Blue Line

Features Back of the Book Opinion
Police recruitment needs radical, bold thinking

January 4, 2022  By Tom Wetzel

One of the top concerns for police leaders today is recruitment, particularly with a national exodus of police officers who are either retiring early or just simply leaving the profession altogether. It is a complex problem that has been developing over the years and certainly exacerbated by recent anti-police rhetoric that has reached a fever pitch.

Inspiring people to consider a career in our time-honoured profession of policing is going to take bold initiatives and innovative marketing approaches. Appeals to wages and benefits alone will not cut it. Traditionally, police departments have attracted men and women to work for them with content delivered by the police themselves, or maybe assistance from a civil service commission or a city or county Human Resources Department.

Some departments will utilize print media to get the word out but that has significant limitations, particularly for a new generation raised on cell phones and instant Internet access. Large scale coverage through radio or television spots is usually limited to large metropolitan police departments who have budgets designed to address this.

Many police departments – regardless of size – have taken advantage of social media outreach, which can be cost efficient and allows an agency a lot of creative license to highlight what makes their place a desired one to work for. But regardless of approach, it is usually the cops or affiliated government partners who are presenting their cases to prospective candidates. And that needs to change.

To sell ourselves better and help make our strongest case, we require more than officers making that argument. In true community policing fashion, what we need are our ‘customers’ to really make our case for us. When it comes to recruitment videos or social media promotional spots, we need to have our shareholders doing shout outs on why our agency is the cat’s meow. Commentary needs to come from our elected officials, schoolteachers and/or principals, religious leaders, business owners and residents of all races and socio-economic backgrounds. These are the recipients of our service and their words will hold a lot of weight. Often, people are attracted to an agency based on good old-fashioned word of mouth. This focused effort is basically ‘the word of mouth’ on steroids and can have a powerful impact on who will want to work for your agency.

Another approach is to have citizen volunteers act as police spokespersons, who then spread the word about your police department through their outreach within the community. We started an innovative youth program called the Teen Ambassador Club which is a collaborative police-and-school based program where secondary age students act as “Police Ambassadors” within our community. They learn about what police officers do and develop relationships with them through this unique club, and then they can go out and act as honest brokers about how special a cop’s job is and its importance to the vibrancy of a neighbourhood. Having youth as police recruiters is priceless.

What we need are our ‘customers’ to really make our case for us … We need to have our shareholders doing shout outs on why our agency is the cat’s meow.

Our business community should also be solicited to help make our case that police work is a special profession. They can offer scholarships for people to go to college to pursue a career in police work.

And lastly, our civic leaders need to show consistent support for their public servant guardians and not jump to conclusions about highly volatile situations, such as a police shooting incident, until they have gathered all the facts. They need to demonstrate courage and resolve regardless of what media outlets may be trying to portray, or when groups are creating false narratives about cops and their actions under extreme stress. If politicians demonstrate a commitment to ensuring police officers have the support of their civic leadership and will get true due process when applicable, they are making that agency an attractive one to work for because candidates will realize they will get a fair shake when doing their jobs there.

We are in a period like no other. Police officers are making more money with better benefits than they ever have in the history of policing, yet we are struggling to develop sizeable recruitment pools to choose promising candidates from. To make our best case, we truly need the ‘served’ to help the ‘server’ find good people. This may turn the tide and become a watershed moment when it comes to police recruitment.

Tom Wetzel is the chief of police in Richmond Heights, Ohio, a Northeast Ohio suburban police lieutenant and former SWAT commander. He is also a certified law enforcement executive, adjunct professor in community policing and internationally published author on police topics.

Print this page


Stories continue below