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Back to Archives | Back to April 2010 Contents 

Strategies to Improve Recruitment

By Albert Antony Pearsall III, Senior Policy Analyst, U.S. Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing Services; and Kim Kohlhepp, Manager, IACP Center for Testing and Career Development

he IACP, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), has released a new publication to assist agencies with their recruitment efforts. The Law Enforcement Recruitment Toolkit comprises four reports, each focusing on a different area of recruitment:

  • Police Recruitment: Foundation Concepts. Provides an overview of the current state of police staffing and a summary of common recruitment obstacles and how to overcome them.

  • Recruiting for Diversity. Outlines the importance of diversity in law enforcement and strategies for effective minority recruitment.

  • Agency Collaboration in Police Officer Recruitment and Selection. Contains case studies of successful regional and intra-agency recruitment collaboratives across the country.

  • Community Partnerships in Police Recruitment. Discusses why and how to engage the community and civic organizations in the recruitment and selection process.

Below is an excerpt from the toolkit:

The policing profession’s effectiveness relies on its ability to attract quality people. Law enforcement officers are the foundations of their respective organizations. Quality officers are increasingly needed to work with community and government stakeholders to address quality-of-life issues, to answer non-emergency 3-1-1 and emergency 9-1-1 calls, and to prevent crime. The employees—the officers on the beat and the front-line supervisors, all the way up to chief executives—are the lifeblood of the police organization. Since employees are the deliverers of service within law enforcement organizations, proper recruitment and selection of officers is paramountly important. If police organizations cannot recruit, select, and retain quality individuals, the citizens they are sworn to serve and protect will ultimately endure substandard police service.

An organization’s success begins with its recruitment strategies. Recruiting and staffing shortfalls that have long plagued law enforcement agencies across the United States persist today, even during a period of high unemployment. Many candidates traditionally recruited for policing are now being successfully recruited by other industries. Another significant gap is the inability of small, rural, and tribal departments to compete against larger agencies in their recruiting and hiring efforts. As the national demographics continue to change, law enforcement agencies need to make sure that their department staffs continue to represent the communities they serve, including the underrepresented populations by race, religion, and gender. New challenges of the 21st century, including military call-ups, homeland security obligations, and increased competition, have combined to make the problem more acute. While many agencies are struggling, others are moving forward with innovative approaches.

The IACP has partnered with the U.S. Department of Justice, COPS in the COPS/IACP Collaborative Leadership Project to bring these innovative recruitment techniques to the forefront through a new publication, the Law Enforcement Recruitment Toolkit. While many effective recruitment practices are described more fully in the toolkit, the following excerpts can serve as starting points for agencies seeking both more and better applicants.

Engage the Community

The increasing challenges that law enforcement agencies are facing in attracting quality candidates for policing careers present unique opportunities for tapping citizens as resources in the recruitment and selection processes. Citizen involvement should be approached as a method of improving the functioning of the organization. Community engagement can lead to a greater sense of trust in and respect for the law enforcement agency by citizens, while strengthening the organization’s ability to identify and attract individuals who can serve as competent law enforcement personnel.

The city of Hartford, Connecticut, experimented with community engagement as a means to improve police recruitment of minority officers. Citizen focus groups helped police identify a primary barrier to recruitment: the lengthy period between an applicant’s expression of initial interest and the offer of a job.

In the mid-1990s, Lexington, Kentucky, lost some community support in the wake of an officer-involved shooting, two lethal-force incidents, and a charge of biased traffic enforcement. The chief of police supported a move to overhaul the police recruitment, selection, and training program and enlisted the help of a citizen minority-recruitment committee.

The lesson learned in both Hartford and Lexington is that police leaders can benefit by making police recruitment a community concern. Community support can help break down obstacles to progress, and shared responsibility can increase the likelihood of political support for needed changes.

Streamline Recruitment and Selection

Agencies should evaluate their hiring processes to assess if they are getting not simply the candidates they want, but also the candidates the community needs. Agencies need to look at the relevance of traditional disqualifying factors, such as credit ratings, to assess if they are unfair impediments to hiring quality police officers. Police departments are often burdened with cumbersome recruitment and selection processes that can frustrate applicants and drive them to seek employment elsewhere. Common characteristics of weak recruitment processes included systems that were designed to select out (exclude) rather than select in (include) a candidate. The most effective recruitment and selection processes are those that are completed quickly and allow a candidate to move swiftly from application to employment decision points.

Join the Discover Policing Movement

One tangible way the IACP is actively working to improve recruitment is through the Discover Policing initiative and its associated Web site,

Discover Policing is a nationwide law enforcement recruitment program managed by the IACP and funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The goal of this initiative is to bring more of the right kind of people into police service—diverse, service-minded applicants from all walks of life. The cornerstone of this effort is the Discover Policing Web site, which offers comprehensive information on law enforcement careers combined with a full-service career center.

Discover Policing’s Web site offers a variety of no-cost resources for both law enforcement employers and employees. Following are some ways to get involved and support the Discover Policing movement:

  • Post vacancy announcements to the Career Center—full- or part-time, sworn or civilian, entry-level or command positions. Customize them by adding a photo or logo.

  • Tap into the Discover Policing résumé bank to access hundreds of potential candidates.

