FEATURED IN LEADERSHIP
Having trouble filling the ranks? That s no surprise. If you haven t been challenged with recruitment, stop grinning. The odds overwhelmingly indicate you ll have trouble within the next five to seven years. Having spoken at conferences across the nation, I ve found recruiting problems nearly everywhere, but perhaps the state that s currently feeling the biggest pinch is one with the largest population and more than 400 agencies California. Improved retirement plans and growing communities have created the perfect storm in terms of recruitment, where there s an estimated 15,000 vacancies.
In an effort to obtain cutting-edge perspectives for California law enforcement agencies, the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) conducted a study in July 2005 called Recruitment and Retention of Peace Officers: Best Practices. Largely comprised of recruitment and retention experts outside of law enforcement, three focus groups convened, including human resources (HR) professionals and consultants, and company representatives from REI, Vision Service Plan, Hitachi, IBM, the U.S. Marines and Wells Fargo Financial. The groups recommended the following 10 best practices for law enforcement recruitment.
Develop a Plan
Identify recruitment goals and create a five-year plan. Because law enforcement hiring and training (academy, field and/or jail) can take more than a year, planning ahead enables agencies to project future hiring needs. Examples of strategic questions include:
How important is recruitment to the agency?
Does the chief or sheriff support recruitment?
How many positions will the agency need to fill in the next three to five years?
Who will do the recruiting?
Is gender and ethnic diversity important?
Is the current recruitment budget adequate?
Here are some additional steps to consider in basic strategic planning:
Identify the stakeholders;
Analyze your current agency s practices;
Recognize industry trends;
Determine a time frame;
Identify long-term goals;
Develop an action plan; and
Review and evaluate.
Various surveys have shown the majority of agencies have little or no money to budget for recruitment despite challenges. You must have a sufficient operating budget, says Sergeant Mike Couturier of the Anchorage (Alaska) Police Department. Based on our experience, I would recommend budgeting about $3,500 for each position you expect to fill during the year. This is above the cost of setting up and maintaining a recruitment unit. This estimate covers recruiting trips, advertising, print material and other related expenses.
To better understand the agency, constituency and the results of agency efforts, conduct research to provide answers to the following questions:
Who s the ideal candidate?
Do written qualifications reflect what the agency wants?
What has attracted and kept existing staff?
Why is staff leaving?
What advertising and other efforts are yielding the best results?
This information will impact recruitment planning, advertising and strategies. For example, identify what attracted recent new hires and use it in recruitment advertising. In one agency, a survey of top-performing recruits hired over a seven-year period revealed that roughly 85 percent had been recruited by agency personnel. Only one candidate was hired by agency recruiters from a job fair.
Sergeant Devearl Royster of the Delaware State Police recommends looking for recruits who have the department at heart and only hire people who have the same values as the department. Hiring candidates that embrace department values ensures alignment between personal values and department values.
Look for ways to personalize recruitment, and court candidates through the process. Because candidates have many options, here are some ways to personalize recruitment and draw their attention to your department:
Make the staff accessible to candidates to answer questions;
Send updates regularly to candidates about the selection process;
Reach out to the families of candidates to address their concerns;
Stage an open house for potential candidates and their families; and
Assign department staff to mentor selected candidates through the process and subsequent training.
Candidates want to feel they are important, especially in a tight labor market.
Select the Right Recruiters
Develop criteria for your recruiter position. What are the skills, diversity and community connections needed? Here are things to consider in selecting a recruiter:
Match the diversity of recruiters with targeted populations;
Pick personable people who are at ease talking with others;
Select people who understand salesmanship and want to recruit;
Make sure recruiters know about the selection process, time frames, background disqualifiers, compensation and training required; and
Provide recruitment training if additional knowledge and skills are needed.
Recruiters are role models. Will candidates be attracted to your agency because they want to be like your recruiter(s)? A recent survey in a large police department revealed that time-management, public speaking and developing a personal recruitment strategy were top priorities to recruiters.
Be honest don t promise anything you cannot deliver and promptly return correspondence. People appreciate a quick response to their questions, says Detective David Do, a seasoned recruiter with Honolulu Police Department.
