March 21, 2019 | View as webpage



In a recent Police1 poll, 50 percent of readers rated officer recruitment as the most challenging issue facing law enforcement in 2019. As headlines show, agencies of all sizes across the country are struggling to recruit police officers. With a hot job market that shows no signs of slowing down and an ever-shrinking hiring pool to select from, police recruiters must be both proactive and creative in order to hire the next generation of cops.

What approach to recruiting new officers, as well as retaining veteran cops, has been successful for your agency? Email me at

Nancy Perry
Editor-in-Chief, Police1


In this issue:

By Chief Joel Shults

Good news for law enforcement agencies straining to keep up with hiring – you are not alone. Labor shortages in the U.S. plague all sectors of the economy. Nursing, teaching, information technology and a multitude of other fields are experiencing vacancies in the workforce.

Does police recruiting differ from other career fields searching for candidates? Obviously, one difference is that most potential jobs don’t include the risk of being attacked, prosecuted, or facing trauma on a daily basis. Law enforcement agencies want recruits that understand and are willing to undertake those challenges. The question is where do recruiters find those people? The answer may be from places we haven’t looked.

Those with minor criminal histories

Administrators should remember Miami, Florida, as a warning against drastically relaxed hiring and training standards. Relaxed screening mechanisms for police applicants under consent decrees and affirmative action policies in the early 1980s resulted in nearly 10 percent of the Miami Police Department being suspended or fired after drug-related scandals.

However, time between convictions for relatively minor offenses and the prospect’s application might be reduced if balanced by careful background investigations and articulable evidence of improvement in maturity and judgment.

Underrepresented populations

Law enforcement has been a leader in hiring minority candidates. Due to the visibility of police officers, a constant turnover, and sometimes because of court-ordered hiring, women and racial minorities fared better in police employment than in many other occupations. Face-to-face recruiting can focus on underrepresented populations. This might include those who have disabilities such as Erica Trevino, the first deaf officer in Texas, and LAPD officer Nick Wiltz who returned to patrol after losing a leg that was replaced with a prosthetic. And out of shape candidates might be offered an opportunity contingent on completing a department-sponsored fitness program.

High school

In Eolia, Missouri, the Pike-Lincoln Technical School offers a law enforcement program for high schoolers. After graduation, students can join the military, work in dispatch or corrections or other non-sworn positions until they turn 21. Getting young people “hooked” on public service can provide them with skills and perspectives that make them great potential hires. Explorer programs and internships can be a rich source of tested talent and an early screening tool.

Pre-service training academies

Many states, including Colorado and Missouri, have a pre-service, self-enrollment peace officer certification process. Arapahoe Community College Law Enforcement Academy Director David Bruce reports that the political climate against law enforcement has affected enrollment with some significant loss of candidates. John Worden of the Law Enforcement Training Institute (LETI) at the University of Missouri Extension echoes that sentiment. More than half of LETI’s fall 2014 candidates withdrew their acceptance after the unrest in Ferguson, which is located two hours away.

Worden has also noticed a significant increase in police agencies paying for new hires to attend the academy compared to six years ago when he left the Columbia (Missouri) Police Department to run LETI. As a sergeant, Worden served as Columbia PD’s training and recruiting officer for eight years. At the start of his career, Worden would often see 400 applicants for two job openings. Near the end of his tenure, that had dropped to 62 applicants over three hiring cycles. Departments with recruiting and retention challenges can offer paid training in exchange for a contractual obligation to serve for a period of time.

Para professionals

Nursing and teacher shortages have been addressed, in part, by adding cheaper labor to do tasks that do not require extensive training. Telephone report takers, civilian community service officers, volunteers and reserves may free fully trained officers to respond to more urgent calls or those requiring technical expertise.

Non-career track candidates

The idea that an employee will choose a place where they can work for 20 years is not part of the current generation view of work. Recognizing that an agency may get only three to five years out of a hire might bring expectations into alignment with today’s reality. Increasing incentives at the five-year mark, for example, might encourage longevity. The shift bidding system that leaves a new hire on midnight shift for 10 years might need to be reviewed for its effect on retention. Hiring older workers who are still fit and have some years of productivity ahead might provide excellent staffing for a five-year period.


