Could workforce sharing help solve the police recruitment crisis?

Maintaining the police workforce level requires law enforcement to rethink traditional police career models


This article is based on research conducted as a part of the CA POST Command College. It is a futures study of a particular emerging issue of relevance to law enforcement. Its purpose is not to predict the future; rather, to project a variety of possible scenarios useful for planning and action in anticipation of the emerging landscape facing policing organizations.

The article was created using the futures forecasting process of Command College and its outcomes. Managing the future means influencing it – creating, constraining and adapting to emerging trends and events in a way that optimizes the opportunities and minimizes the threats of relevance to the profession.

This article originally appeared in the August 2021 Police1 Leadership Briefing. To read the full briefing, see LEO shortage solutions | Extended shift effects | Workforce trends, and add the Leadership Briefing to your subscriptions

Private and public sector organizations in the United States currently face significant challenges as they struggle to find quality employees to fill vacancies.

Private industry strives to be competitive in attracting candidates by offering liberal work schedules and other benefits that include remote work, flexible schedules, gym memberships, paid cell phones, secure cloud storage space, fertility/adoption assistance, dry cleaning, healthy meals, vehicle cleaning, pet insurance and childcare.

Facebook, Apple and Google paved the way for fertility benefits a couple of years ago to entice more women to work for them. This is on top of generous salaries and hiring bonuses synonymous with today's tech industry. Even McDonald's is offering childcare as a job benefit.

What could be a driving motivator for the youngest generation of employees to choose policing as a career?
What could be a driving motivator for the youngest generation of employees to choose policing as a career? (Getty Images)

Some police agencies provide hiring bonuses; however, those bonuses are risky absent written contracts or agreements. They can also be subject to litigation and regional labor laws.

Since organizations outside of policing rarely offer a lucrative defined benefits pension, the lower-level annuities policing can offer may no longer be a draw for those choosing a career. For example, in the tech industry, outside of 401(k) plans and stock options, none offer guaranteed retirement programs. Despite that (and a growing lack of confidence in Social Security's viability), they have little problem attracting applicants who fit the skills they are seeking. So, what could be a driving motivator for the youngest generation of employees to choose policing as a career?  

The impact of job-hopping

Job-hopping – defined as when an employee who jumps, or "hops" from job to job and has short stints with several employers – has emerged as a significant challenge for any organization. Companies end up spending more money to recruit new employees because job-hoppers "play the field," so to speak. Additionally, remaining employees must increase their workload, resulting in reduced productivity. Online recruiters actively promote the advantages of job-hopping to include higher salaries, career advancement, location change and a better work environment. Could policing offer some of these benefits?

Police agencies willing to explore programs like this can be more attractive to recruits interested in movement, opportunity and an accommodating work-life balance. For instance, recruiting methods and employment models are being used in the medical field that takes advantage of these desired benefits. Although this is a different field, it serves the same purpose.

Workforce sharing solutions

Workforce sharing programs are a viable option to reduce short-stint job hoppers and ease the number of vacancies.

Instead of agencies competing against one another for qualified talent, departments could partner to offer exchange programs. Qualified officers could transfer between agencies for set amounts of time (2-5 years). Creatively drafted contracts among agencies will iron out most of the small details. Workforce sharing is not new to law enforcement. Specialized task force teams comprised of officers from various agencies have proven successful and can be a model to build from.

It can also be a cost-effective way to maintain staffing levels and demonstrate investment in the employee (i.e., build leaders rather than cogs in the wheel) by exposing them to new methods, experiences, and environments. Coupled with creative incentives geared toward what this generation is attracted to could be a viable solution for recruiting and retaining talent in the next decade. 

Establishing alliance programs

What would a multijurisdictional alliance program look like?

One possibility is an approach that would allow officers eligible to participate in the program to bid for transfer to participating agencies for a pre-determined length of time. In exchange, the receiving agency would transfer one of their eligible officers.

Executives could accept transfers based on departmental or community needs, employee wellness, productivity and return on investment. For example, an agency could pre-determine their desired attributes for an exchange officer to supplement their community or departmental needs, i.e., "Agency A needs an experienced traffic officer," or "Agency B is looking for an officer with community outreach experience." Programs like this can add value to all the entities involved, especially the employees.

Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) or interagency contracts would set the ground rules for what conditions must be met to participate. This would not be dissimilar to a foreign exchange student program – wherever the person/employee is, they are subject to all the rules, policies, laws and regulations set forth by that country/agency. 

No-hire clauses would need to be hammered out as well. For example, agencies would agree not to hire (headhunt) one another's employees unless specific parameters existed, i.e., minimum time of separation, mutually agreed upon the circumstance, etc. 

In the medical field, traveling nurses and registry employees are hired to meet staffing and workload requirements in various venues, including emergency rooms, occupational therapy and skilled nursing facilities. Many workers choose this model of employment rather than a permanent location for a variety of reasons, including tax incentives, higher wages, expansive.

One of the essential benefits of agency alliances is the decrease in turnover costs associated with backfilling vacancies for extended periods. A pool of qualified, vetted officers could be available for transfer if needed. Workforce-sharing alliances can serve the interest of organizations, employees and the communities they serve. 

Planning for tomorrow

While police departments cannot compete with the salaries offered by the tech industry, incentives like family gym memberships, cellular plans and ride-sharing credits are inexpensive and within reach for most organizations.

While the debate rages on about government-funded college tuition and canceling college debt altogether, organizations could explore allocating funds set aside for their tuition reimbursement programs put in place in the early 2000s to pay for these and other creative benefit programs for the next generation.

As leaders in our organizations, it is up to us to get out there, engage our staff, work with our allied agencies and offer creative alternatives to bargaining units to ensure policing remains a good career option for future generations. Business managers are preparing their companies for what their industry will be, not what it is today. Law enforcement should take a cue from those models and apply them. Gathering data and forecasting what we think will happen will enable us to adjust our course now. 

NEXT: What young cops want (and what police leaders can do about it)

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