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Planning today for tomorrow’s future: Why your agency should be engaging in youth talent development programs

A new partnership makes cultivating future candidates even easier

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The process of fostering younger talent for future open positions doesn’t have to be complicated.

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When staffing shortages specifically affect your agency, it’s easy to see firsthand that the law enforcement industry is truly experiencing a hiring crisis. For those who haven’t personally dealt with the effects of diminishing officers, the data revealing nationwide trends can be downright alarming.

According to the Police Executive Research Forum’s annual staffing survey, the total number of sworn officers among the 184 surveyed agencies has dropped by over 4,000 individuals from 2020 to 2023. Total sworn resignations grew by 47% from 2019 to 2022, and just under 600 more officers retired in 2022 than in 2019.

A report published by the International Association of Chiefs of Police further highlights how both staffing and recruiting challenges are negatively impacting law enforcement. Their 2019 membership survey revealed that 25% of agencies have reduced or completely eliminated certain services, units or positions due to short staffing. Roughly 75% said recruiting is more difficult than it was five years ago, and 78% of agencies claim they have a difficult time recruiting qualified candidates.

With data like this, it’s easy to understand why law enforcement agencies are scrambling to bolster their ranks and adopting every immediate recruitment technique possible to stop the proverbial bleed. While this is expected, this reactive approach only works to shore up staffing now and gives little thought to the future.

Recruiting for currently open positions is important, but departments should place just as much emphasis on cultivating individuals on a long-term basis to ensure they are well-staffed in the years to come. An often untapped demographic, high school students and those between the ages of 18 and 21 could very well be the key to addressing staffing issues in the future.


For many police departments, beginning the recruitment process with an individual isn’t even a thought unless that person is at least 21 years old. While it’s true most agencies can’t and won’t hire anyone under that age, there’s no reason teens can’t begin to take age-appropriate steps toward eventually starting a law enforcement career.

“A lot of our kids start at 14 or 15 years old,” said Dr. Thomas Washburn, executive director at the Law & Public Safety Education Network (LAPSEN). “We can teach them so much about things like implicit bias, cultural diversity, temper control and communication skills, and they’re really malleable at that age. When you have someone who is 25 years old, their personality is a lot more solid and they’re a lot more hardened.”

Founded in 2018, LAPSEN has programs in 19 states and works to cultivate law enforcement talent in high school students as well as in those between the ages of 18 and 21. Washburn, a former school resource officer and retired educator with 30 years of experience, says they’re working to foster youth talent pipelines within the law enforcement industry now more than ever.

“Our mission at LAPSEN is to support anyone transitioning young people into careers in law enforcement and public safety,” he explained. “We work with Police Explorers, Public Safety Cadets and summer camps, but our biggest clients are the high school programs. We’re also beginning to work with some criminal justice programs and universities.”

Another way Washburn and the team at LAPSEN are improving their youth outreach is by partnering with Interview Now, a recruitment platform that relies on text-based communication to aid in the hiring process.


While just about everyone engages in texting on a regular basis, Gen Z typically finds this method of communication preferable. The ability to touch base regularly and quickly with candidates via text is exactly why agencies are adopting Interview Now – particularly when they are focusing on cultivating young talent.

Rather than sending candidates to a website to fill out an application and potentially never hear from them again, agencies using Interview Now can communicate with recruits via text and guide them through every step of the process. This helps establish a connection between the candidate and agency early on and makes the hiring journey feel a lot more personable.

Interview Now is a great option for candidates of all ages, but it’s particularly attractive to younger individuals, which is why partnering with LAPSEN was such a logical choice. The team is introducing a new aspect into the hiring process that even further promotes fostering a strong connection with recruits right off the bat.

LAPSEN has developed a way for students to create digital profiles highlighting their credentials or micro-credentials they’ve earned in current law and public safety courses in high school, explains Rob Cate, cofounder and CEO of Interview Now. “Students can then showcase their profile pages to agencies that are interested in learning more about those students. If a student opts in, agencies will also be able to contact them directly using Interview Now,” he said.


Let’s say your agency is very interested in an 18-year-old recent graduate who excelled in his high school public safety courses. He has a strong interest in law enforcement and seems mature for his age. You can’t hire him as an officer, so what other options do you have?

“Some agencies are doing really intelligent things,” said Washburn. “Rather than hiring a person who just wants to be a receptionist all their life, they’re hiring people that want to go into law enforcement.”

Other agencies are getting even more creative, like in the city of Alpharetta, Georgia. If you’re interested in being an Alpharetta police officer, they will contact you if there’s a job opening in the department of public works, says Washburn. This way, younger individuals can gain valuable job experience and demonstrate their work ethic even if they aren’t old enough to join the force.

Some agencies just aren’t sure how to begin when it comes to developing youth talent pipelines, which makes LAPSEN’s 2023 National Training Conference a great place to start. During this event, participating agencies shared recruitment pipeline best practices with post conference publications available for those who couldn’t attend in person.

Interview Now announced the launch of its national pipeline program at the conference, showcasing several tools they’ve created to help departments connect with younger talent, including a digital passport program and youth job board. Eventually, a larger program rollout will allow those who are not affiliated with a school to leverage the same platform where they can create a profile and connect with agencies.

The process of fostering younger talent for future open positions doesn’t have to be complicated, but some departments – particularly those with very few sworn officers – may need a little extra help getting started. These new tools from Interview Now are designed to do just that.

“I don’t think it’s going to be an easy time to recruit for a while,” said Washburn. “I think for a lot of these agencies, if they simply had an out-of-the-box system they could implement, I think a bunch of them would jump on board in a heartbeat.”

Visit Interview Now for more information.

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Courtney Levin is a Branded Content Project Lead for Lexipol where she develops content for the public safety audience including law enforcement, fire, EMS and corrections. She holds a BA in Communications from Sonoma State University and has written professionally since 2016.