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Enhancing Recruitment Efforts Nationwide through K–12 School Partnerships

By Dr. Joseph N. Coffee, Greg Kyritsis and Dr. Thomas E. Navickas

Hands-on training by fire fighter with the “jaws of life,” at San Bernadino PSA.

San Bernadino Public Safety Academy (PSA): Students in morning formation.

San Bernadino PSA: Students on the range with training weapons.

San Bernadino PSA: Two students learning how to maneuver a hose.

San Bernadino PSA: Close up of single student with a hose

Fairfield-Suisun PSA: Students in morning formation doing the Pledge of Allegiance.

Fairfield-Suisun PSA: Close-up shot of student in classroom.

Fairfield-Suisun PSA: Student detail on a field trip in formation.

Fairfield-Suisun PSA: Student holding one of the class guidons.

Overall shot of teacher and students in classroom (all wearing daily uniforms), at Fairfield-Suisun PSA.

Student honor guard practicing in the gym.

For careers in public safety, an all-too familiar challenge lies in the need for more efficient, cost-effective recruiting and hiring processes. This issue may be most pressing in law enforcement. In most cases, hiring just two to three police officers requires the thorough, time-consuming evaluation of at least 200 candidates. What is more, each hire takes the better part of a year to complete. Three to six months are allotted for screening and selection, and the subsequent training and education of recruits adds three to four more months. Because of the length of the process, top candidates often secure alternative positions in the field, and reject hiring agencies’ offers. Meanwhile, departments incur unbudgeted overtime expenses required to cover gaps in staffing; this squeezes funding and puts additional stress on public servants in highstakes occupations.

However, this trend may be only a symptom of a more fundamental problem. And the solution may rest within K–12 and higher education.

To perform the job effectively, each police officer must possess necessary technical, physical, and behavioral capabilities. An unfavorably low percentage of candidates possess all three and are ready to serve. And while hiring agencies devote substantial resources to their evaluations, the behavioral capability has proven to be elusive. Its absence is often the result of a latent defect that can be traced back to elementary and secondary student development. The foundations of citizenship and character building are established during this time and are critical requirements for not only law enforcement, but all public service careers.

One remedy that has addressed all three capabilities of today’s recruitment challenge exists within a segment of the U.S. educational system titled career and technical education (CTE), which is the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium (NASDCTEc). The NASDCTEc is focused on preparing a career-ready workforce by providing high school and college students with advanced knowledge, technical skills, and real-life experience in 16 high-demand industries (career clusters) such as health science, finance, agriculture, and law and public safety. The industries are made up of 79 careers (pipelines). As of 2013, CTE programs are being taught in every state and enroll more than 14 million students in 1,300 public high schools and 1,700 twoyear colleges, according to the NASDCTEc.1

Student outcomes of CTE signal promising trends. The consortium reports that high school graduation rates for students who completed a CTE program exceeds 90 percent, compared with a national average of 75 percent.2 In addition, students of two-year colleges who take a CTE course continue their postsecondary education and/or transfer to a four-year institution more frequently than their peers who do not take a CTE course.

The Role of the National Partnership for Careers in Public Safety

Each career cluster included in the CTE program requires a system of supports designed to continuously sustain and advance best practices. The National Partnership serves as the lead organization for the law, public safety, corrections, and security career cluster. The not-forprofit organization is dedicated to collaborating with both academic and practitioner leaders across the United States to build and support public safety career development programs and systems.

By partnering with K–12 public schools, higher learning institutions, and best-in-class law enforcement subject matter experts who have both academic and professional credentials, the National Partnership designs career programs to enhance the transition for students between their academic and professional careers. Supporting, upgrading, and promoting—on a continuing basis—the use of the career cluster and a pipeline concept, appropriately linked to current nationally recognized certifications and degree programs, results in the development of high-quality public service career candidates. The career programs emphasize ethics, integrity, and honesty in service to the public. These requisite characteristics are consistently missing among candidates; a trend that has contributed to the recruiting roadblock for public service fields. By connecting educators with law enforcement agencies, the National Partnership membership facilitates the development and communication of best practices for the field. This article presents examples of these best practices in creating remedies to the current roadblock.