Develop relationships that can provide a potential pipeline of new candidates. Community partners are force multipliers who can look out for potential candidates and send them your way. These include community-based organizations, other city/county departments in your jurisdiction, professional associations, colleges and recruiters in other disciplines.
To build strong partnerships and enhance diversity recruitment, agencies should follow these recommended steps:
Determine which segment of community is under-represented;
Obtain executive sponsorship;
Establish a law enforcement recruitment advisory council;
Develop an advertising plan;
Mentor successful recruits through the selection process; and
Involve members of the community in the planning and selection processes.
Additionally, when a good candidate doesn t qualify, refer them to a partner organization that may be a better fit.
Develop a Referral Program
Employees are an excellent source for referring good candidates. Help employees see themselves as ambassadors of the department and develop a culture that fosters a commitment to the agency. Keep employees informed about recruitment processes and the need for good candidates, both regular and reserve officers. Provide them with materials they can pass on to potential candidates. Consider how to acknowledge and/or reward employees who refer candidates, especially when those candidates are hired.
Employee referral programs essentially fall into three levels. Level one is awareness. Develop a plan to encourage employees to help with the recruitment process by providing visual reminders. Make materials readily available and feature their photo/profiles in recruitment materials and videos.
Level two adds promotional incentives for employees who have referred candidates. Example: Hold a drawing at the end of the recruitment period and give the winner dinner or movie tickets, or a weekend stay at a resort.
Level three adds paid referral incentives. This is usually money, but it can also be time off from work. Typically, the incentive is rewarded at different stages of the process, such as hiring or successful completion of the academy and/or field-training program.
Improve the Selection Process
Look for ways to speed up the recruitment and ensure the right screening tools are in place to identify the best candidates. A study titled Hiring and Keeping Peace Officers published in 2004 by the U.S. Department of Justice found the average time to conduct a screening process for new candidates was 6.84 weeks in small agencies and 11.51 weeks in large agencies.1 The federal government has funded at least four Extreme Hiring Makeovers (www.extremehiringmakeover.org), which were successful end-to-end reviews of the hiring process. As a result, processes were significantly shortened. Ideas to consider include:
Employing a pre-qualify questionnaire that allows potential candidates to screen themselves for disqualifiers in their background;
Training evaluators what to look for in ideal candidates;
Identifying how a good candidate might fit in the agency, even if it s not a position for which they ve applied; and
Reducing redundancy and eliminating unnecessary steps.
The Riverside (Calif.) Sheriff s Department, for example, meets regularly with hiring decision makers in a one-room forum. A background investigator provides an overview of the candidate, and a decision is made on the spot to offer employment. This alternate approach can save weeks.
The Houston Police Department is currently improving its selection process. In September, our state law will change so that police applicants are no longer required to take a test to start the hiring process. This change will allow us to prescreen candidates as they submit their applications, says Lieutenant Frank Rusinski. We have also started accepting on-line applications. We anticipate that these steps will allow us to get applicants through the selection process much quicker.
Choose an Advertising Plan
Advertising is about attracting qualified candidates. You must know what candidates are looking for in a career and where to target them. This may require some research. A survey of academy recruits from 16 different academies revealed that the top four reasons for accepting employment were the reputation of the agency, the variety of assignments, the location of the city or agency, and the agency s willingness to send the candidate to an academy.
When developing a recruitment message, ask target groups to evaluate the recruitment message so it s received the way it s intended. This feedback can prove invaluable.
Scan the community for recruitment opportunities, such as college graduates in the spring who are looking for new career opportunities. Another consideration: the medium you choose, which will reach some targeted audiences better than others.
The multifaceted approach usually works best. Track how candidates heard about openings so you know what mediums are reaching them. When possible, use existing channels to get the message out, such as community and department events, newsletters, public-service announcements or flyers.
