5 steps to combatting resignations and improving retention

Agencies must implement initiatives to ensure LEOs remain dedicated to the communities that need them more than ever


This article originally appeared in the August 2020 PoliceOne Leadership Briefing. To read the full briefing, visit Combatting resignations | Revolutionizing recruitment | Evidence-based reform, and add the Leadership Briefing to your subscriptions.

By Dr. Barry Denton

The current anti-police sentiment and increase in physical and social violence against LEOs has many retiring or resigning to protect themselves and their families. It is critical police leaders implement initiatives to protect officers and ensure law enforcement professionals remain dedicated to the communities that need them more than ever.

Although LEOs are retiring and resigning from major cities such as New York City, San Francisco and Minneapolis, that are hot spots for violent protests, looting and rioting, it doesn’t mean those cops are leaving the occupation altogether. Many officers are relocating to smaller agencies located outside of major cities. Agencies with fewer sworn personnel and smaller communities to patrol are benefiting from the training and experience brought by those leaving larger departments. Unfortunately, this mass exodus by officers may directly impact the citizens who reside in these major cities. So, what can a law enforcement agency do to reduce the resignations and retirements plaguing their departments?

When people are not provided the opportunity to grow in their chosen occupation, they will either change jobs or find another agency that will satisfy their personal needs.
When people are not provided the opportunity to grow in their chosen occupation, they will either change jobs or find another agency that will satisfy their personal needs. (Photo/Police1)

1. Mental health days

To help sworn and civilian personnel with the stress that comes with the job, and in the hope of decreasing burnout, agencies should incorporate mental health days.

Wellness coach Elizabeth Scott says that everyone has to deal with varying levels of stress and therefore to manage depression or anxiety, a mental health day should be used to help reset an individual's mental psyche. 

Unfortunately, with large numbers of retirements and resignations, it is increasingly difficult for departments to allow officers and deputies regular days off, let alone mental health days. Therefore, PDs should consider other options such as varying times that personnel report for duty, allowing them to leave early when at all possible or reducing the number of hours they are required to work.

2. Salary

The average income of a police officer within the United States is $38,950 in North Carolina to $53,108 in New York. Taking into consideration the cost of living, these salaries are low in comparison to the danger, social ridicule, harassment and daily stress facing LEOs.

Department administrators should not only provide a decent annual wage, but also incentives for those officers who have college degrees, work differentials for those who patrol the overnight shift and annual merit increases.

Furthermore, agencies that hold union contracts with such entities as the Fraternal Order of Police should honor those contracts and not allow officers to work months, or even years, without a salary increase. This not only impacts the financial livelihood of sworn personnel but decreases morale.

3. Recognition and career development

The ability to grow in one’s job impacts feelings of self-worth and personal value. Law enforcement agencies must provide personnel with the ability to advance in their career, either through promotion or horizontal movement within the organization.

When people are not provided the opportunity to grow in their chosen occupation, they will either change jobs or find another agency that will satisfy their personal needs.

Departments should also provide personnel with the ability to receive personal development training. Training not only increases morale, but also adds to the services and expertise officers provide to the community.

Typically, when agency budgets are tight, the first thing administrators cut or eliminate are training funds. When this happens, departmental leaders must seek funds elsewhere or work to offer training that doesn’t cost the agency money.

Recognition is also important. Personnel should receive honors and praise not only when they go above and beyond the call of duty, but also when they work to make a difference. Leaders often fail to provide kudos and atta-boy letters because they are just too lazy to do it or view the actions as simply part of the person’s job. Praise and admiration not only increase morale, but enhance a culture of dedication and service.

4. Leadership support

The biggest issue officers complain about is lack of support from their own leadership. Administrators are in a difficult position because they progress up the ranks to authoritative levels and through this progression, gain friends and establish bonds with those with whom they serve. Once they become a mid-level or executive leader in the agency, they begin to make decisions that are not always popular with rank-and-file personnel. In some cases, rank-and-file personnel accuse the leadership of “forgetting where they came from” or make statements such as “the power has gone to their head” and an us versus leadership barrier begins to form.

To lessen this us versus leadership barrier, department leaders should consider the impact of their actions on their personnel first before making any major decisions. They should view officers as people and not just employees. Leadership should also give every consideration they can to sworn officers as it relates to the stressors that come with the job and not expect them to function like robots, knowing that they have an emotional breaking point like any human.

5. Community support

Those who wear a badge and risk their lives daily deserve to be supported by the citizens they protect. With the rise of social media, keyboard assassins are quick to target any action that appears to be questionable, thrusting a video or photograph online for everyone to judge. Although in some instances the illegal and inappropriate actions of an officer require scrutiny, not every encounter with law enforcement deserves to be in the spotlight. A BJS study published in 2013 showed that 86% of people who were stopped in their vehicle by law enforcement stated the officer acted properly and was respectful during the interaction. Transparency is important, but also having a mutual trust between the agency and the citizens is key to agency and officer success.

To combat the negative stigma that continues to grow through social media, law enforcement administrators must engage in positive campaigns that will boost the morale of sworn personnel and allow the community to see the human side of those who protect them.

Supporting those who keep us safe should be the goal of everyone, but especially those in leadership positions within our government and within the very departments these brave souls work. Police leaders must work tirelessly to support their officers, especially during this time of chaos, before we lose the very community servants who keep us safe.

NEXT: 5 reasons why morale is bad at your agency


About the author
Dr. Barry Denton has been in law enforcement for over 29 years. He currently serves as a lieutenant with the Spencer County Sheriff’s Office in Taylorsville, Kentucky. He is the author of “Crime and Justice: Past and Present” and “Case Studies in Terrorism” and a professor for the American Military University where he teaches courses related to terrorism, criminal justice and emergency management.

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