The California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST)—A Pipeline from School to Work

California POST was established by the state legislature in 1959 and has over 610 California law enforcement agencies affiliated in its program representing over 93,000 peace officers, law enforcement dispatchers, and reserve peace officers. California POST also works closely with the 39 POST-certified basic academy programs in the state, which are all affiliated with community colleges.3

As the U.S. economy is showing signs of recovery from the national recession, California law enforcement agencies are once again recruiting candidates to fill vacancies and prepare for projected retirements. Unfortunately, finding qualified applicants who can successfully complete the California POST selection process continues to be a major challenge. Recent inquiries by POST revealed that many agencies are still experiencing high applicant failure rates, often as high as 90–95 percent.4 These candidate failures reflect tens of thousands of applications statewide. The primary issues causing the high applicant failure rates continue to be weak academic performance, primarily in reading and writing; weak fitness level; and deficits in character and behavior.

POST staff also consulted the California Background Investigators Association (CBIA) to review the applicant failure rate, and they confirmed the three primary issues causing the high failures. The CBIA membership also related that most applicants are surprised of how in-depth the selection process is. Many candidates are caught lying on the initial POST Personal History Statement (PHS), a 27-page document that reviews the candidates’ personal history and also measures an extensive list of character and behavior traits.

In 2009, a POST task group of statewide stakeholders reviewed the recruitment deficiencies and considered options on how to address the high applicant failure rate. The task group developed the POST Public Safety Career Pipeline Concept, which is a tool that local law enforcement agencies can use, in partnership with their local school and college districts, to develop public school–based programs to begin “growing their own” qualified candidates, a concept also featured in the IACP Police Chief magazine in November 2011.5 POST has also developed a DVD and an accompanying program guide on this concept that was circulated to all California POST agencies in 2012. POST staff continues to promote this concept to police chief and sheriff associations throughout California to gather more support for this program. California POST also released an additional DVD program, Building a Public Safety Career Pipeline—Update 2014 on this career pipeline concept to its agencies across California in February 2014.

The POST Career Pipeline includes multiple components. It is not just a single school-based program; it is meant to be a comprehensive educational pipeline incorporating the entire educational cycle, from elementary school through college graduation, and including layers of career partners, specifically law enforcement and public safety. The POST task group felt that the pipeline must begin at a much lower grade level than previous efforts, preferably in elementary school. Reaching students at younger ages seems to offer the best opportunities to motivate students to perform their best in academics, fitness, and character.

The Career Pipeline also requires additional components. These include affiliations with Explorer or Cadet Programs, usually for ages 14–21; Police Activity Leagues (PAL) when available; structured internships for high school seniors and college students; and a structured leadership and character development program woven throughout the pipeline curriculum. The Career Pipeline is also to be supported by an active advisory council representing all the components of the pipeline. This should include representatives from all the educational components (K–12 and higher education), representatives from local law enforcement and other public safety entities (fire, corrections, district attorney, probation, parole, etc.), the local chamber of commerce, parent groups, student leadership, and community sponsors.

The students in the school-based pipelines (K–12) should be in uniform and should be overseen by a cadet training officer (CTO). The CTO is much like a recruit training officer (RTO) used in traditional California peace officer basic academy programs. However, the CTO does not apply the very high-stress structure normally placed on peace officer trainees by RTOs; rather, the CTO is more of a student motivator who also holds students accountable to the school’s code of conduct and to the expectations required of the students in these structured school-based programs. The CTO also oversees the paramilitary structure used by the school-based program. This structure usually works well with most students; promotes camaraderie, team work, and respect among students and staff; and is also a good motivational tool to get students to perform their best in academics, fitness, and character.

