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4 ways agencies can help with police staffing issues

The current recruitment crisis impacts all agencies regardless of size and location

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Leon Nguyen/hnguyen

This article is reprinted with permission from Kustom Signals

The police staffing challenge has plagued agencies across the country for years. After 9/11, a more expansive role for law enforcement was needed within communities, leading to the need for more officers. However, since the mid to late 2000s, the numbers have taken a downturn. Police staffing shortages have unfortunately become the norm.

Trends By the Numbers

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports there are an estimated 656,000 police and sheriff’s patrol officers as of May 2022 (the most recent Labor Bureau numbers).

A survey done by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) shows that in the past two years, 2021 and 2022, police agencies across the United States and Canada have experienced significant staffing issues. There were 184 agencies, employing more than 130,000 officers, who responded to the survey that tracked staffing, hiring, retirement and resignation trends. The survey revealed:

  • Hiring was down nearly 4%
  • Resignations were up by 43%
  • Retirements were up by 24%

These trending numbers mean fewer officers are available to be out making a difference in their communities, a presence that is needed whether the setting is urban, suburban, or rural. How can agencies help with police staffing issues? Let’s take a look at four ways.

1. Invest in Targeted Recruiting

Targeted recruiting involves the development of a specific and detailed plan to advertise the available positions within your law enforcement agency. The days of simply posting a position in the local paper are gone. While you most definitely can (and should) make open positions known via your community news media, targeted recruiting goes beyond traditional tactics.

Look to recruit at local job fairs and at both schools and colleges. While recruitment at the latter won’t yield immediate new hires, you’re working for the future as the youth of today will need to become the officers of tomorrow. For example, there is a focused Public Safety Academy program at one of the high schools in Olathe, Kansas that allows students who are interested in law enforcement to learn more about it. Your agency could look into supporting a program like this in your own city.

Providing a program to target young people to help them learn about law enforcement careers is key. The Department of Justice COPS Office has funded the development of The Census of Youth Law Experience Programs, a good place to explore which program may work best in your community.

2. Increase and Maintain Agency Morale

According to the COPS Office, “Recruitment and retention are tools for managing the workforce over time.” They suggest that law enforcement agencies need to be mindful of their recruitment approach, in particular, how it affects:

  • Organizational staffing goals
  • Workforce diversity and skill mix
  • Efficient distribution of seniority to newcomers

A successful recruitment approach/program can play an integral role in increasing overall agency morale and be an important factor in maintaining that morale over time.

3. Employ Strategic Work Schedules With Existing Staff

It seems like a simple thing, but employing strategic work schedules with your existing staff can help with retention numbers. Overworked staff often leads to frustration and anger followed by the decision to move on to another agency or other position that better suits the individual. Eight-hour shifts versus 10-hour shifts are something to consider. Both work schedules have their benefits and detractions, and each agency has to determine which works best for their staff.

4. Equip the Agency with Technology

Officers need up-to-date technology to perform many aspects of their challenging job. Equipping your officers with efficient technology can save time, allowing them to:

  • Get back on patrol faster
  • Participate in community interactions
  • Reduce frustration that can lead to job dissatisfaction

For the agency, the right tools and technology can have the effect of being a force multiplier, extending the capabilities of even understaffed departments.

Read more from Kustom Signals here.