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Why now is the time for a recruitment revolution

It will require imagination and ingenuity to address current officer shortages and recruitment challenges

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The Charleston Police Department partnered with a local university to offer a research-based internship to help connect with students.


This article originally appeared in the August 2020 PoliceOne Leadership Briefing. To read the full briefing, visit Combatting resignations | Revolutionizing recruitment | Evidence-based reform, and add the Leadership Briefing to your subscriptions.

It has never been a better time to be in law enforcement, particularly as a recruiter. The COVID-19 pandemic and the national outcry for police reform has opened up a window of opportunity for creative law enforcement professionals to attract the next generation of officers who will change the face of the industry.

Law enforcement recruiters can, and will, successfully fill critical positions if they apply innovative strategies, adapt to the ever-changing landscape and strengthen customer relationships with applicants.


The days of in-person career fairs are a thing of the past; however, this does not mean police agencies cannot gain access to potential applicants. Agencies, however, must apply innovation to their recruitment strategies to stay competitive.

Recruiters must cultivate and rely more heavily on relationships, particularly with professors, to gain access to students. Recruiters should offer to be a guest lecturer for online classes to establish a presence and develop initial relationships with students. Agencies can also offer an online internship in lieu of traditional ride-alongs and job shadowing.

The Charleston Police Department in South Carolina partnered with a local university to offer a research-based internship where students will ultimately submit their research findings to be considered for the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences conference. This type of internship offering still grants the recruiter continual contact with those students interested in the Charleston Police Department and provides access to those students who are hungry to engage the organization.

Departments can also hold online information sessions, which allows departments to market through social media and other traditional advertising outlets outside their local area. There are no longer limits to who your agency can attract because location-based parameters have become obsolete.


Executive leadership must be willing to forge ahead and adapt to continue the testing and hiring of law enforcement talent.



When the pandemic began many law enforcement agencies stopped all hiring “production.” Agencies could not, or did not want to find alternative ways to continue the hiring process, even if there were no budgetary constraints. This reaction to the pandemic was similar to some private sector companies that allowed the pandemic to close down production lines. Yet there were those private sector companies that adapted quickly to the chaos and began transforming their operations to make hand sanitizer and face masks to stay competitive and relevant.

Law enforcement cannot adapt by changing products, but it can reflect on the application process and make concessions to the current environment. Here are some examples of adaptability in action:

  • Agencies can move interviews and written exams online.
  • Agencies can have applicants record the physical agility test and add an additional question to the polygraph asking if the applicant was truthful about his/her self-testing.
  • Agencies can change the order of the recruitment process and begin the background before the applicant takes part in the polygraph.
  • Agencies can follow CDC guidelines and agency policy for social distancing, while still conducting applicant testing.

No one knows what the future holds, but agencies need contingency plans if they are again met with uncertainty and world challenges. Police departments do not shut down during a world crisis, if anything, more is required of law enforcement during these times. The “production” of police officers must continue, and executive leadership must be willing to forge ahead and adapt to continue the testing and hiring of law enforcement talent.


Creating a positive customer service experience can impact whether an applicant decides to select your agency over another law enforcement position or opportunity. Law enforcement recruiters are similar to professional sporting scouts in that they are building an all-star team where recruiters have to persuade the law enforcement “athletes” to join by building a meaningful relationship with continual guidance, mentoring and contact.

Recruiters should be willing and eager to answer any questions and walk applicants through the testing process. Recruiters should check in on potential applicants to find out how they are doing in school, the military, their current job and overall life. Recruiters should speak with family members who are apprehensive to have their son/daughter/brother/sister/cousin/niece/nephew join law enforcement. Potential applicants should feel like the recruiter genuinely cares about who they are as a person, not just that the applicant who will be filling an empty slot within the department’s patrol division.

Recruiters want potential applicants to feel a loyalty to the agency brand, which is established through calculated positive experience building. Agencies can support the strengthening of customer relationships by selecting the appropriate personalities to serve in their recruitment units and by encouraging recruitment sergeants and officers to attend nontraditional customer service training, like the Disney Institute’s “Approach to Quality Service.”

Our profession is going through a transformation, which has allowed for a creative recruitment revolution. Now is the time to harness imagination and ingenuity to address officer shortages and recruitment challenges.

NEXT: Why agencies must continue recruitment during the COVID-19 pandemic

Officer Terry Cherry has been with the Charleston Police Department for 8½ years and currently serves as the agency’s recruiter. In her role as recruiter, she developed a five-year recruitment strategic plan in compliance with the department’s racial bias audit and developed quantitative measures to track the plan’s success.

Officer Cherry has applied evidence-based policing to drive changes in recruitment processes, policies and marketing efforts. She was recently published in the July 2020 Great Ideas edition of IACP’s Police Chief magazine and was selected as a 2020 National Institute of Justice LEADS Scholar. Officer Cherry holds a BA from UCLA and an MBA in global business with an emphasis on international finance and economics from Pepperdine University.