Marketing, relaxed restrictions pull in officers.
The Windsor, Conn., Police Department was pleased when its November recruitment test netted 176 applications, but when 40 candidates showed up, only 12 passed the fitness requirements. Eventually, all of the prospective officers failed to pass muster in some way.
Windsor's police recruitment problems are not unusual. Across the nation, many departments are struggling to fill vacancies left by retired officers and general attrition. They are finding fewer young people — possibly disaffected by the scrutiny and stresses of the job, and having to work nights, weekends and holidays — stepping up to fill those empty slots. To overcome those obstacles, police departments are joining together to stretch their marketing dollars, casting wider nets to draw in non-traditional candidates, relaxing drug use restrictions and offering signing bonuses to attract experienced officers from other cities.
For example, the cost for advertising and testing new recruits is shared between 10agencies within the Omaha, Neb., Council Bluffs Metropolitan Area Planning Agency (MAPA). Before the collaborative was formed, each agency paid for their own advertising and testing, which often resulted in only a handful of applicants, says MAPA Executive Director Paul Mullen. “[The recruitment collaborative] has increased the quality of applicants [member agencies] have to choose from and increased the pool of women and minorities they are always trying to recruit,” he says.
Other agencies are sponsoring inexpensive events to attract talent. Denver Department of Safety recruiter Don Runyak says Denver's regional Public Safety Diversity Career Day promotes law enforcement and fire service careers to residents who might not have considered those jobs in the past. Runyak says a December 2005 event representing more than 50agencies drew more than 1,000 attendees. “It is low cost and great networking among recruiters and applicants,” he says.
Agencies also are reviewing their drug tolerance policies to attract a larger pool of applicants. “This generation today has been exposed to more experimentation, and it's rare to find a candidate who has never tried anything,” says Lt. Raul Munguia of the Austin, Texas, Police Department.
Rather than disqualifying a candidate for prior drug use, Munguia says his department tries to separate the experimental drug user from the habitual one. The department will consider applicants who used marijuana more than three years prior to applying. Likewise, Lt. Leonard Rohrer of the Bismarck, N.D., Police Department says they found a larger pool of applicants when they relaxed their tolerance policies on past marijuana use, and when they considered candidates who had once used steroids.
Despite less stringent demands, and offering some of the highest pay in Texas, Munguia says Austin still is barely keeping up with the turnover rate. As a result, the department is requiring more overtime and rejecting vacation requests from current employees.
Munguia says things could be worse and cites two other Texas police department's recruitment techniques, notably Houston, which offers a $7,000 sign-on bonus to any currently employed Texas police officer who joins the Houston department, and San Antonio, which has accelerated the time required to graduate from its academy. Munguia says Austin's biggest fear is that operating without enough officers runs the risk of burning out those on the beat. “We're sounding the warning bell here,” he says.
Annie Gentile is a Vernon, Conn.-based freelance writer.