  • Highlight employees by submitting a profile to the Real People/Real Stories section of the site.

  • Refer those interested in policing to the site as a source of comprehensive career information.

  • Request Discover Policing brochures and bumper stickers to distribute at career fairs and other recruiting events.

  • Use the job board to search for chief executive vacancies, IACP headquarters jobs, and entry/mid-level positions nationwide.

  • Connect with the Discover Policing team through its new blog and on Facebook and on Twitter to receive updates on newly posted jobs and other police recruitment news and information.

For more information, visit,
e-mail, or call
1-800-THE-IACP, extension 273.

Tell the Police Story

Perhaps the greatest task facing the police community is telling the police story. Many Americans undervalue police service. Police leaders must develop and implement plans to communicate an honest portrayal of police work directly to the American people. This is not an easy task and the greatest challenge likely will be obtaining broad support, consensus, and cooperation from police executives. Developing a marketing communication strategy that tells the true story of policing will offset media accounts of policing that could be negatively slanted or sensationalized. Telling factual stories of dedicated service by honorable police officers also values those who serve in the profession and increases the likelihood that potential applicants will be drawn to a career in police service.

Enlist the Support of the Media

A positive public image is important in luring new employees and retaining current employees, and effective use of the media is one important way of generating a positive perception of the agency. Many members of the media are aware of police staffing problems, but generally do not understand their shared responsibility to solve the problem. Police executives should reach out to their media contacts to discuss the nature and scope of the police recruitment challenges. Staffing shortfalls sometimes expose a police executive to media-driven criticism that officers are leaving the profession because of poor pay and benefits, low morale, excessive overtime, or officers’ safety concerns, and that the community is being endangered because of police personnel shortages. Proactive intervention with the media may rectify or blunt such criticism and serve to engage the media in finding workable and affordable solutions.

Reach Out to the Young

Nurturing respect for the important role of law enforcement in a democratic society and promoting interest in law enforcement as a career choice to children should be considered essential components of an agency’s long-term recruitment strategy. Children tend to think of police officers as friends and protectors, and many express a desire to be one someday. But, as they grow up, many lose interest in policing, and some even lose their faith in the police. It is in the best interests of the police and community safety to change that trend. Children who maintain positive perceptions of police grow to be law-abiding citizens. Agencies have built on children’s positive view of police officers using a variety of tactics. They include participation in National Police Athletic Leagues/Activities Leagues Incorporated, police cadet programs, and the Law Enforcement Explorers program, among others. At the least, police officers will help a future generation of citizens and taxpayers understand the importance of law enforcement. Better still, they could nurture a budding crop of future officers.

Hire Younger—and Older

Some agencies have modified their personnel employment rules to permit hiring applicants before they reach the minimum hiring age, which commonly is 21. Young hires are often enrolled in the police academy with a scheduled graduation date that coincides with their age requirement, allowing them to be commissioned as police officers at that time. Other agencies find nonsworn support positions where a qualified applicant can work, earn, learn, and be available to continue in the selection process.

Laws and regulations in many jurisdictions bar agencies from hiring entry-level police officers beyond a specific age. Some agencies have lifted these restrictions and have discovered success in hiring recruits much older than the traditional age for new officers. Police executives in those jurisdictions with restrictions should use their influence and collective voice to bring about a change in those laws if they exclude potential candidates for reasons that are not warranted.

Achieving Diversity

Many agencies are struggling to maintain a workforce that is diverse and reflects the community to which they are sworn to serve and protect. One of the most effective recruitment techniques is to perpetuate a positive perception of the law enforcement agency within the community. One way of generating a positive perception is to ensure that all citizens hired by the agency, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, age, or ethnicity, are faring well in promotions and high-profile job assignments. A diverse and competent workforce is essential to the operation of a successful police agency.

Hire Transitional Workers

The police industry needs to take a hard look at hiring transitional workers. Many skilled professionals who have left careers in fields such as teaching, aviation, and medicine because of mandatory or preferred retirement dates still have a desire to serve. Others have grown stale in their current jobs and are seeking new challenges. Empty nesters may be another group seeking a new opportunity as family and financial obligations decrease. They have the judgment, the knowledge, and the skills that are desperately needed by the police industry. The police community would do well to welcome them to police work, as long as they meet duty requirements.

Mentor Applicants through the Process

In addition to streamlining its application process, police agencies need to establish personal relationships with applicants from the start. After all, these people will become coworkers and eventually leaders of the organization. A welcoming and supportive attitude will pay dividends in the long run. Supporting applicants includes accepting the fact that some may fall short at first, but they should be encouraged to continue involvement. A promising applicant need not always be excluded from employment because of a deficiency that could be overcome with additional preparation. An agency mentor working with such an individual should focus on building on the applicant’s strong attributes and fortifying detected weaknesses.

To obtain an electronic or hardcopy of the Law Enforcement Recruitment Toolkit, please visit or call 1-800-421-6770. For information call Kim Kohlhepp at 1-800-THE-IACP, extension 237.?

Please cite as:

Albert Antony Pearsall III and Kim Kohlhepp, "Strategies to Improve Recruitment," The Police Chief 77 (April 2010): 128–130, (insert access date).



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXVII, no. 4, April 2010. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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