POST staff is currently reviewing and working with three school-based sites that are developing full Career Pipeline programs. This review includes the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) model that currently facilitates, in partnership with its local school district, the Police Academy Magnet Program (PAMS), which is hosted at two middle schools and four high schools for approximately 1100 students. PAMS is hosted as a magnet school program which is a structured school program hosted on a larger school campus, also known as a “school within a school” model. Full-time LAPD officers are assigned to each of the PAMS. Interested high school students are then recruited into a two-year college program known as POPP (Police Orientation Preparatory Program) that is held at the LAPD Police Academy grounds at the Ahmanson Training Center. This college program is cohosted by LAPD and West Los Angeles College, and students completing this program can receive two associate degrees simultaneously (Administration of Justice and Liberal Arts). Approximately 100 students participate in this program each year. Once they complete the POPP program, they can apply for the LAPD entrance exam.

The second program, known as the San Bernadino Public Safety Academy (PSA), is also in Southern California, and it is a charter school program for grades 6–12 for more than 400 students. This school has been in existence for more than 12 years and it is hosted at the retired Norton Air Force Base, in downtown San Bernardino. Its themed focus is on law enforcement and fire, and it has used retired peace officers and firefighters as CTOs. The program also has two donated fire engines on site. The charter school is currently expanding its program to include grades 1–5 and affiliations with their two local community colleges and state college, which will make this program a complete K–16 career pipeline when fully developed.

The third program is in Northern California and was spearheaded by the Solano County Police Chief’s Association after receiving a presentation by POST on the Career Pipeline concept. POST staff worked with the association on this concept and also arranged for its team to visit the San Bernardino PSA, which highly motivated its members to begin work on its own PSA. This effort was driven by the Fairfield and Suisun Police Departments. Chiefs of Police Walt Tibbet (Fairfield) and Ed Dadisho (Suisun), in collaboration with their local school superintendent, Jacki Cottingim-Dias opened their new school-based program in August of 2012 for approximately 400 students in grades 5–8. The program is located on a previously empty elementary school campus and dedicated as the Fairfield-Suisun Public Safety Academy (PSA). The program will add an additional grade level each year until it reaches 12th grade.

Under the direction of school principal Kathy Frazer, in its first year of operation, the Fairfield-Suisun Public Safety Academy achieved a superior Annual Performance Index (API) score of 940, out of a possible 1,000. Principal Frazer credits the POST model format that all students and staff wear uniforms, the use of a paramilitary structure, her staff’s implementation of “project-based learning,” and the use of a CTO (a retired peace officer) to motivate and hold students accountable as key ingredients to the school’s success. This new public school model was developed as an “Alternative School of Choice” (not a charter school), as defined under the California Education Code Section 58500. The model is a dedicated campus program for grades 5–12, and it has developed into an exemplary program that should be considered by all law enforcement agencies. This program now has over 500 students in the program and has expanded to the 9th grade level. It will continue to expand to 12th grade for up to 800 students and then funnel students into the two local community college programs and the nearby California State University, Sacramento.

It should be noted that the students in all three of these California programs are average kids from the local communities and usually mirror the local demographics, which is a major incentive for recruiters. Students in these programs are demonstrating better scores in academics, higher fitness levels, an almost nonexistent dropout rate, and fewer discipline problems and many are enjoying school much more. The key elements making these programs successful is the project-based learning, the student uniforms, the CTOs, and the paramilitary structure that holds students accountable, promotes camaraderie, and encourages students to want to do their best. This structured student model has been found to be a very successful format for motivating recruits in the 39 California basic academy programs and also works well with students in the school-based career pipeline programs.

POST believes that the development of career pipeline programs is a viable option that can assist the law enforcement profession in “growing its own” cadre of qualified applicants to meet the recruitment challenges facing the law enforcement profession in California. These school-based programs have also been found to be excellent crime   prevention programs that are leaving positive impacts in local communities. POST and the staff of the described school sites realize that not all of their students will enter careers in law enforcement or public safety, but all or most of these students will have a solid foundation in academics, fitness, and character development that can make them successful in any career path they choose. Ultimately, these programs can make students viable members of communities.

