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How a police department is taking an all-hazards approach to recruitment and retention

With recruitment failing to keep up with attrition, the City of Topeka and the Topeka Police Department had to think outside of the box


Editor's note: This special coverage series, Recruitment & Retention Crisis: The Struggle to Hire – and Keep – Good Cops, will take an in-depth look at the recruitment and retention challenges currently facing police agencies, share potential solutions to the crisis and highlight best practices progressive PDs are deploying to bolster their ranks. Watch for further installments of this series throughout the rest of 2017.

By Officer Matt Cobb, P1 Contributor

Like many law enforcement agencies, the Topeka (Kansas) Police Department has been fighting an uphill recruiting and retention battle.

Over the last year, the department set out to hire 36 police officers, but ended up with only 12. Compounding this issue were the numbers of police officers who transferred to other agencies and the private sector.

With recruitment failing to keep up with attrition, the City of Topeka and the Topeka Police Department knew they had to think outside of the box and, in doing so, implemented the following police officer recruitment and retention strategies:

1. Offered a hiring bonus

The department just implemented a $5000 hiring bonus, the first recipients of which are currently in the hiring process. This helped with recruiting efforts in the face of competing agencies frontloading their pay scales.

2. Created a police recruit position

The department created a police recruit position, which allows Topeka PD to hire applicants up to 90 days before the next police academy starts.

Funded through salary savings, it has helped prevent applicants from accepting jobs at other agencies while waiting for the police academy to begin. These police recruits perform administrative tasks and ride-alongs, obtaining a better understanding of daily operations.

3. Focused on lateral transfer candidates

We recognize that the lives and situations of police officers change. Accordingly, the department put in place a lateral transfer program that focuses on getting certified officers up to speed and on the street.

Upon approval of the chief, certified Kansas law enforcement officers are hired at one pay step for every two years of experience (up to step three). The lateral transfer program consists of a three-week training academy and eight-week field training phase.

4. Attended career fairs at colleges and military installations

Topeka PD joins the rest of law enforcement that attends career fairs and sets up recruiting booths at colleges and military installations on a regular basis. We recently extended these recruiting booths to community events as well.

We have also worked with colleges and military installations to give recruiting presentations to groups of students and service members. These presentations afford us the opportunity to more efficiently reach and present our department information to larger groups of people.

In February 2018, the department will participate in its first “virtual” job fair, consisting of a live video conference with military personnel stationed overseas.

While at career fairs on military installations, Topeka’s recruiting team networks with Transition Assistance Program (TAP) personnel to help with recruiting efforts. These relationships have proven fruitful in reaching potential applicants who are transitioning out of the military.

5. Produced recruitment videos

For $8,000, Flint Hills Video Productions created a total of 16 videos for recruiting and hiring and promotional videos of Topeka PD’s specialty units.

At a cost of $11,000, a short recruitment video was played during 20 movie theater showings per day and in three cable TV regions for a total of three months. This video was also uploaded to Facebook and YouTube.

6. Conducted traveling POST and POPAT tests

Historically, the department only administered the POST and POPAT locally. At a cost of $11,500, a new push-pull machine and an enclosed trailer were purchased so we could take our hiring test on the road.

We recently completed our first traveling test, administering it at a large Army installation. The success of this trial has paved the way for a consistent traveling testing schedule in the future. 

Through the relationships we have fostered with TAP personnel, we have contacted other military installations and are currently scheduling additional traveling tests.

We travelled 70 miles for the first test. The next two tests we plan to administer are 139 miles and 260 miles, respectively.

7. Hosted an explorer program

Our department hosts the TPD Law Enforcement Explorer Post #7721. This mentorship program brings in youth aged 14 to 21 to educate and train them in law enforcement experiences. Weekly, they get a unique look at what law enforcement does and why they do it. Over 20 past explorers are currently employed with the agency.  

8. Adopted a 10-hour shift schedule

Depending on your research, the national average for law enforcement attrition rates is about 15 percent. Of the 160 police officers hired since 2009, 57 left the Topeka Police Department for one reason or another, putting us well over double the national average. As such, we knew we needed to improve morale and working conditions.

One of the biggest steps our department took to improve retention was adopting a 10-hour shift schedule for officers assigned to patrol.

While the benefits of a 10-hour shift schedule are shared by all stakeholders, the effect on police officers is dramatic:

  • 52 more days off per year;
  • More police officers on the street during peak times;
  • A schedule template that promotes on-shift training.

Although it is too early to tell what impact this will have on our agency (it does not go live until after the first of the year), we know we have lost officers and applicants to agencies working 10-hour shifts.

9. Offered additional training

Another area our agency has been concentrating on to retain police officers is training.

After losing three officers in less than two years, Topeka PD implemented a training program aimed at conducting safer car stops. The training was based in part on the Force Science Institute’s car stop study. According to three officers who submitted their thoughts in writing, this training has helped save officers’ lives.

10. Diversified training offerings

The department recently leased a facility from the Kansas National Guard. While the National Guard was consolidating personnel at another facility, our department was outgrowing the space at our Law Enforcement Center. The timing worked out, and our department was able to lease and remodel the vacant space. The entire Topeka Police Academy and training staff were moved offsite to this newly acquired facility.

The new facility offers a much larger classroom with state-of-the-art audio and video equipment, a 180-degree Milo Range firearms simulator and a full-size gymnasium.

Being located on a federal installation, access to the facility is controlled and the training grounds are secure. I have been lucky enough to attend training all over the country and, in my opinion, this new training facility puts the Topeka Police Department on par with top-tier agencies.

This facility has been paid for by budget savings and federal forfeiture funds.

Conclusion

As many of these initiatives are so new, we do not have any data to share on our success to date; however, twice as many applicants took our hiring test in 2017 than in 2016. We are eagerly waiting for the time when our efforts can be better quantified.

Follow the Topeka Police Department on Facebook and Twitter.


About the author
Officer Matt Cobb has served with the Topeka Police Department for 11 years. He currently serves as the full-time Topeka Police Academy Instructor. Previous assignments include the bicycle unit and eight years in field operations on third shift. Officer Cobb served four years in the Marine Corps and is an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran. Officer Cobb holds a Bachelor’s of Business Administration from Baker University. Officer Cobb maintains numerous instructor certifications and assists the Topeka Police Department in meeting training requirements.

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