Reader poll: What factors are most important for police officer job satisfaction?

We asked Police1 readers to select the reasons why they would join, stay with or leave a department


Selecting an employer is one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make in your law enforcement career. The decision to leave an employer, especially before reaching retirement, might be just as difficult.

Chief Joel Shults, Ed.D., listed eight reasons police officers might leave their department either for a new law enforcement employer, stay with their employer, retire or pursue a career outside of law enforcement.

Shults explained each of these reasons:

  • Housing costs within or near the department’s jurisdiction
  • A financially stable defined benefit plan
  • Department leadership takes officer safety seriously
  • Ethical words and actions from department leaders
  • Officers are able to do their jobs without constant micromanagement
  • Opportunity for promotion to different assignments
  • Healthy department culture that persists through a leadership change
  • Department’s jurisdiction offers a high quality of life for my family

More than 1,300 Police1 readers ranked those factors from most important (1) to least important (8) in a one-question survey.

As expected, each factor was selected as most important (1) and least important (8) as well as every spot in between. Defined Benefit Plan (23%) was selected as most important by nearly a quarter of respondents. Promotion opportunity received the least selections as the most important factor.

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Quality of Life (34%) and Housing Costs (25%) received almost half of the least important (8) selection by respondents. The answers were qualified as the quality of life in the “department’s jurisdiction” and housing costs “within or near the department’s jurisdiction,” which might be a reflection of respondents not being required to live within or unable to afford to live in the jurisdiction where they serve.

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To better understand the responses, the factors ranked as either first, second or third were added together. Sums for fourth and fifth, as well as the sixth, seventh and eighth were also added together. Officer Safety was selected as the first, second or third most important factor by 20% of respondents, closely followed by a defined benefit plan (19%) giving a bit of a different picture of the most important and least important factors police officers are likely to consider when making a decision to join or leave a police department.

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This is the ranking of factors by the frequency with which they were selected as first, second or third most important.

  1. Department leadership takes officer safety seriously
  2. A financially stable defined benefit plan
  3. Ethical words and actions from department leaders
  4. Officers are able to do their jobs without constant micromanagement
  5. Housing costs within or near the department’s jurisdiction
  6. Healthy department culture that persists through a leadership change
  7. Department’s jurisdiction offers a high quality of life for my family
  8. Opportunity for promotion to different assignments

The factors most frequently selected as low importance were quality of life, promotion opportunity, healthy culture and housing cost.

Key takeaways

Police1 readers answered a single poll question related to career satisfaction. The takeaways we can draw from the results of this single question are limited by the large amount we don’t know about who answered the question, such as their age, years of service and location, the motivations of respondents and other factors like current pay, access to a defined benefit retirement plan, and how each individual defines terms like “safety” or “ethical.”

Keep those limitations in mind as you review the results, react to my key takeaways or form your own conclusions.

1. Is the question even valid?

In survey research, validity is the degree to which a question assesses what it claims to measure or assess. I am not sure respondents answered the question we thought we were asking by ranking from one to eight. As I look at the results, I am concerned that some respondents used the highest number (8) as the most important. Scroll back to the results and look at the list again, but with a mindset that a low percentage of respondents is actually most important. Promotion opportunity, healthy culture and quality life are the top factors with that lens.

The list of choices was based on the article by Shults. Though Shults’ list seems reasonable it might have unintentionally missed important factors to police officers.

2. How do the rankings match your recruiting messages?

Defined benefit plan, the most frequently selected most important factor, is potentially a reflection of the age and years of services of poll respondents. But since we didn’t ask those questions we don’t know if there is a correlation or simply an interesting finding.

If I were charged with police officer recruitment I’d want to ensure recruitment messages and efforts communicated to new officers or lateral transfers the menu of benefits and the intentionality of the department’s leadership, culture, equipment and community support to make officer safety a top priority. Police1, in poll questions like this and others, as well as reader engagement with articles, podcasts and videos consistently see officer safety as a top interest of readers. Put that knowledge to work in training design, recruitment and officer development.

3. Who is responsible for officer safety?

Officer safety was the most frequent selection as the first, second, or third most important factor. Responsibility for officer safety is shared by:

  • Individual officers: No one is going to care more about your safety than you. If you are casual or cavalier about your safety, don’t expect your partners, department or community to take up the slack.
  • Department leaders: Set the tone, follow the lead of your personnel and ensure they have the tools, training and policies to minimize risk and maximize safety.
  • Community leaders: Though it might not always feel like they have your back, they have a fiscal, statutory and ethical responsibility to officer safety. But they also want to know what police need to improve safety, what impact those needs will have on their constituents and an opportunity to collaborate in purchasing and policy decisions.

4. Does the quality of life not matter?

Quality of life as the factor that was most frequently selected as sixth, seventh or eighth was the most surprising result to me. It is possible that most respondents are happy with where they live, have a diversity of neighborhoods or towns within their jurisdiction and the cost of living is well-aligned with police officer pay. Thus, selecting other factors as more important.

It is also surprising because a lot of police officer recruitment efforts emphasize the quality of life, whether it is a quiet rural area or a bustling urban area, videos, social network messages and other marketing materials trumpet the off-duty opportunities for recreation and raising a family. Those attributes may not matter to the respondents to this poll question.

We want to know what you think. How will you use this information for recruitment and retention efforts? Respond in the comments or send an email to editor@policeone.com.

NEXT: 7 reasons I'm still a police officer

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