How to keep good cops: Police leaders share best practices

Taking a strategic approach to hiring officers increases the likelihood you will retain those good cops in your ranks


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.

Law enforcement agencies across the country are facing monumental recruitment challenges reflective of our current turbulent political climate.

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, from left, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley, Dallas Police Major Rueben Ramirez and San Antonio Police Chief William McManus take part in public safety event where they spoke against a proposed "bathroom bill," Tuesday, July 25, 2017, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, from left, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley, Dallas Police Major Rueben Ramirez and San Antonio Police Chief William McManus take part in public safety event where they spoke against a proposed "bathroom bill," Tuesday, July 25, 2017, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

For some people who may have contemplated pursuing a law enforcement career, their minds may have changed due to the anti-police sentiment we’ve seen over the last several years. For cops already employed, they may wonder whether to remain in their current department or the field itself.

Though police departments may differ in size, they all face similar challenges. Here’s how police leaders from Austin, Texas, Montgomery County, Maryland, and the District of Columbia tackle the challenge of recruiting good candidates and retaining them when they are on the job.

Metropolitan Police Department, Washington, D. C.

Assistant Chief Robert Contee says his department is looking for officers with integrity and judgment, who can engage with the community.

He acknowledges that law enforcement agencies everywhere are still trying to figure out how to retain good officers: “It is critical for us to identify ways to keep them,” said Contee, with the one- to five-year mark being a critical time for retention.  

To attract millennials, the department advertises positions on social media, in movie theaters, on the back of buses and on local radio stations, along with participating in traditional job fairs.

Contee has four tips for retaining good cops:

  1. Flexibility for advancement. There needs to be flexibility in, as well as opportunities for, educational advancement in order to recruit and retain police officers.
  2. Opportunities for advancement. Agencies must offer opportunities for advancement. If officers cannot advance, they will go elsewhere, leaving the department from which they were initially hired.
  3. Open communication. The department must provide an atmosphere where officers can voice their opinions and engage command officials in dialogue.
  4. Change to demonstrate value. Agencies must provide officers opportunities to demonstrate their value to the organization. Certain skill sets they possess may be beneficial to the department and may maintain their interest in that arena.

Montgomery County Police, Montgomery County, MD

Montgomery County is a suburb of the nation’s capital, rich in diversity. The county frequently works with neighboring jurisdictions in Virginia and the District of Columbia. A diversified work force is essential and, as Assistant Chief Luther Reynolds said, “Work ethic is huge.”

Reynolds reveals that an impeccable reputation and the ability to get along well with others goes a long way in policing and, particularly, in diverse communities.

Reynolds points out that people want to be part of a professional organization that cares about their well-being. In his county, he notes, there is a high level of support for officers from the community, as well as the judiciary and even local politicians. 

Reynolds offers six tips for personnel hiring and management:

  1. Value ethics and integrity. Integrity is essential in hiring good cops. “Integrity has to be impeccable. You can’t teach someone to be honest,” Reynolds said. Interpersonal communication skills are also vital in choosing the right candidates, and they must possess empathy and be effective in dealing with people. 
  2. Offer a comprehensive compensation package. Pay and benefit packages are important in attracting officers. Benefits like take-home cars, pay increases, comprehensive healthcare coverage and retirement packages influence an individual’s initial decision to join a department and then stay with that department once they get some experience under their belt.
  3. Provide training opportunities. Emphasis Training is a key tool for retaining cops. Departments need a cadre of faculty and a curriculum of excellence that touches on the core values of the organization in order to produce a culture of excellence.
  4. Embrace technology. Agencies must embrace new technological tools and speak the language of Facebook and Twitter.
  5. Practice compassionate leadership. People are hungry for leadership. Good leaders treat people with dignity, value and respect and are models of compassion.
  6. Engage the community. Finally, an agency that values the community tends to retain officers because there is a lot of community engagement.

“A large majority of people in Montgomery County care about police,” Reynolds said.

When all these elements combine, people feel appreciated and valued.  Officers need to know there is support for their safety and recognition that what they do is important. They want to be heard. “It’s an ongoing evolution,” Reynolds said.

Austin Police Department, Texas  

Chief Brian Manley leads a department of 1,908 sworn officers and 725 civilians. His jurisdiction is in the top three of the highest paid agencies in the state.

Manley believes that retention of good officers starts with recruiting. It is important to recruit the right candidates and emphasize the importance of community and community policing. He considers what candidates have done to give back to the community and how compassionate they are towards the community.

His five tips for retention include effective leadership from first-line supervisors to the executive team:

  1. The organization must practice effective leadership.
  2. Departments must offer an attractive and competitive pay package.
  3. Law enforcement agencies need rigorous wellness programs that provide adequate opportunities for police officers to get help when they need it. This includes a strong peer support system and adequate equipment to maintain officer fitness.
  4. There must be growth opportunities within the organization that allow officers to expand their knowledge and experience.
  5. Offering cutting-edge training allows officers to perform at their best.

These insights gleaned from law enforcement leaders in Washington, D. C., Montgomery County and Austin demonstrate the commonalities shared in the recruitment and retention of excellent and productive law enforcement officers. Taking a strategic approach to hiring officers increases the likelihood you will retain those good cops in your ranks. 

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