and social sciences. If he had all these, he might be a good policeman!”  — August Vollmer

Recruiting the next generation of police officers is probably one of the most important functions for human resources professionals and police leaders in any department. Prior to 2009, police agencies across the nation had experienced a dramatic decrease in the number of qualified police applicants (Whetstone, Reed, & Turner, 2006). Chicago Police Department, like others, began lowering their standards for employment to allow younger, less educated officers into their recruitment pool while paying them higher starting salaries (Anonymous, 2001).

Recently, however, the poor economy has led many unemployed workers to apply for more secure jobs in the public sector, including police departments. In October 2009, the unemployment rate hit 10.2 percent, the highest since 1983 (U.S. Department of Labor, 11/6/2009). While this creates a better pool of diverse applicants for police recruiters, agencies should strive to find qualified applicants that are looking for a long-term career in policing with a commitment to the community (Whetstone et al., 2006). Once the private sector market rebounds from this recession, the employees who flocked to the public sector will again return to the private sector.

The community has high expectation of police officers. Recruiters should focus on those who “possess self-discipline, patience, attention to detail, knowledge of law, superior communication skills, and understand of scientific principles grounded in several disciplines” (Whetstone et al., 2006, p. 53). These traits are not widely found in the general public (Whetstone et al., 2006, p. 53). Understanding that the new recruits of today will be the leaders of tomorrow, recruiting has a direct impact on the future effectiveness of the agency, including the community’s crime rate and quality of life issues. To be effective in the 21st century, police recruiters must raise the standards on agency diversity, officer education level, and understanding of the values of the next generation of police officer. In essence, police departments need to recruit police officers like other sectors of the labor market. To compete, agencies must raise the starting salary and provide opportunities for growth and development that are comparable to other private and public sector jobs.

Professionalism and Recruitment
Over the last thirty years, police agencies have strived to become more professional organizations. Agencies have adopted a ethical codes of conduct, instituted mandatory yearly training requirements, and held its members to a higher standard of behavior to “ensure trust” (Kissinger, 2005, p. 34). The process of recruiting qualified officers that will uphold and maintain these standards of professionalism is the foundation of any police agency (White & Escobar, 2008). While many may argue whether policing has reached the point of a true profession, agencies have worked toward becoming more professional for decades. There is a true need to begin recruiting like a professional organization by reaching out to the top students at local high schools and universities as well as recruitment from other agencies. Many agencies give hiring incentives to recruits for education, proficiency in foreign languages, military service, and prior experience.

Most professional organizations recruit and pay candidates more that have prior experience in the field. The employee has their experience to offer the organization because they already have the prior work experience. In return, the organization pays the recruit the amount they are worth to the organization. In this regard, professional organizations pay those with experience more than someone just out of school. To become a true profession, agencies should place more emphasis on the creation of lateral entry positions. Specifically, agencies should recruit patrol officers, crime prevention officers, school resource officers, and even management from outside the agency. This competition for the best employees is not only good for the organization, it better serves the community as well.

There are many communities that cannot afford to pay higher salaries. Because salary and benefits are a product of a government budget, agencies will need to look at other benefits that can be offered to recruits. These benefits may include take-home vehicles, specialized training, or flexible schedules (Vest, 2001).

The Generational Divide
Each generation — from the baby boomers of the 40s to generation Y of the new millennium — has its own unique set of values, expectations, and goals in life. While many aspects of law enforcement appeal to each generation, recruiting from this distinct generation of workers may require different strategies. The police recruiter must understand each generation.

People included in the millennial generation were born between 1978 and the year 2000. This generation will be one of the largest ever, including more than 80 million people (Junginger, 2008). People born during in this generation are much more technologically savvy than previous generations, growing up with computers, iPods, and video games. Their ability to use technology even eclipses most of their teachers in school and supervisors at work. What makes this generation different in the workforce, however, is the personal values and expectations about how they want be treated by their employers, supervisors, and peers.

Employees from this generation are generally high achievers. They are a group that values their independence, having grown up in families where both parents work. They also value their personal relationships and are very sociable. This generation is different from others in that they will question decisions, value immediate feedback, and believe that experience isn’t everything (Wallis, 2009). These characteristics will create conflict with the military style of command and control utilized within police departments. Police organizations will have to adapt their management style to this new age of recruit or face continued difficulties in recruitment and hiring. If Generation Y employees “feel they are undervalued, they will be planning their exit strategy” (Wallis, 2009, p. 62). Agencies cannot afford the cost of constant turnover.

Anonymous (2001, January). Chicago police lower recruiting standards. Crime Control Digest, 35(2), 2.
Junginger, C. (2008). Who is training whom? The effect of the millennial generation. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 77(9), 19-23.
Kissinger, S. (2005). The set and setting: Professionalism Defined. Journal of Chiropractic Humanities, 12(1), 33-37.
U.S. Department Of Labor. (2009, November 6). The employment situation - October 2009.
Whetstone, T.S., Reed, J.C., & Turner, P.C. (2006). Recruiting: A comparative study of the recruiting practices of state police agencies. International Journal of Police Science and Management, 8(1), 52-66.
White, M. D., & Escobar, G. (2008). Making good cops in the twenty-first century: Emerging issues for the effective recruitment, selection, and training of police in the United States and abroad. International Review of Law Computers and Technology, 22(1), 119-134. doi:10.1080/13600860801925045

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