August 18, 2021 | View as webpage | Too many emails? Update Subscription Preferences

Where does your agency’s staffing level currently sit? That is the question we asked Police1 readers this month and the response indicates a dire situation. Of the nearly 1,000 folks who answered the poll, 60% said their agency is short-staffed and 26% said the shortage is at crisis levels.  

On Monday, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced a $75 million program to reduce violence by using American Rescue Plan funding to hire more cops, but that assumes candidates can be found. In Kentucky, officials are increasing pay, providing financial incentives for certain shifts and offering more promotions to lure new recruits, but "people are just not coming into this field, and we have to find a way to overcome it," retired police chief Shawn Butler told state lawmakers.  

While the current vilification of law enforcement nationwide plays a role in the police recruitment crisis, law enforcement leaders face other challenges. In today’s newsletter, Chief Michael Gancasz looks at how job-hopping is impacting hiring and Captain Rex Scism reviews the effects of extended shifts on LEOs.  

How is your agency addressing staffing levels? Police1 would like to learn about your success stories and challenges. Email editor@police1.com

Stay safe, 
— Nancy Perry 
Editor-in-Chief, Police1


Could workforce sharing help solve the police recruitment crisis?
By Michael Gancasz 

Private and public sector organizations in the United States currently face significant challenges as they struggle to find quality employees to fill vacancies.

Private industry strives to be competitive in attracting candidates by offering liberal work schedules and other benefits that include remote work, flexible schedules, gym memberships, paid cell phones, secure cloud storage space, fertility/adoption assistance, dry cleaning, healthy meals, vehicle cleaning, pet insurance and childcare.

Facebook, Apple and Google paved the way for fertility benefits a couple of years ago to entice more women to work for them. This is on top of generous salaries and hiring bonuses synonymous with today's tech industry. Even McDonald's is offering childcare as a job benefit.

Some police agencies provide hiring bonuses; however, those bonuses are risky absent written contracts or agreements. They can also be subject to litigation and regional labor laws.

Since organizations outside of policing rarely offer a lucrative defined benefits pension, the lower-level annuities policing can offer may no longer be a draw for those choosing a career. For example, in the tech industry, outside of 401(k) plans and stock options, none offer guaranteed retirement programs. Despite that (and a growing lack of confidence in Social Security's viability), they have little problem attracting applicants who fit the skills they are seeking. So, what could be a driving motivator for the youngest generation of employees to choose policing as a career?  

The impact of job-hopping

Job-hopping – defined as when an employee who jumps, or "hops" from job to job and has short stints with several employers – has emerged as a significant challenge for any organization. Companies end up spending more money to recruit new employees because job-hoppers "play the field," so to speak. Additionally, remaining employees must increase their workload, resulting in reduced productivity. Online recruiters actively promote the advantages of job-hopping to include higher salaries, career advancement, location change and a better work environment. Could policing offer some of these benefits?

Police agencies willing to explore programs like this can be more attractive to recruits interested in movement, opportunity and an accommodating work-life balance. For instance, recruiting methods and employment models are being used in the medical field that takes advantage of these desired benefits. Although this is a different field, it serves the same purpose.

Workforce sharing solutions

Workforce sharing programs are a viable option to reduce short-stint job hoppers and ease the number of vacancies.

Instead of agencies competing against one another for qualified talent, departments could partner to offer exchange programs. Qualified officers could transfer between agencies for set amounts of time (2-5 years). Creatively drafted contracts among agencies will iron out most of the small details. Workforce sharing is not new to law enforcement. Specialized task force teams comprised of officers from various agencies have proven successful and can be a model to build from.

It can also be a cost-effective way to maintain staffing levels and demonstrate investment in the employee (i.e., build leaders rather than cogs in the wheel) by exposing them to new methods, experiences, and environments. Coupled with creative incentives geared toward what this generation is attracted to could be a viable solution for recruiting and retaining talent in the next decade. 

Establishing alliance programs

What would a multijurisdictional alliance program look like?

One possibility is an approach that would allow officers eligible to participate in the program to bid for transfer to participating agencies for a pre-determined length of time. In exchange, the receiving agency would transfer one of their eligible officers.

Executives could accept transfers based on departmental or community needs, employee wellness, productivity and return on investment. For example, an agency could pre-determine their desired attributes for an exchange officer to supplement their community or departmental needs, i.e., "Agency A needs an experienced traffic officer," or "Agency B is looking for an officer with community outreach experience." Programs like this can add value to all the entities involved, especially the employees.

Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) or interagency contracts would set the ground rules for what conditions must be met to participate. This would not be dissimilar to a foreign exchange student program – wherever the person/employee is, they are subject to all the rules, policies, laws and regulations set forth by that country/agency. 

No-hire clauses would need to be hammered out as well. For example, agencies would agree not to hire (headhunt) one another's employees unless specific parameters existed, i.e., minimum time of separation, mutually agreed upon the circumstance, etc. 

In the medical field, traveling nurses and registry employees are hired to meet staffing and workload requirements in various venues, including emergency rooms, occupational therapy and skilled nursing facilities. Many workers choose this model of employment rather than a permanent location for a variety of reasons, including tax incentives, higher wages, expansive.

One of the essential benefits of agency alliances is the decrease in turnover costs associated with backfilling vacancies for extended periods. A pool of qualified, vetted officers could be available for transfer if needed. Workforce-sharing alliances can serve the interest of organizations, employees and the communities they serve. 

Planning for tomorrow

While police departments cannot compete with the salaries offered by the tech industry, incentives like family gym memberships, cellular plans and ride-sharing credits are inexpensive and within reach for most organizations.

While the debate rages on about government-funded college tuition and canceling college debt altogether, organizations could explore allocating funds set aside for their tuition reimbursement programs put in place in the early 2000s to pay for these and other creative benefit programs for the next generation.

As leaders in our organizations, it is up to us to get out there, engage our staff, work with our allied agencies and offer creative alternatives to bargaining units to ensure policing remains a good career option for future generations. Business managers are preparing their companies for what their industry will be, not what it is today. Law enforcement should take a cue from those models and apply them. Gathering data and forecasting what we think will happen will enable us to adjust our course now. 

NEXT: What young cops want (and what police leaders can do about it)

To extend or not to extend: Factoring in the effects of extended shifts on law enforcement
By Rex M. Scism  

For many years, 8-hour shifts were virtually universal in public safety – they divide evenly into 24-hours, accommodating the 24/7 nature of policing, and have been the standard across most professions.

In recent decades, many law enforcement agencies have modified their shift schedules, incorporating – or completely moving to – 10-and-12-hour shifts. Officers often prefer these longer shifts due to the increased time off-duty and greater flexibility they offer. But what are the effects of extended shifts on the agency and on individual officers’ physical and mental health?

Since the introduction of extended shifts into policing, the question has remained: Which shift structure is best? What provides the best coverage for the community and the best work-life balance for officers?

While the answers to these questions are not exactly cut-and-dry, it’s important for each agency to weigh the pros and cons of different shift schedules to do what they can to ensure success – for officers, the agency and, ultimately, the community.

Why (not) extended shifts?

Law enforcement professionals will have their own opinions when it comes to shift length – but it’s important for agency leaders to look at what the data reveals about 8-hour, 10-hour and 12-hour shifts. Studies over the past several decades have revealed the good, the bad and the differences when it comes to shift lengths.

Various studies have revealed trends in sleep quantity and quality related to shift length, indicating 10-hour shifts provide on average four additional hours of sleep when compared to 8-hour shifts – and that the sleep was of subjectively higher quality. The improvement in sleep for those operating in 10-hour shifts also led to a higher quality of work life. Conversely, those working 12-hour shifts experienced greater sleepiness and diminished alertness, while 8-hour shifts led to more overtime than either extended shift option.

Extended shifts do offer some clear benefits, including greater versatility due to the longer stretches of time individuals/teams are working continuously. Some research has also indicated that extended shifts can lead to reduced costs for officers and agencies, as well as reduced call response time. Finally, if agencies choose to operate under 10-hour shifts, they can overlap officers’ schedules accordingly to offer increased coverage during peak demand periods.

On the flip side, studies have revealed that extended shifts have the potential to reduce unity of command, leading to a breakdown in communication between, and even within, shifts. One of the biggest concerns with the debate on extended shifts is the risk of fatigue. The number of hours per shift and the risk of injury has a direct relationship: As the shift length increases, so does the potential for on-the-job injury.

Deciding for your agency

One important note when deciding on whether to move your agency to (or from) extended shifts: Shift length can dramatically impact employee morale – for better or worse. Officers tend to favor longer shifts because of the greater number of consecutive days off they receive, providing more time for rest, leisure or secondary employment opportunities. While this is surely a critical consideration, it’s important not to implement extended shifts to the detriment of either the agency or the employees’ wellbeing.

While no one solution is perfect for every agency, there is a scenario for your department that finds the appropriate balance between rest cycles, work-life balance, employee morale and operational coverage.

NEXT: Why shift schedule awareness is critical to police wellness

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