Beyond California—Other Efforts across the United States

A Different Approach to Pipeline Development Process—The Mid-Atlantic Center for Law and Public Safety

Each state, and, indeed, every jurisdiction, will have to deal with different situations, requirements, and needs. Although the California approach is an ideal way to meet recruitment and career development needs, not every state can be as fortunate to have state agency leadership and resources. This section describes a somewhat different
approach to achieve similar goals.

The National Partnership’s collaboration with public education and law enforcement recruitment grows each year. Recently, its stakeholders spurred a multi-state initiative titled the Mid-Atlantic Center for Law and Public Safety. Beginning in 2013, a collaborative effort in Pennsylvania and New York emerged to develop a pipeline approach with similarities to those under way in California. Rather than a state-led agency, Mansfield University in Pennsylvania serves as the site for the Mid-Atlantic Center for Law and Public Safety (hereinafter the Center). This effort differs from those in California in several ways. The differences include (1) the number of states involved, (2) a different form of leadership—an advisory board approach, and (3) a higher number of occupations.

The Center involves 50 secondary and 40 post-secondary career development programs across the two states and is intended to promote the pipeline approach to help recruit candidates for the full range of public safety careers. While still in its infancy, the board unites individuals of diverse career pathways and includes a district attorney, college deans and vice presidents, program leaders at the secondary level, upper-level law enforcement leaders, wardens, fire and emergency services experts, parole and probation leaders, and private security directors.

The goals of this partnership are unique and challenging. Clearly the wide range of occupations addressed makes the task of the Center more complex; but, it also means that progress can begin in the occupations where organizations are most ready to support the pathways concept. Moving forward, the Center seeks to increase partnerships with organizations of all relevant occupations, hold educator and recruitment strategy workshops, and create resources to assist organizations and schools to develop the approach of the respective pathways.

Veterans Tribute Career and Technical Academy, Las Vegas, Nevada

Variations to the pipeline approach can be found infused into the curriculum of schools like the Veterans Tribute Career and Technical Academy in Las Vegas, Nevada. In this approach, scenarios are designed to recreate the atmosphere students will step into as first responders. High school juniors and seniors are thrust into the “front lines” and must be ready for anything. For teachers, the exercises create powerful opportunities for teachable moments and help them to determine whether their students are keeping the primary objective in mind: serving those in need. Following the academy’s simulation, the students are evaluated by actual first responders in the gymnasium—a theory to practice opportunity few students will experience in their secondary education. The intense, albeit valuable, exercise is epitomized by the school’s motto of PRIDE: Professionalism, Responsibility, Integrity, Determination, and Excellence.

Goddard Unified School District 265, Wichita, Kansas

Goddard Unified School District 265, a suburb of Wichita, Kansas, offers another example of how the application of CTE in partnership with public safety professions assists the current public safety recruitment challenges.

The district began offering its state-approved law enforcement, public safety, and security CTE pathway at its two high schools in August 2013. The program, enrolled 285 students in the first semester, and it exposes students to a wide range of career opportunities in the field of law enforcement. Students receive a glimpse into the world of patrol, community policing, crime-scene investigation, and corrections through the use of instructional materials, guest speakers from law enforcement agencies, and field trips.

The sequence includes introductory courses in law and law enforcement, health and first aid, CPR/AED, forensic science, and advanced law enforcement. Every week, law enforcement courses, guest speakers, in-class investigations, and field trips to courts of law demonstrate the work entailed in keeping people and property safe. The health and safety course requires students to experience the beginning stages of employment in police, fire, and EMT/first responder services. Students acquire the skills necessary to become first responders in emergency situations and receive certification in first aid and CPR/AED. They are also prepared to take proper precautions while handling life-threatening situations, discuss both the National Incident Management System and the Incident Command System, and learn how to work with local and state laws.