The pool of traditional young recruits will be increasing based on the number of children in the population over the next decade, while the last of the Clinton-era police officers hired under the Community Policing program will be retiring. Fishing in the same pool of job candidates as every other industry simply won’t fill the need. As Worden notes, “If you can’t find people willing to work 9-5, Monday through Friday, how are you going to find somebody to work 11-7 in the morning, weekends, and holidays with all the dangers involved in law enforcement?”

The answer to that question isn’t just to try harder. Recruiters must try smarter.

A recruitment toolbox for law enforcement leaders:

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Uniforms and armored vehicles aside, U.S. law enforcement has much it can learn from military-level training and tactics that could transform operations from a leadership, organizational, and officer safety standpoint. This series looks at what lessons law enforcement should take from the military experience.
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By Nicole Cain

Many law enforcement leaders recognize recruitment and retention as persistent issues within their organizations. Proactive recruiting is necessary in the current policing environment. Law enforcement leaders and their staff charged with recruiting and hiring new police officers must transform recruitment strategies to identify overlooked pools of candidates including high school students, minority populations and women.

Proactive recruiting methods in schools

Recruiters should partner with school resource officers to identify students who possess the qualities of their agency’s “ideal candidate.” Interested students can participate in internship programs, ride-a-longs, police camps, law enforcement explorer programs and other activities designed to build trust and confidence in the policing profession.

Agencies can also partner with school boards to implement and support specialized public safety academies in local high schools. It is paramount to develop innovative recruiting efforts that target high school students because this is when they are beginning to decide their career paths.

Recruiters should also develop working relationships with school administrators and teachers because they have insights into their students. Teachers can influence students’ perception of the police with their words and actions, and by including police officers in school activities and classroom events. For example, teachers can give police officers opportunities to speak directly to students, the workforce of the next decade.

Recruiters should also employ their efforts in trade schools, junior colleges and four-year colleges by developing relationships with criminal justice program directors and counselors who can assist in identifying potential police candidates. Being present on local college campuses, including at college events and fundraisers, provides recruiters with opportunities to meet students and foster trusting relationships.

The importance of a diverse police force

Ideally, a police agency's demographics should mirror those of the jurisdiction it serves. Analyst Mike Maciag notes in a 2015 article for Governing that minorities were underrepresented in most police organizations serving communities with a population of 100,000 or more.

Police leaders and their recruiters must develop an “outside the box” approach to recruiting minorities and not rely on traditional methods like career fairs and job announcements. Instead, recruiters should develop targeted marketing campaigns designed to appeal to minorities, go to locations in minority communities, like schools and church groups, as well as community events such as those held by fraternal and professional organizations, and social advocacy groups. It is paramount to develop working relationships with minority organizations, and to enable leaders in minority communities to assist in the recruiting effort.

The recruiting staff should be selected carefully and exemplify the diversity the agency wants to see in its potential recruits and develop them as recruiters.

Recruiting more women in policing

According to the FBI, in 2017 only 12.5 percent of full-time police officers in the United States were female. Law enforcement leaders must develop strategies to attract women to the profession. Some recruiting strategies include:

  • Developing internships and promoting ride-a-longs that introduce and orient women to the culture of policing;
  • Creating mentorship programs that provide women with the opportunities to better understand policing and to create connections with existing law enforcement;
  • Ensuring there are positive female role models within the department, as well as the Recruitment and Hiring Unit to encourage and mentor new female officers;
  • Offering longer maternity leave, developing a defined pregnancy procedure and providing assistance with childcare to foster a family-friendly environment.

Law enforcement leaders can no longer wait for applicants; they must identify their staffing needs and develop a strategy to attract high school students, women and minorities to the profession.

About the author

Nicole Cain is an assistant professor with American Military University and has more than 19 years of law enforcement experience serving in a variety of capacities to include patrol operations, uniform crime scene, community-oriented policing (COP) and criminal investigation.

Steps to increasing diversity in law enforcement:

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3 and out...

3. How to fund retention: Securing grants to enhance your officer retention strategies may be one of the best ways to fund your efforts.

2. The YouTube generation: Police recruitment videos come in all shapes and sizes, from the inspirational to the hilarious, and are an effective way to showcase your department. Check out these recent productions from Mesa PD, Watsonville PD and Bowling Green PD.

1. Recruiting the model police officer: A new report from ICMA offers insight into how police departments can modernize their recruiting processes and better engage community members in pursuing shared goals.

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