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Thousands of officers speak out on the police recruitment and retention crisis

Key takeaways after reading the revealing input in Police1’s State of the Industry survey of cops standing on the beleaguered thin blue line


What many officers find dissatisfying about law enforcement… …almost equally is poor leadership, politicians and the media, who immediately, whenever an issue arises, conclude that “the cop is wrong.”

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Click here to download Police1’s digital edition for in-depth analysis of the State of the Industry survey, including why officers love & hate their jobs, the toxic messaging sabotaging recruitment, and how technology can help with staffing shortages.

If you want a picture of where many cities are heading in this country if they do not undo the despicable damage done by the defund-dismantle-demoralize law enforcement crowd, all one need do is look to San Francisco. It is a city en route to becoming the largest ghost town in American history unless something or someone changes its trajectory.

For ground-level insights into the enormity of the nationwide problem around police recruitment and retention, Police1 recently surveyed thousands of working cops from all levels of law enforcement for its third annual “What Cops Want” report.

Here are some takeaways and recommendations I have after reading the revealing input from officers standing on the beleaguered thin blue line.

There is a possible exodus in progress, because…

…over half of the officers responding shared that within the next five years they are planning on leaving their agency. About 89% of those leaving will be retiring and the rest will either be transferring to another agency, or changing careers.

Many officers would not recommend this career to others. Some would even discourage others from pursuing this career.

What many officers find dissatisfying about law enforcement…

…almost equally is poor leadership, politicians and the media, who immediately, whenever an issue arises, conclude that “the cop is wrong.”

What over half the officers shared was most satisfying about this career…

…was crime fighting and community service.

Staffing shortages have impacted negatively…

…87% of the officers responding. This has led to officers taking more time to respond with less help available.

Training is….

…offered less in many agencies. Officers believe understaffing has made this dangerous career even more dangerous for officers and the members of the communities they serve.

To recruit and retain officers some agencies have resorted to…

…paying bonuses for experienced officers to leave their current agencies and join theirs. Less frequently officers are receiving bonuses for staying with an agency.

Officers say what draws them the most to an agency and keeps them there is…

…family, pay, benefits, good leadership, and being allowed to fight crime and serve the community.

Not one officer said they liked working for an agency whose leaders tell them to stand down and stand by while crimes are being committed.


On-demand webinar: The impact of the police recruitment & retention crisis

Our expert panel discusses key insights from Police1's State of the Industry survey on the impact of short staffing, mass retirements and lateral transfers

Recommendations from “Lt. Dan” in response to listening to what cops want

To leaders

Officers are drawn to leaders who are charismatic, decisive, honest, effective and set an example of excellence. They will follow leaders who stand behind them when they are in the right and confront the media, politicians and even community leaders, who are vocal about their wrongness.

Officers thrive in an environment where there are many and varied opportunities to do police work. Additionally, when they do great police work and receive encouragement and praise from their leaders, they will do more great police work.

Give officers the tools, the environment and the encouragement to live up to their potential and truly make a difference and this type of leadership will retain officers and draw others to your agency.

More pay would be nice as well.

One benefit that will draw and hold officers

The survey revealed that officers are drawn to an agency because of family, pay and benefits.

Since leaders can’t do anything about where an officer’s family lives and pay has already been mentioned, I would like to share one benefit, if offered, that will help your agency become a “destination agency” for officers. Arrange for officers who retire to stay in the department’s health insurance group coverage, from retirement up until they are eligible for Medicare, after making an affordable monthly payment. This one benefit will draw and hold many great officers in your department right up to retirement.

Establish backup protocols

Whenever there are staffing shortages, officers must work together to establish backup protocols. This should extend between adjoining agencies as well as among your fellow officers.

Make each other’s safety a high priority.

Place first responders first!

During staffing shortages, every effort must be made to keep your patrol first responders fully staffed. This means sworn support personnel may need to be drawn away from the nice-to-do assignments and re-assigned temporarily back to the need-to-do assignments, on patrol.

First things first!

Never ever

Never ever diminish training. If you talk to officers, who have survived life or death events, at some point in their description of their struggle to survive they will say, “…and then my training kicked in.”

It is during times such as these we need to train more, not less.

To officers who do not recommend law enforcement to others

If you dissuade potential recruits from pursuing a career in law enforcement, people will listen to you and you will become part of the problem.

By doing so, you are not only underestimating the transformational capabilities of the next generation of officers, but your words will be helping to create shortages and endangering officers in the future.

For the officers staying, find purity of purpose

One item that stood out to me in this survey was nearly all respondents became officers because they “wanted to help people.”

You picked the perfect career to do that if you don’t let the natural cynicism the world dishes out in large doses poison your passion. Instead of giving in to cynicism, use the goal of helping people to hold onto the passion that comes with purity of purpose.

While everyone on every call can’t be helped, there is someone on almost every call you can help. For example, even when you arrest someone and as a result they spend the next 20 years in prison that criminal would argue, “You sure didn’t help me none.” However, imagine the countless people you helped that would have been victimized over those 20 years if you had not been there to arrest that career criminal.

Rediscover that purity of purpose you had at entry-level on each call and every contact and instead of making it a punch line make it your passion by reminding yourself often, “I’m Officer ------- and I’m here to help.”

In conclusion

To all of you officers thinking about leaving law enforcement (not including those who have earned the right to retire) reconsider your decision. You will be missing out on this historical challenge currently facing American law enforcement.

One of my favorite law dogs in American history, U.S. Deputy Marshal Bass Reeves, faced what must have appeared to be insurmountable challenges. However, because he refused to abandon his dream and stayed, he prevailed and became a legend.

This is your generation’s opportunity to unite, recommit to excellence and shine while changing the current dangerous trajectory of this nation.

Stay! Succeed! Become the legend!

NEXT: 12 tactical options for surviving a personnel shortage

Lt. Dan Marcou is an internationally-recognized police trainer who was a highly-decorated police officer with 33 years of full-time law enforcement experience. Marcou’s awards include Police Officer of the Year, SWAT Officer of the Year, Humanitarian of the Year and Domestic Violence Officer of the Year. Upon retiring, Lt. Marcou began writing. Additional awards Lt. Marcou received were 15 departmental citations (his department’s highest award), two Chief’s Superior Achievement Awards and the Distinguished Service Medal for his response to an active shooter. He is a co-author of “Street Survival II, Tactics for Deadly Encounters,” which is now available. His novels, “The Calling, the Making of a Veteran Cop,” “SWAT, Blue Knights in Black Armor,” “Nobody’s Heroes” and Destiny of Heroes,” as well as his latest non-fiction offering, “Law Dogs, Great Cops in American History,” are all available at Amazon. Dan is a member of the Police1 Editorial Advisory Board.