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10 best practices for recruiting and hiring in law enforcement

Go mobile, go paperless and protect data privacy with a cloud-based system for background investigations

Sponsored by Miller Mendel

By Rachel Zoch, Police1 BrandFocus Staff

Hiring qualified candidates is a challenge in any industry, but especially in law enforcement, where officers’ every move is subject to public scrutiny.

Consider adopting a cloud-based platform like eSOPH that provides easy online access for applicants and background investigators, auto-populates information across an applicant’s electronic file and adheres to strict data privacy and security compliance requirements.
Consider adopting a cloud-based platform like eSOPH that provides easy online access for applicants and background investigators, auto-populates information across an applicant’s electronic file and adheres to strict data privacy and security compliance requirements. (Getty)

But your agency’s application process may be a roadblock in your hiring process.

How does your department recruit and screen candidates? Does your application process make sense from start to finish? Are you able to collect and analyze candidates’ background information quickly and effectively? Are candidates able to complete the documents required as part of the hiring process online and easily using mobile devices?

Here, Police1 shares best practices for recruiting, investigating and hiring quality officers as recommended by adjunct law professor, veteran police and public safety administrator Virginia Gleason, who recently retired after more than 30 years on the job.

1. Think holistically instead of step by step 

It’s important to think of recruitment, screening and hiring as a continuous process, rather than a series of steps, says Gleason, now a consultant.

“See where improvements can be made and eliminate steps that don’t add any value or data to the process,” she said. “How you can make that work electronically?”

Streamlining the process to make it easier and more user-friendly for today’s applicants, who are likely to be mobile-first digital natives, is key, she adds.

Consider adopting a cloud-based platform like eSOPH from Miller Mendel, which provides easy online access and auto-populates information across an applicant’s electronic file so that applicants and background investigators don’t have to repeatedly enter the same data.

“It really makes it easier for the applicant to have an electronic method to submit their background packet, and then on the investigator side, it’s really helpful because you don’t have to do duplicate entry for all the functions the investigator has to do as part of the background investigation,” said Gleason. “Every time you have to reenter data, you add an additional area where you could make a mistake. With eSOPH, the applicants fill in all the information, and that entered information automatically populates across multiple other areas in the system, like reference letters the investigator has to send out. It’s streamlined.”

2. Make the application process easy, online and mobile-friendly 

When was the last time your department updated its hiring process? Chances are, you’re behind the times. The days of downloading and printing lengthy paper forms are over.

“A lot of the systems that government agencies use require very complicated, duplicative, hard-to-use systems just to get in the door,” said Gleason. “They are very unfriendly to the demographic that you’re going after to come join you, which is mostly 22- to 35-year-olds.”

Millennials (born 1981-1996) and Gen Z (born 1997 or later) grew up with the internet, and they expect sufficient technology at work so they have the tools they need to do their jobs efficiently and effectively. Why send the message that your agency is behind the times with a clunky, outdated hiring process?

Use technology to make contact with applicants where they are and to stay in touch with them throughout the process, says Gleason. According to a 2018 report from the Pew Research Center, 93% of millennials own smartphones, and nearly 100% use the internet – with 73% saying the internet has been mostly a good thing for society.

“You need to have technology that’s easy to use and that is also usable on something other than a desktop,” she said. “The more that you can have those recruiting and application systems work on mobile devices, the better.”

3. Go paperless 

In addition to deterring potential applicants, the old-fashioned paper process is slow, wasteful and expensive. Many millennial applicants simply will not complete an application or background packet that is not online. Transforming the background process to become digital rather than analog has become a requirement rather than a luxury if your agency intends to attract applicants.

“Word or PDF forms the applicant can complete on their computer and mail or email the agency really does not accomplish much. Emailed forms, if printed, still pose a security risk,” said Gleason. “With eSOPH, all the information entered by the applicant automatically populates across all the other work areas in the system, so it’s all in one seamless file and there’s no paper to print, data entry or paper document creation by the investigator. This resulted in reducing error and cutting investigator labor down per investigation by about 50%.”

