Police1 webinar Q&A: Panelists answer questions about “What cops want in 2021”

A recent webinar analyzed the findings of Police1’s first State of the Industry survey

To provide officers a voice in setting the future of policing, Police1 conducted its first State of the Industry survey to understand how the law enforcement profession wants to evolve. More than 4,300 LEOs responded from agencies large and small serving urban, suburban and rural areas.

In a webinar on March 18, panelists Bob Harrison, Janay Gasparini and Barry Reynolds, discussed the findings of the survey. Due to time constraints, we were not able to address the following questions during the webinar, so moderator Bob Harrison has provided responses here.

If you’ve read the survey and have a question for our panelists, email editor@police1.com. To view the webinar on-demand, register here. To download the survey, click here.

How do you recruit/retain when a city government does not support their police agency?

I've found that councils listen to their communities, not to their departments. When it comes to creating greater support, do the things that get people to show up and testify as to the value of your work as a start. That means meeting with them, listening to their issues, and developing services to meet those needs collaboratively. For boards and councils, be aware of their need to serve their constituents (which happen to also be yours), and the pushback they get if they try to defend you without a strong foundation. Work to directly address Council concerns, and show them the economic benefits of good policing, along with the safety benefits of great policing. We should remember that they almost all want people to be safe; we just need to educate them as to why we're the best-suited ones to do that.

I’ve been in policing for 34 years. We now have the term social justice, but there is no agreed definition as to what this term means. It's regularly used by the media and others against law enforcement. How should we respond to the use of this term?

A fair start would be to ask them what they mean by the term, and going from there. Classically, social justice looks at fairness and fair treatment for all people, respect for the rights of all and equitable distribution of resources (one of the sticking points for some as tax dollars are dedicated to social justice causes). Thinking of procedural justice, I don't know that there is anything almost all cops wouldn't agree with, and social justice is quite similar. The police are the arbiters of fairness as represented in the law, which I believe is how we balance equality with equity and make decisions about arrests, crime reports, and how we treat the public.

My department reduced and took away educational incentives, so there is no advantage in getting a degree other than going into debt. In effect, we are attracting the dregs we would never have looked at in the past.

My thought is that would be penny-wise and pound-foolish. If you want certain behaviors, you have to provide ways to incentivize that. If you want better-educated officers, provide incentive pay, use it as one metric in promotional eligibility, perhaps make it a requirement for promotion to supervisory and management ranks. You get what you incentivize, not what you might want.

The pay scale should be the same across the board in each state instead of each agency setting their own pay scales. Officers would be happier and stay at their perspective agencies instead of bouncing around. What do you suggest?

The feds have the same pay scales in their G-# system but then have added pay for urban areas with demonstrated higher costs of living. The pay disparity could be addressed that way, although this is an issue even within states, not just from one to another. It would require us to think about ways to consolidate or regionalize services. Doing that could free funding for added compensation, and to level the scales not only in pay but in professional service to our communities

I learned more about police history in my criminal justice degree program than from the academy. The eye-opening history of police use throughout the century to include the good and bad positions police were directed to enforce is significant. I believe if academies take a deeper dive into that it will help with decision-making and retention. Thoughts?

I'm an advocate of knowing one's history to dispel myths and defend against convenient "truths" told in war stories. I would support pre-academy, pre-service requirements for education that would include the history of public safety, along with sociology, psych (especially abnormal psych), communications skills and critical thinking training. This is another reason why I believe a two-year degree program with relevant courses would be appropriate for anyone wanting to wear a badge.

Janay Gasparini: I will again double-down on educational requirements, especially after reading the survey results that support this idea. I understand this is not palatable to many officers, however, given the complexities of the job today, I don't see us moving in the opposite direction from education. Given that, the requirement of more education should equate to commensurate pay, are municipalities willing to support this? Or do we, as one participant suggested in the comments, narrow the scope of what functions police perform in society to reflect a more traditional policing role and focus our training? Either way, we are back to precisely what survey respondents were asking for: clarification of expectations! 

Would local townhall discussions about perceptions of the community toward police and then law enforcement officers sharing their human aspects, help show that LEOs are human like everyone else?

Depends on the city and circumstance. People tend to show up if they have an issue or are mad about the status quo, so it might not be the best time to do more than listen to their concerns in constructive ways and set time to work through them once the dam of public sentiment has broken. As said in the webinar, though, it is often effective to acknowledge resistance before you dive in – you can talk about current events, speak in the third person about the things people are saying and then make it local by talking about what you do to help them. Today, I’d encourage every officer to listen more than they speak and to recognize people generally will be open to hear us if they think they are heard.

In relation to education have you seen any differences in respect to those coming from a military background and laterally being hired. In addition, in the 80s the RCMP wanted only those with degrees, two degrees, if you had them, which sounded great except those well-educated folks were then "headhunted" by other organizations offering more money. How do you address these issues?

My thought is that we have an attraction problem, not a recruitment problem. We are vying for the best people not only with other PDs but other industries. Coming from the military isn't bad, per se, and can be an asset if the person also has the aptitude of service instead of merely being able to follow orders or wear a uniform properly. Lots of military folks receive great training and have valuable experiences, so they are a source of value for recruiting. Laterals move for a variety of reasons; if it is solely economic, the work relationship tends to remain transactional. If they fit your profile of what a successful officer would be like, and want to work for you, and not just work anywhere with good pay, that's a start. I'm a big advocate of continuing development, a part of which is education. We have something many other professions do not – what we do really matters, and it is real, not artificial. We experience the raw edge of human emotions and can change lives with any call. The long-term intrinsic rewards of that shouldn't be underestimated.

You mentioned being hostage to paycheck, but my observations are showing a loss of quality good officers to better paychecks outside of law enforcement. What efforts, if any, are being made to make those paychecks more likely to keep good officers in law enforcement? 

We tend to lose people when the economy is good and gain people when it isn't. I think we want to do a much better job on social media with outreach, not only for PR but for recruiting. We also want to emphasize the unique opportunities policing affords. Having a solid retirement, healthcare and benefits help but should be a starting point, not our only carrot used. High esprit de corps, a sense of collegiality, and being a place that strives to be the best is its own draw, and can also attract the right kind of people, not just more people.

Do officers in smaller departments view these issues differently than officers in larger departments?

Sure, and from one state to the next. The very large and very small agencies share a similarity in that people are proud to be one of their ranks, and they have a high sense of identity, whether it is NYPD, LAPD, etc., or in a small community where everyone knows you and you can be part of the fabric of the city. Mid-sized PDs tend to be more alike across states, and often are in communities that may struggle economically (with very big and very small suffering less in their eyes). If they are located near larger agencies, the bigger agency might draw them for more action. Smaller agencies might draw them because of the home-town feel. The mid-sized departments, though, are uniquely positioned to have enough bodies to create specialties and attractive assignments, and also deploy in large enough numbers to be self-reliant. You want to understand who you are as a department, and then optimize what you have to create a competitive advantage for hiring and the work of policing.

Download now: Police1's State of the Industry Survey

Download now: Police1's State of the Industry Survey

4,300 officers speak up about what LEOs want for the future of policing, how satisfied cops are with their careers and the duties that are of most importance to officers

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