Forensic science students complete both training and application labs in areas such as chain of custody protocol, fingerprinting, DNA electrophoresis, entomology, drugs and toxicology, bullet trajectory, impressions, tool and bite marks, post-mortem examination and autopsy, forensic anthropology, blood splatter, counterfeit and fraudulent documents, identity theft, trace evidence, and various types of scientific equipment to analyze crime scene evidence.

For each lesson, instructors plan and often co-teach with the school district’s police department. They also present content that provides insight into the physical, psychological, and emotional demands placed on law enforcement professionals.

Assistant Superintendent of Academic Affairs Dr. Teresa San Martin believes that the high interest level lies with the positive student-police relationships that have already been established and exist within the district’s own USD 265 Police Department.

Chief Ronny Lieurance, Goddard USD 265 Police Department and IACP member, enthusiastically stated that “the positive student relationships continue to build on a daily basis.”6

Under the leadership of program director and National Partnership board member James Little, the Century Career Center added a new criminal justice college and career pathway to its course offerings over the past two academic years. This curriculum will help meet high student interest and the future employment demand of the region. The Introduction to Criminal Justice program had a first-year enrollment of 75 students and the Criminal Justice II program currently has enrolled 31 advanced students this school year.

The program instructor, Bruce Jordan, brings 33 years of field experience to the program from his previous employment with the Indiana Department of Corrections. Jordan’s students in the criminal justice program are involved in various hands-on activities such as interviews, interrogations, fingerprinting, applying mechanical restraints, mock crime scene investigations, mock trials, prison design, and forensic entomology. This school year, advanced-level students participated in local business internships with the Cass County Sheriff’s Department, Logansport Police Department, Probation Department, and the Work Release Center.

Jordan has a strong program advisory board—a repeating element of successful career centers. The board membership includes the Cass County Sheriff’s Department, Indiana Department of Corrections, Cass County Prosecutor’s Office, and the Logansport Police Department. Members are involved in program recommendations and evaluation related to curriculum design, textbook selection, equipment recommendations, and building partnerships in the field of criminal justice.

Closing the Pipeline Gap between High School and Public Safety Officer Careers—The Chicago Police Cadet Program (1964–1972)

Many times, in order to find solutions to current challenges, one can find best practices from the past. During the mid-1960s through the early 1970s, the Chicago Police Cadet program served as an innovative method to address the recruitment challenges. Given the age gap between new high school graduates and the hiring age (21) for most public safety positions, Chicago initiated a police internship program for high school graduates. This paid internship, titled the Police Cadet Program, provided an opportunity to obtain valuable work experience in a law enforcement environment. Cadets were aged 17 to 20 and enrolled in degree-granting institutions. The cadets were given assignments at police districts, field offices, and central headquarters, where they staffed the police desk by performing various clerical duties. This work enabled them to work side-by-side with police officers and police supervisors.

Specific examples of duties included assisting in booking arrestees, compiling patrol staffing assignments, case report processing, and responding to general inquiries regarding police programs. A rigorous structured background check and interview process were required of all applicants for the internship.

The significance of the degree of effectiveness of this program in providing best-inclass public safety candidates was endorsed in a recent interview of two former Chicago police cadets from the class of 1968. Upon reaching the age of 21, these cadets became Chicago police officers and rose to the highest level of organizational leadership. Former Chicago Police Superintendent Philip Cline and current Philadelphia Police Commissioner Chuck Ramsey shared their unqualified support of these types of programs.