Accessibility through a cloud-based system like eSOPH eliminates the need for paper and makes it easy for applicants to apply on a mobile device while providing secure storage. It also makes it easier for background investigators and reviewers to collaborate on investigations and access and manage the applications through a secure web portal – anytime, anywhere – rather than passing large binders of paper from person to person, one at a time.

4. Tailor your questions for each position 

Is your background investigation document one-size-fits-all? Law enforcement agencies have a wide variety of positions that require varying degrees of personal history research on prospective candidates.

Look for a platform that helps you customize the background investigation for each position in the department, such as eSOPH, which enables users to adjust the personal history questionnaire so that it is specific and relevant to each job description. Eliminating the collection of irrelevant information and collecting only what is pertinent for that exact position information speeds up the process for applicants and background investigators alike.

“That really does save a lot of unnecessary paperwork and allows you to add in those questions that are relevant to the job classification without having to worry about whether you sent them the right form,” said Gleason. “With eSOPH, you know what the applicant is seeing is configured to the job they’re being screened for.”

Selecting software that allows your agency to reword, delete or add questions is also critical to mitigating liability. If a state law is updated or your agency’s human resources policy dictates a change in the questions asked on your background forms, you must be able to quickly adjust the forms to be legally compliant and not become the next news headline.

5. Reevaluate your eligibility criteria 

Are you eliminating good candidates for things like tattoos or facial hair? Make sure to regularly review your disqualification criteria. It should be reflective of what the accepted appearances are in your community, and departments should regularly reconsider their barriers to entry, says Gleason.

For example, do you require a driver’s license for every position, whether the job involves driving or not? Many people today – especially younger people in urban areas – don’t have driver’s licenses, but they might be great candidates and easily able to provide an acceptable form of identification.

Look at all of your criteria for being eligible to apply, says Gleason, and make sure that everything is directly relevant to your essential job functions so you’re not unintentionally blocking good candidates before they even apply.

“You want to make sure that whatever eligibility requirements you have are validated to an essential function of the job,” she said. “That also can open up the door to a lot of different people and a larger pool of applicants.”

6. Figure out where you’re losing people along the way 

Don’t lose good candidates because they couldn’t navigate a cumbersome process. Check your funnel – are applicants dropping out of the process? If so, at what step? Gleason recommends auditing your process and using analytics to see what’s working and where people get stalled.

“Are there tools in your application process that allow you to do surveys of all the people who start an application and abandon it to figure out why they started and didn’t finish?” said Gleason. “You really want to look at where your attrition is in the hiring process and try to figure out what it is that’s causing that attrition and what you can do to change that.”

Automated alerts and reporting capabilities, like those provided by eSOPH, help investigators manage applications and keep the recruitment process moving forward.

“With eSOPH, I could go in at any time and see what the status was of every background investigation in progress, whether the applicant has filled it out yet, how much they have filled out, what the background investigator has done,” she said. “That’s a lot easier than trying to flip through a bunch of files and figure out where everyone is. I can see where the bottlenecks are in my process without having to have a meeting and do status reports all the time.”

7. Plug the holes in your process 

If background investigators can see a promising but unfinished application, they can reach out and offer to help the applicant complete it.

“Some departments will say, ‘Well, if they’re not motivated enough to fill out this form, we don’t want them,’” said Gleason, “but that is not helping you staff your department with good people. The fact that they don’t know how to go find their landlord’s name from the apartment they lived in eight years ago doesn’t mean they’re not going to be a great police officer.”

Another common problem, she says, is not offering flexible options to schedule interviews or exams.

“Departments who have offered a wider range of testing dates and times tend to have a larger and more diverse pool of applicants because they’re able to fit it into their schedule better,” she said. “If you want to attract a larger number of applicants, be open and accommodating to peoples’ schedules.”

8. Get creative when looking for applicants 

Right now is the perfect opportunity to try some new and different approaches in your recruiting efforts, Gleason says. She recommends taking a step back to consider how your department can reach out to nontraditional pools of applicants.

Many people are looking for work, and certain sectors that have been severely affected by the pandemic, like airlines, also screen their employees very carefully. Plus, says Gleason, airline workers are accustomed to working holidays, nights and weekends and dealing with people who are overwhelmed or who don’t speak the same language.

