Eleven Tips and Strategies to Improve Police Officer Retention, Recruitment + Hiring

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Aug 23, 2022

For decades, police officers have been “called to the profession,” passionate about their jobs and protecting their community. Today, many individuals whose inherent values, training and character make them excellent candidates for one of the most challenging public service professions think, “Is policing a career I even want?” Even those who are a few short years away from retirement are leaving departments and prime promotion opportunities to sign up with new agencies for their last few years of work.

As a result, thousands of law enforcement departments across the country are wrestling with chronic challenges in police officer retention, recruitment, and hiring. They continue to look for guidance, tips and smart ideas on how to fill their ranks, compete with other departments for talent, and rebuild the high morale and departmental culture that attracted qualified officers for so long.

A Perfect Storm: Trends Are Likely to Worsen Before They Improve

According to a Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) workforce survey, departments in 2021 had only filled 93% of available positions. Responses revealed an 18% increase in the resignation rate, a 45% increase in the retirement rate and a 5% decrease in the hiring rate. Our experiences over the past year have suggested that the discrepancies are even more drastic in some of the cities we support.

Ideas and Strategies to Help Improve Police Officer Recruitment, Hiring and Retention

  1. Develop a recruitment plan. A simple tip for law enforcement recruitment is to have an official recruitment plan. A police recruitment plan establishes a clear vision for the department's future. The plan should include specifics on recruiting a diverse pool of candidates, especially those who can work in close partnership with communities.
  2. Host pre-academy programs for teens and college students. Building these relationships early on encourages mutual understanding, trust and pride. Programs such as these often lead to an interest in policing as a career and help with the transition to basic academy and the department.
  3. Practice community policing. When officers are embedded in the community, they get to know the people they protect and serve and gain crucial insights into what the community needs from them. The reverse is also true. Each group becomes real and more human to one another. In many cases, police and communities discover mutual objectives, such as ensuring a safe neighborhood and collaborating where possible to help reduce criminal activity. When officers make an effort to establish these relationships, community members are more likely to want to be a part of the department.
  4. Ask your officers to invest themselves in recruiting for your department. No one knows the job better than your officers. They know who has what it takes to join the department and can initiate that conversation. As an idea for police recruitment, encouraging your officers to participate in recruiting might help them realize they have a friend or family member who would make an excellent officer.
  5. Update your marketing materials and outreach strategies. Make sure your marketing materials have accurate, updated information and that they speak to the audience they're intended to reach. Compared to the previous generation, those applying for policing jobs now have different priorities. Ensure you’re offering what they want and then advertise it. Set up social media accounts, and make sure your department has a positive presence on the online platforms and in areas that attract today’s young people.
  6. Ensure background checks and department requirements align with actual department needs. Your officers must be held to the highest standards. But if parameters are too stringent, you might miss out on some ideal candidates.
  7. Sit down with your officers. Ask them questions and listen. Find out what would make them happier at work. What benefits would they like to have? What do other departments offer that you don't?
  8. Get your officers out into the community. Community policing helps recruitment and hiring, but it also improves police officer retention. Establishing understanding and appreciation between officer and citizen is essential to job satisfaction.
  9. Stay competitive. If your compensation packages, culture and recruiting outreach aren’t equal to or better than those of other departments, your agency may lose officers to other departments or new careers. Get creative with this. One strategy for police officer recruitment and retention is to consider offering signing and retention bonuses as well as benefits, such as more paid time off, stipends for specialized training, mentorship, work-life balance, and extended access to resources and support.
  10. Improve communication from the top down and bottom up. When leadership’s expectations are clear, and the rank-and-file feel they can approach command for support or learning opportunities, the culture of the department shifts and you have a happier workforce. Establish communication channels that go both ways. This is an example of providing internal procedural justice.
  11. Prioritize training. Policing has changed drastically over the last several years and decades. By providing your officers with the training they need, they can be at the top of their game and feel confident about policing in today’s world.

More ideas like these can be found in the U.S. Department of Justice COPS Office manual, “Law Enforcement Best Practices: Lessons Learned from the Field,” developed with the help of our law enforcement consulting advisors who served as lead subject matter experts and principal authors.

Take Action Now

The hiring environment may prove challenging for some time. Systemic impediments - like gaps in strategic planning, poor leadership, internal affairs challenges, or outdated policies, practices and procedures – often get in the way of good ideas and basic common sense. Before you can make positive changes in law enforcement recruitment and retention, your city and police leaders need to take a fresh look at their operations to determine if they are heading in the right direction. Learn more about our law enforcement consulting services and how we can help support police officer retention, recruitment, and hiring in your department.