A two-part series on how to get -- and keep -- good cops

COLUMBIA, Mo 10/20/13 (Beat Byte) -- 
Police department reputation and location are the two most important factors police officer candidates consider in a job offer. 

So discovered researcher Beverly A. Todd, in project for the Blackwood Law Enforcement Management Institute at Sam Houston State University's Criminal Justice Center in Huntsville, Texas.

"Recruitment and retention are major issues facing public safety departments today, both large and small," she says.

To meet the challenge requires "thinking outside the box, changing current ways of recruiting, and exploring innovative ideas."  

Todd examined the little-studied area of police officer recruitment and retention in small towns and cities, which has recently taken center stage in Columbia, where the discussion about crime reduction has centered on more police. 

She interviewed police chiefs from several Texas cities; surveyed their departments; and marshalled research from the American Management Association; the National Center for Women and Policing; the National Association of Police Organizations; and the journals Law Enforcement Technology  andThe Police Chief

Her findings contradict some long-standing Columbia leadership assumptions about police recruitment, including the idea that money matters most.  "Money is not always the top priority," she says. 

Law enforcement faces two major recruitment hurdles:  fewer young people interested in the profession coupled with passive recruiting strategies

"Law enforcement agencies have traditionally waited for qualified candidates  to read ads and come to testing.   This approach can no longer be taken," Todd explains.  "Departments need to be aggressive," especially with law enforcement lagging other career choices.   

Low starting pay; poor officer morale; stringent requirements that became moreso with new Homeland Security mandates; negative media attention; and department scandals "have all caused people to shy away from the police profession."
Attitudes among young people have also changed.  "Independent minded youth today are not attracted to policing as a career because they do not like the paramilitary hierarchy associated with police agencies," Todd explains.

Most Generation Xers and Millennials "are concerned with their own personal status; are more racially diverse; believe that hard work is not the quickest way to fame and fortune; and will most likely change jobs several times in their career.  They are not as concerned with tradition, job security, or likely to be loyal to one agency." 

Attitudes toward law enforcement careers can improve, but recruiters must emphasize "communication skills, technology, and the sciences used in the police field," Todd says.  "Police work is, after all, more than writing tickets and arresting the bad guys."

Recreuiters -- preferably dedicated police officers -- can't take a backseat approach, either.  "They must get out in the community, and have one on one contact with prospective applicants," Todd insists.  "They must reflect the attitudes, appearances, goals and aspirations of the department they represent."  

Those goals should include minority and female recruitment, which over 50% of police departments Todd surveyed mostly ignored.   "With more women entering the work force, especially in what used to be predominately male occupations, we must find ways to encourage their interest in the law," she writes. 

Beyond the department, selling new recruits on the virtues of their new community is also critical.  The reputation of the city, local government, school district, the crime rate, convenience to shopping, and a reasonable tax base are at the top of most recruits' lists. 

"These issues are especially important to officers that have families and are concerned with adequate schools for children, availability of good housing, and job opportunities for spouses," Todd says.  "These important factors lend themselves to a satisfied officer, and one who will stay with the department."

NEXT:  The three most important qualities of a good cop

Columbia Police recruitment page