4 ways to keep good cops after you hire them

There are simple ways leaders can invest in new personnel to ensure they become veteran employees


By Lt. Mike Walker, P1 Contributor

A revolving door of police recruits creates stress and strain on any law enforcement agency.

As the selection, academy and FTO training process can take a year or longer to complete, core personnel are at risk of burnout from covering understaffed shifts, while police training and equipment budgets are quickly depleted. Inexperienced staff may expose the agency to increased liability, while providing less than optimal levels of performance during the course of learning the job.

Training doesn’t have to be costly; it just needs to be relevant and geared toward the officer’s interests. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Training doesn’t have to be costly; it just needs to be relevant and geared toward the officer’s interests. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Just as a savvy mayor or commissioner knows that a big part of their job is to foster those elements that attract and retain residents to the community – such as a vibrant economy, good schools, access to quality health care, recreational activities and a low crime environment – savvy law enforcement leaders know it is their job to foster those things besides salary that attract and retain police officers.

A slightly higher starting pay may attract a new employee, but it won’t keep them. As we all know, merely throwing money at an issue will not solve the problem. A good employee who feels like they would rather take a beating than come to work will not stay at your agency for long.

Let’s explore some of the things officers want from their police career and how law enforcement leaders can fill those needs.

1. Value and recognition

Law enforcement is at many times a thankless profession so it is critical law leaders express appreciation to personnel. The results of good police work are often intangible, but that doesn’t make them any less valuable. There are easy ways to tell your folks when they do a good job:

  • Show your appreciation and recognize a job well done with a citation or letter of commendation;
  • Encourage peer recognition through Officer of the Quarter and Officer of the Year selections;
  • Reward employees and their families with a spring picnic or fall awards banquet.

Performance awards don’t have to be expensive to be valuable. Recognition may be as simple as a reserved parking place or an extra day off. Good employees are like good health – ignore them and they’ll go away.

2. Training and equipment

If you want good officers who produce superior results, you need to provide them with training and equipment.

Training doesn’t have to be costly; it just needs to be relevant and geared toward the officer’s interests.

You should already know which of your employees has an aptitude for training. Send them to an instructor school. If somebody enjoys photography, there’s your crime scene tech. Work with your folks to match the training they want with your agency’s needs.

Once trained, make sure they get good, serviceable equipment.

Evaluate your agency’s process for issuing personal equipment. Do you issue equipment and uniform items, or do you provide a uniform allowance for employees to provide their own equipment? Can you improve this process to better fill agency and employee needs?

3. Uniforms and vehicles

We take better care of things we are proud of and take ownership in. Is it time to consider upgrading the look and performance of your agency’s uniform? Are you taking advantage of today’s performance blends and moisture-wicking technology? If the answer is no, then consider doing so and letting your employees take an active role in deciding what the new police uniforms will look like.

Do you have a replacement schedule for your vehicles or are cars driven “until the wheels fall off”? Are new cars provided to officers or do they get hand-me downs from the top brass? Could their design use a bit of updating? These changes can go a long way toward making your employees feel invested with your agency.

Speaking of vehicles, consider assigned cars. Employees will take better care of them and it’s an attractive benefit for your agency to offer. Take-home cars and off-duty use are even better; just make sure you also have the accompanying policies that fit your agency.

4. Professional growth and career advancement

No one wants to feel they are stuck in a dead end job. Cops thrive on a challenge, and most are every bit as competitive as professional athletes.

Specialized units such as traffic, K-9, SWAT, crime prevention, drug education, SROs and Honor Guard can help your agency accomplish its mission of service while allowing your employees to develop into well-rounded and knowledgeable law enforcement professionals.

If you are a small agency or have issues with funding, consider alternatives to full-time unit assignments such as part time/seasonal duties, collateral duty assignments and multi-agency task forces.

Validate and recognize your officer’s specialized experience with a unit patch, pin or service bar. Help your officers to see what their future with your agency can look like. Reward loyalty and seniority with merit promotions. And provide a fair, clear and consistent set of requirements for competitive promotion to sergeant, lieutenant and above.

Our employees are our most valuable resource. Give them the time and consideration they deserve. By helping them to become invested in your community and your department, you will greatly increase your chances of attracting and retaining top caliber law enforcement professionals.


About the author
Lt. Mike Walker is a 27-year veteran of local and federal law enforcement. He has served in a variety of assignments with a concentration in investigative work. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice and is a graduate of the 247th Session of the FBI National Academy.

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