Recruiting the 21st Century police officer (part 2)
One of the biggest issues for police recruiters has been creating a large pool of qualified applicants from which to choose
Each police agency has its own mission based on community expectations — finding officers that “fit” into the agency’s culture can be difficult. Recruiters must utilize strategies that will bring in a larger pool of diverse applicants to better fill these agency vacancies. These strategies include both methods of advertising departmental vacancies as well as the hiring process itself.
One of the biggest issues for police recruiters has been creating a large pool of qualified applicants from which to choose. A larger pool of applicants will allow departments to be more selective in the hiring process. Even with the increase in applicants because of recent economic issues, police still face problems “in trying to attract and retain quality candidates who fit within their organizational environment” (Orrick, 2008, p. 26). Departments should to be in a position where they recruit the best applicants, not merely eliminate those who are least qualified (Whetstone et al., 2006). The recruiting strategies must bring in applicants that have diverse cultures, backgrounds, and educational fields (Vest, 2001).
According to White and Escobar (2008), the recruitment process should utilize multiple techniques. First and foremost, every agency should have a presence on the Internet as a continued method of recruitment. The agency’s website was identified as the most successful strategy for recruitment (Whetstone et al., 2006). From the website, departments can advertise and market their agency to prospective applicants. In turn, applicants can research the agency to find the agency’s mission, hiring standards, community presence, and possible career tracks. Access to online applications makes it easier to recruit officers from other regions of the country.
A second source of recruiting using the Internet is through social networking sites. Many agencies today are creating sites through networks like MySpace and Facebook. This is particularly important when recruiting the younger generation of applicants who place a higher value of the social aspects of work. They utilize these types of online media to make contacts in both their professional and personal lives. Many agencies are creating a presence on these social networking sites to market their agency to prospective applicants. Agencies can update “friends” on opportunities within the agency, standards, and community news.
Other successful strategies in recruitment include career fairs and visiting college and high school campuses (Whetstone et al., 2006). These events are good opportunities — indeed, have been good for a very long period of time — to market the police department to prospective applicants. These recruiting events should not focus solely on those with criminal justice majors but all disciplines of study. The communities served by law enforcement are continually changing and becoming more diverse. Those with educational backgrounds in education, foreign language, computer programming, and communication may be plugged into the organization in needed areas. Agencies that continue to recruit applicants with diverse backgrounds will do well in the long term.
Although diminishing in number, some agencies are still offering sign-on bonuses to new employees. At one point, the Houston Police Department was offering a $7000.00 sign-on bonus to any sworn officer that already met the basic service requirements for employment (Gentile, 2006).
Law enforcement agencies should also consider pulling resources to provide scholarship funds to bring in new recruits. One specific program in North Carolina, the Police Corps, recruited top performers right out of high school. The program, now a victim to budget cuts, created a very stringent selection process. Those that were selected for the program received a full scholarship to pay for college. In addition, the program provided law enforcement specific training during the summer months. Once the recruit completed the program and graduated college, each participant already had a job waiting for them. Agencies that signed up in support of the program committed to hiring one of the recruits after they graduated.
While this may be a costly program, it was an excellent opportunity to recruit qualified applicants that would show a long term commitment to the profession. This long term commitment becomes worth the expenditure when the costs of recruiting, outfitting, and training a new officer can cost well over $50,000. For accepting the scholarship, the recruit must work a specific number of years with the sponsoring agency, giving the organization a return on its investment.
A Recruiting Culture
Recruitment must be in the culture of the agency, from the top of the organizational structure to the bottom. Agency leaders, by the nature of their position in the organization, are provided with numerous opportunities to recruit new applicants to their agency. Even the officers themselves can be valuable tools in the recruitment process.
All employees in the agency — no matter what rank or status in the organization — should be trained in the recruitment and selection process (Whetstone et al., 2006). Officers should be given information on the agency benefits, starting salary, and any testing requirements. Line officers and first line supervisors will have many opportunities in the community to sell the agency (Whetstone et al.). Human resources managers should even consider providing bonuses to those employees whose recruitment efforts lead to the hiring of a qualified officer. In this regard, officers would have financial incentive for identifying qualified applicants while in the community.
In addition to recruitment from within the community, many of the agency’s seasoned officers are already members of outside criminal justice organizations and professional associations. The events held by these groups are also an excellent place to recruit officers. Instructors who represent the agency teaching at local institutions have a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to represent their agency with professionalism. The large numbers of recruits entering basic training while still searching for employment give instructors opportunities to market and sell their agency to prospective applicants.