The short staffing faced by many police agencies today has shifted the labor market in two big ways. One, those seeking jobs have more options than ever before. Two, departments and jurisdictions must court them. Cities and their PDs have to sell themselves to potential applicants as much as the other way around.
With that in mind, municipal leaders in Lincoln, Nebraska would like you to know a few things about their city.
- It’s the fifth-safest U.S. capital per a 2023 review by WalletHub.
- Sightseers’ Delight ranks it the third-safest American city for pedestrians.
- Citing its low unemployment, rent and cost of living, SmartAsset placed Lincoln in its top 10 cities for young professionals.
- Forbes this year found it the seventh-best city for renters.
- Consumer Affairs named it the best place to retire in the country.
- And WalletHub found it the sixth-best-run city in America.
“We’re very proud of these rankings because they reflect the hard work of so many people on our team,” said Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird. “I think we’re a city on the rise.”
With that rise, the Lincoln Police Department is looking to add some quality officers.
‘A LARGE CITY THAT FEELS LIKE A SMALL TOWN’
If the city-rankers outside Lincoln seem enthusiastic about Nebraska’s capital, the people who live there say they have good reason.
“Lincoln is fantastic,” said Michon Morrow, who’s been with the Lincoln PD since 1995 and became its interim chief this summer. “We’ve become very much an event-driven city, which makes it fun and engaging for young officers and new families. Just in the last few days [in August], we had our air show; we had Gravel Worlds, an internationally known dirt bike race; and concerts at both the local arena and the University of Nebraska’s stadium.” Hours earlier that stadium hosted the largest live crowd ever to see a women’s sporting event when more than 92,000 attendees turned out for a Cornhusker volleyball match.
Morrow has spent nearly her entire life in Lincoln and raised her family there. Baird was from Oregon but married a Nebraskan, and when considering the prospect of children, they found Lincoln appealing.
“We thought it would be the best place for us to raise a family,” she said. “We could be close to family, and we could be in a community that was very safe, had great public schools and didn’t have lengthy commute times. We knew we would have more time for our family and a quality of life that aligned with our values. It’s a large city that feels like a small town.”
That’s a pitch Lincoln PD’s recruiting coordinator, Nate Grimm, has used too. But however small Lincoln might feel, he notes, it offers some big-time opportunities for officers to develop their careers.
“We police very differently than most departments our size,” Grimm explained. “All our cops here are generalist police officers, so we’re all responsible for doing everything. Ninety percent of the time, whoever shows up when you call 911 is who you’ll be dealing with all the way through the case.
“Our street cops are working burglaries, weapons violations, serious assaults – all kinds of stuff like that. They’re responsible for collecting evidence, developing witnesses, interviewing people, ultimately developing a suspect, and writing the ticket and taking somebody to jail, if that’s what needs to happen. The big stuff still goes to full time investigators just because of the time commitment. But if that street cop who was initially assigned the case wants to continue working on it, they can do that. They can work side-by-side with the assigned investigator who gets that follow-up.
“It definitely makes it a more challenging place to police than some other agencies, just because we’re expected to do that workload,” Grimm added, “but it also is an opportunity for us as street cops to become more well-rounded officers. And it gives us the opportunity to start developing those skills from day one. If you come to Lincoln, you get to do detective stuff as soon as you step out of the academy and into a squad car.”
That academy, it’s worth noting, is housed within the department and conducted during business hours. Recruits can learn during the day and still spend their nights at home. “It’s not a boot camp,” noted Katie Flood, a longtime officer who now manages the department’s information services. “You can spend time with your loved ones on the evenings and weekends.”
This approach to preparing and fielding new officers reflects the department’s emphasis on community-based policing and helps those officers maximize their time spent working with citizens, developing familiarity and relationships. In turn, that contributes to an exceptionally high case-clearance rate.
There’s also a defined career ladder: With the 2022 addition of a lieutenant position, the department now has five promotional ranks. Officers can try for the first, sergeant, after three years.
As well, Lincoln police can pursue specialized collateral duties along with their primary work. Grimm, for instance, is a certified drug-recognition expert, firearms instructor and part of the department’s honor guard. Other available positions include criminal investigations, special victims, gang, narcotics, technical, education and personnel, K-9, school resource officers and traffic. The department supports officers’ development with in-service training, opportunities for outside training and incentives for higher education.