“Job fairs were never really a great source of applicants in the first place, but of course now there are no job fairs,” she said. “You need to leverage technology from the very beginning and continue to leverage technology to make the entire process efficient and seamless. You’re likely competing with other agencies for the same applicants.”

9. Ensure secure data storage and keep an audit trail 

Data privacy is a big deal, and paper files simply don’t provide the security required to comply with modern cybersecurity regulations and meet applicants’ privacy expectations.

“A significant risk with paper background investigation documents is, you’re holding the most private, confidential, important information of an applicant on someone’s desk or in a file cabinet somewhere, and even on photocopy machine’s memory,” said Gleason. “That practice poses significant security concerns. What about fires? Agencies don’t typically invest in expensive fireproof storage for these files.”

This is where a secure cloud-based system like eSOPH excels. Collecting and storing all your applicant information in a single place that has a secure audit trail of who accessed what and when – and with industry-leading cybersecurity and data-handling measures in place – eliminates the risk of misplaced paper or fire danger.

“Conducting background investigations in a system like eSOPH is much more secure, and it gives you an audit trail so you know every time someone has viewed the information,” she said. “If you were to ever have a data breach, you would be able to go back and see where that occurred, so it’s a significantly more secure system compared to storing and handling paper documents.”

A web-based platform like eSOPH also offers peace of mind if your department uses outside background investigators, because they department’s administrator has access to the audit trail within every applicant file.

“It gives you more visibility into the information they have and how they’re using it,” said Gleason.

10. Comply with data privacy regulations 

Data privacy – including compliance with laws like HIPAA and the California Consumer Privacy Act – is a key concern for hiring in any industry. Because this issue can be such a minefield, Miller Mendel has designed eSOPH to address those concerns at both the federal and state levels, says Emily Maass, a senior corporate attorney specializing in privacy and data security who works closely with Miller Mendel.

“The goal is always to meet the highest standard among that array of requirements,” she said, “and that includes being transparent and providing information to the applicant about the software, what it does and how their information is going to be used, and giving the public safety agency client ultimate control over what happens to that data.”

Providing as much transparency as possible is a best practice that helps your agency build trust with applicants and mitigate data privacy and security-related liabilities Maass adds. This effort should include:

  • Providing notice regarding data usage to your applicants upfront (before you actually collect the data) with details about what data is being collected about them, how it will be used and who will or may have access to it.
  • Providing contact information to applicants, giving them an easy way to contact the agency if they have questions.
  • Securing consent by having applicants complete consent forms as required by federal or state law.
  • A guarantee to not commercialize applicant data. Avoid selecting a service provider that commercializes applicant data. Applicants who apply to government positions should not be required to use a service that, in any way, commercializes the personal data a government agency required the applicant to provide.

Each person’s data is extremely valuable and personal to them, and it is important that applicants feel secure in disclosing sensitive personal information as part of the hiring process. A system like eSOPH that already has privacy notices, access controls and other critical security elements built in can be a tremendous help to your hiring efforts.

“Miller Mendel has worked hard to provide clear, user-friendly notices and offer each public safety agency significant control over how data is used and whether the data is made accessible to other entities,” said Maass. “Miller Mendel works closely with privacy and data security legal counsel to set up and provide client services that demonstrate genuine respect for applicants’ privacy and to work with clients as a true partner when it comes to mitigating data privacy risk.”


With all the changes and increased public scrutiny directed toward law enforcement in the past year, now is the time for departments to reevaluate their hiring processes from start to finish. From recruitment to background investigations to the academy, there are opportunities to improve the process so your agency can more effectively, efficiently and safely attract a wider pool of high-quality candidates. Take steps to ensure you are thoroughly vetting candidates, as well as protecting the sensitive information those candidates share with you.

“Electronic tools deliver information quickly, enabling agencies to easily perform self-evaluation activities, which is important right now,” said Gleason. “A tool like eSOPH helps law enforcement agencies look at themselves and their processes regularly to continually improve them. It also adds a level of accountability for handling private, personal information and provides insights that tell the full story of what is happening in their hiring process. This actionable data helps agencies identify new ways to improve the entire hiring process, both for themselves and for the applicants.”

Visit Miller Mendel/eSOPH for more information.

Read Next: How one agency cut its background investigation time in half 

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