Law enforcement is facing a critical moment in history and if leaders don’t make the correct decisions now, the safety of communities and the ability of the profession to fulfill the mission of crime reduction will be lost for generations to come.
I have spoken in detail about law enforcement recruiting over the last few years and you can see a training series I did here but I’m not seeing much change and that concerns me greatly.
While I applaud some of the efforts being done by agencies, it seems we are simply throwing ideas (and money) at the wall and hoping that something works. From billboard campaigns to fancy websites to marketing campaigns, the needle isn’t budging and law enforcement agencies are not increasing their recruit numbers.
The latest idea are signing bonuses and I’ve seen payouts as high as $20,000 but will this actually work to fix recruiting issues?
If the goal is to get more qualified candidates for the long term, bonuses will not only NOT WORK but they may hurt the agency in the long run.
If it takes a bonus to get someone to come to your agency, then what happens when another agency offers more a year later? The truth is, actual recruiting is about finding candidates that want to come to your agency for many reasons and while pay, benefits, and even bonuses, play a part, those will never be the reason they hire and stay…..which must be the goal of any recruiting campaign.
It’s About Culture….Not Money
The truth is that while the recruiting problem in law enforcement is real, we really have a leadership problem. Research conducted on employee satisfaction, retention and recruiting reveals that pay and benefits come in 5th place on what employees desire. Money is important but it’s not the reason people come and stay. If an agency truly wants to correct their staffing issue, they better embrace leadership. By far, the priority of candidates is the leadership and culture of the agency. Future law enforcement professionals want to work in an environment where they are valued, empowered, and most of all, protected when they do their job.
2020 and Beyond
Many leaders in our profession were exposed in the aftermath of 2020. One incident in Minneapolis created a storm across the country that brought reforms based on emotion, unwarranted critiques, and officers falsely accused at a rate that had never been seen before. None of this was new and law enforcement has always dealt with those that don’t exactly have the same mission of “law” “enforcement” that we have but it was how many leaders dealt with it that has caused the problem.
Leadership Can Fix Recruiting
If agencies want to correct recruiting, they better start with leadership. Decisions must be made on facts and data, not on emotional feelings. When officers follow policy and training, they better be defended at all costs from the sharks that want to destroy us. When the media lies about officers and your agency, we must react strongly and never let the liars prevail. When politicians pass legislation that will place the lives of law enforcement and the community at risk, we better respond and react quickly. Officers must be trained at a high level and given every possible resource to do their job great.
And that is just an introduction at what must be done!
Stop Taking The Easy Path
Rather than actually solving the issue of recruiting, which begins and ends with great leadership, many agencies are simply checking the box that includes hiring bonuses, marketing campaigns and sponsored social media posts. We’ve been doing that for a few years now and nothing is changing.
We have a choice to make. Law enforcement can continue doing and trying the same old tactics or we can try a different approach. For the sake of the entire profession, I’m begging our leaders to actually start leading.
Note: I have written and trained extensively on this topic. Some of those resources are below:
Travis Yates is a commander with a large municipal police department and author of “The Courageous Police Leader: A Survival Guide for Combating Cowards, Chaos & Lies.” His risk management and leadership seminars have been taught to thousands of professionals across the world. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy and Doctoral Candidate in Strategic Leadership.