Author: Cole Zercoe
ORLANDO – Law enforcement agencies have been struggling with recruitment for a number of years now. With the U.S. unemployment rate currently at 3.7 percent and a growing number of police officers headed to retirement, the problem is only going to get worse. At the 125th annual International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference, a panel of experts detailed how they’ve updated their recruitment strategies.
Eriks Gabliks, Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training
Sheila Lorance, Marion County (Ore.) Sheriff’s Office
Jeff Mori, Washington County (Ore.) Sheriff’s Office
Greg Pashley, Portland Police Bureau
Eric Hlad, Marion County (Ore.) Sheriff’s Office
Police agencies need to leave recruitment strategies of the past behind. The reality is fewer people are applying to be police officers – regardless of the state of the U.S. job market.
Jeff Mori, undersheriff for the Washington County (Ore.) Sheriff’s Office, put things in stark terms, telling session attendees that he was shocked to find the agency’s low number of applicants didn’t improve all that much in the wake of the Great Recession.
“It’s an arms race,” Mori said. “We’re all competing for the same people. Putting an ad out in the newspaper isn’t going to cut it.”
3 KEY TAKEAWAYS
1. Have consistency in your branding.
One of the most important elements of recruitment is having a brand for your agency. You need to define your identity and make sure that identity is conveyed consistently in all of your external and internal messaging. In Washington County, that meant starting a public affairs unit for marketing and branding.
“We realized there was a big difference between what our brand is and what our logo is,” Mori said.
From the agency’s recruitment ads and brochures to its annual report, everything is now uniform in appearance and message. Your branding needs to capture your agency’s culture, and you need to make sure your entire agency understands that culture so it can be accurately communicated to potential applicants. Everyone at your agency should be active in recruitment; the panel stressed that your best recruiters are the ones who are actually doing the job each day.
Greg Pashley of the Portland Police Bureau added that you should pay particular attention to your website – it’s the first impression most people have of your agency, and you need to make sure it’s a good one.
2. Cast a wide net.
Consider the area you work in; has your agency adapted to the culture? For Mori’s agency, attracting a wide variety of applicants meant easing some restrictions – like lifting their ban on facial hair and visible tattoos.
“It’s not all ‘Portlandia,’ but it’s a different culture in the Pacific Northwest, so we really needed to change how we were doing things,” Mori said.
Sheila Lorance of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office suggested agencies start targeting people in the service industry, like those working at banks, supermarkets, coffee shops and cell phone companies. Talent is everywhere; Lorance said once of her agency’s best deputies is a former barista.
Think outside the box when visiting universities. A college professor in the audience suggested that agencies look beyond criminal justice majors. Consider targeting psychology or sociology students – many academic disciplines translate well to law enforcement. Make it clear to potential applicants that not all of law enforcement is carrying a badge and a gun – there are plenty of other positions for those who aren’t interested in being a street cop.
3. Stay engaged.
It’s important to show applicants that you care. Millennials, in particular, need to be guided and checked on regularly. Consider having Q&A sessions at your hiring events. Get the contact information for anyone who expresses interest in joining your agency and follow up with them frequently. Offer to guide candidates through the application process.
Eric Hlad of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office pointed out that millennials tend to be job jumpers, not only changing jobs frequently, but career fields as well. Hlad said his agency’s recruits average about four years on the job, so they started asking themselves what they could do to be supportive when someone leaves and, hopefully, lure the person back as a result.
The agency allows its employees who leave to maintain their seniority if they come back within a year. At 11 months, someone at the agency is calling them to see how it’s going at their job and if they’d like to come back to law enforcement.
They’re also making the same kind of call when an employee has been gone for four years – those who return within five years do not have to go through the academy again.
In another example of what your agency can do to cast a wide net, the Portland Police Bureau holds a 30-day “immersion” internship. College kids from across the country are housed at the local university and spend 30 days with police, participating in a wide range of activities including ridealongs, meeting various teams, going to graduations and visiting the academy. If this sounds like a lot of work for just a few students, keep in mind that this recruitment effort isn’t just targeted toward those who sign up for the internship – the participants share their experiences with their friends back at college, who then spread the word even further. Once the internship is over, the agency visits the participating campuses and speaks with other students about the program. Develop media contacts; they can help you funnel your recruitment message to the public. Look at your hiring process. How long is the timeline? Is it efficient? Can it be better? The Washington County Sheriff’s Office got their process down to 4-6 months when it previously took 10-12 months. The longer your process is, the more likely applicants lose interest before they get through it. Consider lifting age restrictions. Marion County no longer has an age restriction for older people looking to join the agency. In fact, they found some of their most in-shape applicants were in their 40s. LEARN MORE
PoliceOne Special Coverage: Recruitment & Retention Crisis
Why your police department needs a brand
4 things millennials want from their police career
8 ways to engage the millennials in your ranks
IACP Quick Take: How police agencies can effectively communicate with Generation Z