Develop an Internet Presence
If you re not using the Internet as a recruitment tool, you re missing good candidates. A survey of 50 recruiters across the United States found that the Internet yielded the best recruitment results. Candidates are increasingly doing research about job/career opportunities online, and a significant number of applications are coming to agencies via the Internet. Therefore, it s important to develop an effective recruitment message using the following tips:
Make the site easy to navigate with a limited number of clicks;
Provide easy to read, jargon-free information;
Convey a clear message that sells the department and position;
Avoid messages that discourage potential candidates;
Create up-to-date and accurate content without burying the reader in mounds of verbiage;
Create a blog or online forum to ask questions; and
Provide a downloadable application, or allow candidates to complete and submit an application online.
Develop a realistic, comprehensive Web site, rather than a cute one, recommends Couturier. The Anchorage PD has a wealth of information on its Web site that meets the needs of most candidates, including an application with pre-screening questions.
Employ Effective Recruitment Strategies
A number of recruitment strategies can be employed that will not only get the message out, but also identify qualified candidates. Examples include:
Allowing candidates to participate in job shadowing;
Providing scholarships for college students interested in a law-enforcement career;
Offering transitional opportunities, like internships, that help individuals get experience that will help them find full-time employment;
Having an ongoing application process to keep applications coming in;
Asking staff to tell their story about what attracts and keeps them working for the agency, then print, film or put their stories on the Internet; and
Employing an effective community outreach program.
These 10 practices, when implemented correctly, can significantly improve your recruitment efforts. Consider, for example, the Merced (Calif.) Police Department s recruitment success story. This medium-sized department in central California had 80 sworn positions when Chief Russ Thomas was hired in June 2006. Thomas was a seasoned chief and had been an active member of the Recruitment and Retention Advisory Council hosted by the California POST. Some positions had been vacant for up to a year, and more than 20 positions were being added, bringing the authorized strength to 109. In the next 13 months, Thomas filled 45 positions, including 10 female officers.
Thomas partnered with the human resources staff to improve the process. This dialogue resulted in these changes:
Implementing continuous testing;
Implementing an internal interview process rather than external;
Waiving the written test for lateral candidates who went straight to BPAD (behavioral police assessment device) and an internal interview;
Discontinuing the physical-agility exam, but implementing a more strenuous medical examination. Candidates did have to complete the POST physical-agility test at the academy;
Increasing the number of background investigators and field training officers;
Maintaining frequent contact with candidates during the background and academy phases;
Doing preliminary background checks that quickly eliminated candidates. (Once the background investigator concludes the investigation, prior to finalizing the written report, the candidate proceeds to an interview with the chief, who can make an employment offer); and
Hiring successful candidates and sending them immediately to the academy, or putting them to work in the department as trainees until the academy starts.
We are very attentive to people who we make offers too, says Thomas. We don t want to lose good candidates. Our reputation has brought us a number of candidates who were waiting for offers of employment with other agencies.
For departments struggling with recruitment, Thomas suggests you make sure your processes aren t the problem. If your process takes too long or is cumbersome, fix it. And, if you re having problems getting candidates, ask yourself why. What s your reputation in the community or industry? If you were a candidate, why would you want to work for your agency? Ask your employees, and listen to what they say they are an important part of the process. Tailor the recruitment and hiring process to those you want to attract.
Thomas has used several practices mentioned in this article, which has significantly improved the recruitment process for his department. It helps to have executive sponsorship, but an agency s recruiters can also implement many of these ideas. Filling the ranks is challenging, but following these steps will ensure you have quality candidates to pin the badge on when you need them.
For a free copy of the Best Practices report, go to
http://switzeronleadership.com/recruitandretain.asp, then scroll down and click on the link in the “Best Practices Update” text.
1. Roper, Christopher S, Maguire, Edward R, Moore, Gretchen E. Hiring and Retention Issues in Police Agencies: Readings on the Determinants of Police Strength, Hiring and Retention of Officers, and the Federal COPS Program. U.S. Department of Justice. Washington, D.C. 2004.
Merle Switzer spent nearly 28 years in the Sacramento (Calif.) Sheriff's Department with nearly half of his career at the management and executive levels. He began teaching leadership in other organizations in 2001. Switzer holds Bachelor and Master degrees in Criminal Justice and a Master s in Public Administration, and he's a graduate of Command College and the Los Angeles Police Department West Point Leadership programs. He is also a Master Instructor and certified in problem-based learning, and he's done considerable research and speaking on recruitment and retention.