The Law Enforcement Hiring Crisis

“Difficulty with recruitment is a significant problem that is broadly affecting the field of law enforcement[…]it is not simply a result of poor agency management or localized failures.”  

This quote, initially published in a 2020 International Association of Police Chiefs (IACP) analysis, has only become more accurate as the pandemic, geo- and sociopolitical strife, and other factors continue to drastically alter the world.

In other words, the spiking retirement rates and plummeting application rates seen across the industry aren’t necessarily the fault of the individual law enforcement agencies suffering them—but they’re suffering all the same, per Forbes and numerous industry publications covering the topic.

Retirements, turnover, and burnout: A local problem with nationwide ramifications

One doesn’t need to look far to see the recruitment crisis and its comorbidities developing in real time. For instance, NYPD officers are retiring and scheduling retirements at a historic pace. It’s the same story in major cities like Louisville and Seattle, where local controversies and other factors have led to a mass exodus of boots-on-ground ranks.

The numbers coming out of these cities vary from department to department. Yet, the figures reported are quite worrying: In New York, 75 percent more cops have already retired in 2021 than they did in all of 2020.

Whether officers are permanently leaving the field due to age or other concerns or simply moving from one department to another, both expected and unexpected departures can create a challenging cycle for those remaining in the same workplace, as reported in the Bangor Daily News:

  • New and existing employees suffer from overwork and the myriad of burnout-related problems that it can create.
  • Overwork causes emotions to run high and mistakes to be made.
  • Public perception problems stem from inefficient work, misconduct, and other publicly known issues—leading to a lack of recruits to make up for the people the agency initially lost.

Race, public relations, and the challenges of reform

Then there are the outward-facing issues contributing to the recruiting crisis. While the murder of George Floyd was far from the first racially charged law enforcement incident to rock our nation, it did serve as a flashpoint for the changes to come and made our nation question, among other serious topics, just what it means to be a law enforcement officer.

In some regards, a 2020 Lincoln Journal Star write-up on the difficulties in diversifying law enforcement staff shows a microcosm of the larger issue. Following the Floyd murder, the publication noted, law enforcement agencies around the country saw a newfound shortage of applications from people of color.

“The people of our community, when they call for the police, they want to see people who look like them and share some of the same history and some of the same cultural similarities. When every time they call the police, they see someone who looks different, it’s more difficult to build that trust.” —Jeri Roeder, Lincoln PD

Fast-forwarding to the present, we see the same issue among potential applicants of all races and creeds. Because law enforcement has been so heavily criticized in the national media, and because officers are under additional scrutiny, people across the board are now more hesitant to apply than ever.

Drilling down: Other challenges and concerns

Naturally, the level of turmoil throughout the law enforcement recruiting process has led to change on the other side—agencies are doing everything they can to draw qualified applicants and are working harder to retain top talent.

In particular, law enforcement organizations may struggle with the following:

  • Public perception: There is an outcry for accountability and reform, which could cause people considering the profession to gravitate toward professions with less scrutiny.
  • Competition with other jobs/roles: Historically among the best-known “overworked and underpaid” roles, agencies must struggle to fill positions in an arena where similar roles within the private sector may come with fewer hours or less responsibility.
  • Danger: As we all know, law enforcement comes with specific hazards that can make the job highly unappealing to those who might otherwise be inclined to apply.
  • Standards: In some agencies, there is a zero-tolerance policy for minor infractions, even those that may have happened in someone’s youth. These standards may ultimately harm the agency’s ability to draw qualified applicants.

Keeping this info in mind as your agency weathers its hiring challenges can be of great help—when you’re aware of the problem and committed to making positive change, you’ve already taken the most important steps.

Posted on Jun 1, 2021