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How results-driven recruiting will help your agency hire cops

The first thing police departments should do in 2020 is start using data to measure the success of recruitment initiatives

Cobb-Matt_USM Pizza Party.jpg

The Topeka Police Department delivered recruiting and hiring presentations to eight classes at the University of Southern Mississippi, then provided pizza for anyone who wanted to meet with officers. That initiative resulted in one hire with three more in the process for the next Academy.

Photo/Matt Cobb

This is the first in a monthly series that will provide tips and best practices law enforcement agencies can deploy to improve police officer recruitment. Email your police recruitment tips to

The New Year is the perfect time for an agency to get back on track with its hiring initiatives. The first thing agencies should do in 2020 is to implement results-driven recruiting. The success of recruiting and hiring over the next decade depends on it.

What is results-driven recruiting?

Results-driven recruiting involves tracking whether or not a recruiting initiative is successful so agencies can shift resources from initiatives that do not produce police officer candidates to those efforts that are working.

Study where your agency is currently spending recruiting and hiring resources. Add up the financial and manpower costs of each effort. Now calculate the cost per applicant and per hire. Which efforts are most efficient? Consider cutting back (or canceling) the most inefficient. Invest in the most efficient. Do this with all of your recruiting efforts.

When new ideas are implemented, developing ways to track their success is essential. This could be as simple as asking a candidate, “How did you hear about us?” or using a certain phone number or email address on an advertisement to document how many people were referred. This is how corporations look at their “return on investment” (ROI) and public safety agencies should do the same.

Tracking police recruitment successes and failures

The Topeka Police Department spent $18,634 on a recruiting and hiring commercial. The cost included professional video production, advertisement during primetime slots through March Madness and movie theater ads throughout the region. What was the return on investment? Zero. How do we know? We polled every applicant after the commercial was launched. Not one reported seeing the advertisement, let alone it being the reason they applied.

The department later put recruiting window wraps on the back windshield and rear cargo glass of five patrol cars. The five wraps cost a total of $1,642. What was the ROI after one year? Twelve phone calls and eight applications, for a total cost of $137 per call and $206 per applicant.


Inexpensive vehicle wraps delivered new recruits for the Topeka Police Department.

Photo/Matt Cobb

How does this compare to the ROI of your efforts? Which agencies would write a $5,000 check to add 24 applicants to the next hiring process? Following the results-driven recruiting philosophy, the Topeka Police Department may never again advertise on television but will add more patrol car window wraps.

Changing recruitment culture

Following this model isn’t easy; think about career fairs. If you get 30 cops in a room and ask who got hired from a career fair, you may see one or two hands go up. But ask who applied after meeting a police officer and doing a ride-along and, in my experience, as many as 50% of the hands in the room are raised.

Despite this, we continue to spend up to $300 and several man-hours staffing career fair booths. I understand some recruiters have talked career fair attendees into applying, but that’s not the norm. In fact, most of us know we don’t hire anyone at career fairs, but we keep going. I’ve heard the argument that career fairs have actually become more of a community engagement function. That’s fine, as long as you realize you aren’t hiring and the opportunity cost is acceptable. What else could you have accomplished with that money and staff time?

(Note: I will explain how to hire at career fairs in a later article as it’s not what you think.)

We must have the courage to cancel initiatives that aren’t working even if they’re ingrained in our culture and invest in more successful initiatives, even if we don’t like them or didn’t think they would work. It’s 2020 ‒ let’s start using basic data to our advantage to seek out the next generation of police officers.

NEXT: How to develop and deliver an effective recruiting and hiring presentation

Sergeant Matt Cobb has served with the Topeka Police Department for 15 years. He currently administers the Topeka Police Academy. Sergeant Cobb is a Marine Corps and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran. He holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from Baker University, maintains numerous law enforcement instructor certifications and owns three businesses.