In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and with a very challenging job market, community frustration with the police profession increased exponentially, as did concerns about officer safety and welfare. All across the country, law enforcement agencies are facing a historic crisis in recruiting and retaining qualified candidates.
As agencies continue to look for innovative ways to attract qualified potential candidates while retaining current personnel, the crisis demands an immediate and effective response to ensure that law enforcement can maintain sufficient staffing levels to serve the public safety needs of their communities. Tackling these issues may require an examination of agencies’ foundational organizational structure and processes to meet the needs and expectations of both law enforcement and the community more clearly and simply.
In response to this situation and recognising that how law enforcement professionals are hired and retained has a major impact on reducing violent crime, as well as overall public safety and community trust, Attorney General Merrick Garland identified these issues as a top priority for the U.S. Department of Justice.
The Bureau of Justice Assistant (BJA) and Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), agencies of the US Department of Justice, brought together a group of more than 30 law enforcement and community leaders from across the country in Washington in April of this year to discuss existing best practices and emerging and transformative solutions designed to address current uniformed personnel challenges.
In addition to command staff and other police leaders from diverse associations, it was emphasized that recruitment and retention issues are among the most significant problems facing federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial law enforcement agencies across the country, regardless of size or location.
All of these reflections, recommendations and conclusions were compiled in a report on the recruitment of new police officers. Among the document’s recommendations are:
- Short-term solutions, with a shorter implementation time.
- Long-term strategies, with more time to implement them.
- Introduce young people, as early as primary school, to law enforcement and public safety as a career.
- Leverage the existing skills and interest of potential recruits in the policing profession with greater focus on programs such as internships (short-term) and apprenticeships (long-term).
- Establish educational alliances.
- Work with local secondary schools to identify and develop immersion opportunities.
- Work with institutions of higher education to offer courses designed to teach students material relevant to a police career.
- Consider creating a degree program focused exclusively on preparing students for careers in law enforcement.
As main conclusions, the document states that:
- Law enforcement is at a crossroads as many officers leave the profession through resignation or retirement, while candidates are becoming less and less qualified.
- The long-term strategies provided in this report invite law enforcement agencies to work to increase the attractiveness of policing as a job option, attract good candidates, and better prepare new recruits for the realities of modern policing.
- It must be ensured that existing employees know they are valued, that the health and safety of the workforce is promoted, and that community trust is increased.