Similar to an internship for critical positions established by major corporations for engineers, accountants, and medical industry personnel, to name a few, the prospective employer has an opportunity to observe the candidate’s performance in real time. The combination of work and academic enrollment facilitated the candidates’ abilities to effectively move from theory to practice. This approach reflects the learning environment fostered by CTE in primary and secondary education. Given the high character standards for public safety positions, the cadets’ growth in developing critical thinking skills and character building can be readily observed and evaluated. In the two to four years police cadets serve behind the scenes, they absorb a tremendous depth of knowledge of policing systems, policies, and practices. Both Cline and Ramsey indicated that, in addition to their own experiences,
they witnessed many former police cadets-turned-police officers demonstrate high levels of achievement and quickly attain promotion from sergeant to captain. These officers created an excellent pool for executive rank succession planning and execution.

Growing up in the infamous Chicago Police District 7 (Englewood), Ramsey stated that he never would have considered becoming a police officer if he did not possess this opportunity as a police cadet. “I did not like the idea of policing because in [my] experiences the profession had a bad reputation,” he said. “I wanted instead to become a medical doctor.” But after entering the police cadet program on the encouragement of two of the district’s tactical officers, he said he soon recognized the work as an excellent fit.7

Akin to his father, a Chicago fireman, Cline possessed a desire to serve and protect the citizens of the city. The police cadet program not only supported his college education, but provided a deep understanding of what it means to serve. That is clearly demonstrated today in his role as the executive director of the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation whose mission is to support the families of fallen Chicago police officers.

The value of his early training is illustrated by a situation in his first year of service. In response to a call at a large volatile group gathering, Cline quickly identified that one of the primary agitators was wanted for an investigation on an unrelated incident. Cline approached the commanding officer in charge and said, “I can quickly obtain an arrest warrant.” When the senior officer questioned how he knew how to do that, Cline responded “I was a cadet.” Within the hour, the warrant was obtained, and Cline, accompanied by the district tactical team, placed the individual in custody without incident. The crowd quickly dispersed and peace was restored. Shortly later, Cline was assigned to the tactical team where he continued to apply the skills and knowledge acquired while serving as a police cadet.8


These examples have been presented for consideration as a systems solution to the recruitment challenges experienced across the United States. They are situated in the context of addressing the educational system as a root cause solution. A partnership between hiring authorities and educators is required for successful implementation. These partnerships have resulted in excellent academic achievement and development of the citizenship building necessary to address the behavioral capabilities of integrity, trust, and team building that are critical performance requirements to serve in public safety careers. ♦

1National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium, CTE: Learning That Works for America (Silver Spring, 2011), (accessed December 2013).
3The Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, “About POST,” (accessed January 15, 2014).
4“Building a Public Safety Career Pipeline—Update,” CA Post DVD 2014 (Sacramento, California: California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, 2014).
5Paul A. Cappitelli and Greg Kyritsis, “Establishing a Career Pipeline in Public Schools,” The Police Chief 78 (November 2011): 24–27.
6Ronny Lieurance, District Career and Tech Advisory Committee meeting, Goddard District Conference Center, December 11, 2013.
7Charles Ramsey (Chief of Police, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), phone interview by Thomas Navickas, December 23, 2013.
8Charles Ramsey (Chief of Police, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), phone interview by Thomas Navickas, December 16, 2013.

Please cite as:

Joseph N. Coffee, Greg Kyritsis, and Thomas E. Navickas, “Enhancing Recruitment Efforts Nationwide through K–12 School Partnerships,” , The Police Chief 81 (March 2014): 38–44.

Dr. Joseph N. Coffee is Director of Research and Project Development, National Partnership for Careers in Law, Public Safety, Corrections and Security Director, Mid-Atlantic Center for Law and Public Safety, Mansfield University, Pennsylvania.

Greg Kyritsis is Senior Law Enforcement Consultant, California Commission on Peace Officer Standards & Training (POST), Center for Leadership Development Bureau and Sheriff’s Captain and Commander of Training (Ret.), San Bernardino County, California, Sheriff’s Department.

Dr. Thomas E. Navickas is the Executive Director, National Partnership for Careers in Law, Public Safety, Corrections, and Security.



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXXI, no. 3, March 2014. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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