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In Good Times and In Bad: Candidate Recruitment and Incentives to Join Policing
Compiling a qualified pool of police applicants is challenging.  This is true for agencies independent of size, geographic location, leadership personnel, and even department budget.  Another factor in this equation, and a theme to be treated throughout here, is the state of the economy.  That is, what role does the unemployment rate play in being able to successfully recruit police officer candidates into the field of law enforcement?
            In times of economic prosperity, individuals in the workforce enjoy relative freedom to choose between careers.  For law enforcement, this means they must historically compete with the likes of manufacturing agencies for personnel (Lewin & Keith, 1976).  In the contemporary workforce, prospective employees may choose between other “helping professions” such as nursing, EMS, social work, counseling services and even other parts of the criminal justice system (probation/parole, corrections, court personnel).  One reason for this reluctance to enter policing may stem from its association as  being a potentially dangerous profession.  In short, prospective officers and their families worry about safety.  The thinking could follow, why work in a profession where there is a possibility of being shot or physically assaulted when comparable wages can be made doing other work?
            Giblin and Galli (2017) actually find, in a sample of larger police departments across the U.S., salaries tend to be lower in areas with higher crime rates.  This may signal a change in thinking that agencies do not need to financially incentivize officers simply because of working in a high crime jurisdiction.  Or, put another way, it is possible that candidates are attracted to a particular department to fight crime.  This does not mean law enforcement agencies do not need to compete for qualified applicants, rather there may be other recruitment strategies besides an attractive salary that act as an incentive to join the profession.
            A goal for any organization in the hiring process is to generate a large pool of highly qualified candidates.  This is no different in law enforcement, save for some of the unique challenges in the profession such as safety concerns, working in high stress situations, negative rhetoric surrounding the occupation, shift differentials, and command structures, to name a few.  To overcome these barriers, police leaders must employ innovative strategies for recruiting candidates.  According to Novak, Cordner, Smith, and Roberg (2016) some of these strategies include: Developing Explorer Programs for high school students, offering internships for first and second-year college students, and recruiting for reserve and auxiliary positions in junior and senior-level college classes.  Police Explorer Programs allow high school students an opportunity to better understand the roles of officers and to break down some of the stigmas and myths surrounding the work.  Internships early in an academic career for students allows for an inside look at what it takes to be a police officer.  Finally, reserve and auxiliary positions offer departments the opportunity to train individuals they see fit for possible full-time employment in the future.  Reserve and auxiliary officers may also benefit in these part-time roles by displaying their aptitude for the work.
            Aside from these forms of recruitment, there are other tactics available to agencies as well.  These may include: Teaming with colleges and universities to develop programs where candidates receive an Associates/Bachelor’s degree as well as academy credit while in school, sponsoring recruits financially through the academy, and hiring individuals majoring in fields outside of criminology/criminal justice (sociology, for example).  Law enforcement agencies may consider partnering with schools to develop either a 4+1 year Bachelor’s degree and academy program or a 2+1 year Associate’s degree and academy program.  In states that require police candidates to attend an academy prior to being hired, this can be an expensive undertaking.  In a state such as Wisconsin, it is common for tuition at a police academy to be as high as $5,000.00.  This takes a great deal of resources to put forward and police departments may consider sponsoring candidates to subsidize all or part of this cost.  Lastly, other parts of the criminal justice system (corrections in particular) are having success hiring candidates with degrees in sociology and other related disciplines.  This may represent a trend for future hiring practices in law enforcement.
            In times of economic prosperity, police officials must draw on their resources to incentivize qualified candidates to work for that particular department.  This is not the sole responsibility of police leadership, however, as they must work in conjunction with human resource officials to generate both attractive and competitive benefits packages (not just salaries).  In addition to this yearly evaluation of benefits packages, other incentives include: A take-home vehicle, reimbursement for uniform expenses, shift differential pay, pay raises for speaking a second language, and salary incentives for educational attainments.  Candidates may live a long distance from the department and be encouraged to accept a position if they do not have to use a personal vehicle to commute.  Dress code in policing is not like other professions where the attire can be worn at other times.  Because of this, officers are often left to spend hundreds of dollars on expensive and work specific items such as boots and belts.  Even a partial reimbursement for these more expensive items would act as an incentive for job candidates.  Many new officers start in policing working second and third work shifts.  Offering a pay differential for these shift may be one way to spread costs out for a department.  In jurisdictions such as Minneapolis, MN where there is a large Somali population, departments would benefit from having officers that speak more than one language fluently.  Departments may wish to reimburse officers for continuing education in the form of a greater percentage paid for better grades and/or a higher degree being obtained.
            Simply put, in both positive and negative economic times, police departments will need to continue to evaluate what they are doing to recruit and incentivize qualified candidates to work for their department.