“It’s a department that provides opportunities for officers to grow and do different things,” said Jeff Sorensen, president of the Lincoln Police Union. “We have countless different specialty assignments, from training to personnel to traffic, that give our officers great opportunities to grow in their careers and do the things they’ve envisioned doing. And the possibility of growing and promoting through the rank structure is also very achievable for everybody.”
“Whatever your interest, as long as you’re doing something to contribute to public safety in the city of Lincoln, we’ll allow you to pursue that,” added Grimm. “If you want to go track down warrants and put people in jail who are supposed to be in jail, you can do that. If you want to write a bunch of speeding tickets because you know excessive speed increases the likelihood of a crash being fatal, go do that. If you want to build community relationships and go play basketball with the kids at the park, fantastic – have at it. We need people to do all those things, and as long as you’re keeping up on your caseload and doing the things you need to be doing, we’ll let you do any number of other things with your unoccupied time.”
BENEFITS INCLUDE GOOD PAY, TIME OFF
Beyond that broad and rewarding framework for professional experience, both the city of Lincoln and the state of Nebraska offer additional inducements for officers to sign on.
Key city benefits start with six weeks of paid parental leave. That extends to both parents and adoption/fostering as well as giving birth. Combining that with FMLA time could amount to 12 weeks at home with a new baby, Morrow notes. “We’re bringing a lot of younger people into this profession who may want to start families one day, and it’s nice to know you’re able to take that time,” said Grimm.
With raises already scheduled for 2024 and 2025, Lincoln’s police department has recently been the highest paid in the state. Other departments are bolstering salaries too, so the distinction may fluctuate, but Lincoln officers are well compensated for their high level of performance. Health, dental and vision benefits are generous, and the department is one of three in the state that retains a pension. Its employee pay-in is the lowest of the three.
And then there’s free college. An important benefit from the state level lets commissioned police and other emergency responders have tuition waived at the University of Nebraska, other state colleges and community colleges. This applies to their dependents too. “I see that kind of like a hiring bonus,” said Morrow. “If you have two or three kids who go to the University of Nebraska – which is a phenomenal institution – it’s easily worth $120,000.”
There’s also overtime pay and rewards for attributes like experience, education, foreign-language proficiency and length of service. For the complete range of benefits, see the department’s recruiting website.
WHAT QUALITIES DO YOU NEED?
- Being a team player
- Effective intelligence
- Emotional strength
“The biggest thing we’re concerned with is character – we can teach you skills,” said Grimm. “Integrity is first and foremost. You have to be able to tell the truth and do the right thing even when nobody’s looking.
“We need people who will be team players, but also with the drive to continuously try to improve themselves. We want people who are humble and know where their strengths are but also have room to grow. It’s all those things and more, but honestly just being a decent human being is a big one.”
One specific goal of current hiring efforts is improving diversity: Leaders want a department that more closely resembles the community it serves. And that’s just not in terms of EEOC checkboxes; Lincoln PD wants officers with a range of backgrounds, experiences and life perspectives informing their work.
“Diversity comes in a lot of different shapes and forms and sizes,” noted Morrow. “It can be diversity of thought, diversity of experience, diversity of cultural and ethnic backgrounds – all that will help our department evolve into the future and continue to be successful in serving our community.”
Toward that end the city joined the national 30x30 initiative to improve the numbers of women in policing.
In return officers who come to Lincoln will find an environment of staunch support at the state level, from city leaders and from citizens on the street.
“We have an outstanding community that is overwhelmingly supportive of us,” said Sorensen. “You see it in a lot of little ways – the smiles and nods from people you don’t know, the ‘thank you for your service’ types of comments. It lets people know there are community members out there thinking about us as we navigate the waters. The union runs a number of charity events throughout the year – ‘trunk or treat’ at Halloween, ‘shop with a cop’ and ‘Santa cop’ toy drives at Christmas – and they give us great support for those.”
Applications can be submitted anytime; for the department’s January 2024 academy, they must be received and processed by mid-November. Applications received after that will be considered for the July 2024 class. A lateral academy is planned for March if needed.