Police officers are important public servants in our democratic society whose primary functions are critical in maintaining peace and order. The nature of their work continuously poses challenge to their skills and capabilities in preventing crimes and violence within the community. Today, the police force assumes a wide range of responsibilities besides law enforcement like community relations and public safety. To effectively implement the law, the quality of policing has now been broadened to require complex of skills such as technical, cultural awareness, interpersonal, negotiation, and problem-solving ability.
This is the concept of community policing where the police officers and the citizens work together to address the issues more efficiently. However, this seemingly very promising approach has been hampered by low turn outs in recruiting the right personnel. All across the nation, police agencies have difficulty in hiring applicants and retaining their staffs that could affect public safety and the welfare of police officers.
From this seaside Southern California city to Washington’s suburbs, more than 80 percent of the nation’s 17,000 law enforcement agencies, big and small, have vacancies that many can’t fill, police officials estimate. (Pomfret, 2006, 2). A number left to seek other high-paying jobs in the military and the homeland security industry. Some police departments have already eased their requirement standards just to accommodate candidates, which have raised serious concerns over less qualified candidates who have prior drug use, arrest records, and gang associations.
Other departments offer higher economic benefits to attract applicants with signing bonuses, extended vacation leave, and down payment for housing loans as well as launch massive ad campaigns unprecedented in the history of policing in the United States. Veteran officers are leaving the profession each year to be replaced by a smaller labor pool of the coming generation. Over the next three decades, nearly 76 million baby boomers will be walking out the door of their organizations and heading toward their long awaited retirement years.
It is predicted, however, that only 46 million generation Xers are waiting to take their place. (Sgt. Gordon, 2004, p. 2, 2). In addition, two thirds of law enforcers who has served for five years or less leave the force while half of them retire. In a three-day state summit held March 2001, the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board through its Executive Institute has identified several problems concerning police recruitment, which revolves around the economy, working conditions, occupational prestige, and hiring process.
The issues of police recruitment are growing as the labor pool keeps on shrinking. The Economy – This generation of candidates are looking for jobs that provide higher wages and better benefits. The average $32,000 annually is no longer appealing. A number of police departments have budget cuts on recruitment and advertising and could not compete with jobs from other industries. As a result, police districts now try to outdo each other by luring candidates with higher salaries.
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department offers a starting salary of $45,000 annually with $5,000 signing bonus plus a $75,000 home-buying assistance payable up to 30 years without interest. The Brentwood Police Department in California, on the other hand, guarantees a $63,000 annually after completion at the academy with $10,000 signing bonus. Yearly income in some districts is as follows: Los Angeles, $53,000; Chicago and Akron-Ohio, $42,000; Las Vegas Metro, $45,000, and New York, $25,000 upgradeable to $32,000 within six months of academy training and $59,000 after five years of service.
Marketing – Most police departments do not know how to sell their profession. Instead, they compete against each other. Those with budget hire consultants to boost their image and services. Negative publicity is another factor why few people would not join the profession despite being highly regarded and honored. Reports of brutality, corruption and other high profile cases like the Rodney King incident, racial profiling in New Jersey, and the Amadou Diallo episode in New York have somehow tarnished the prestige of law enforcers.
Hiring – For small agencies, the screening, testing and training of applicants average 31 weeks while in large agencies the process takes 43 weeks. This traditional type of recruiting is too long, expensive, and complicated. Many applicants feel frustrated of the lengthy tests as compared to the private sectors. There are no standardized applications or procedures to follow; instead each agency has its own sets of rules and guidelines. Many applicants are discriminated due to the typical outlook of a police that is a male-oriented with physical strength.
Other restrictions include higher educational attainment, residency and age requirement. In general, the selection process tends to demean potential candidates. For recruiting purposes, police agencies seek individuals who have clean criminal records, little or no previous drug use, are willing to work outdoors and in dangerous situations, are healthy and physically fit, have a high school diploma or more, who are of average to high aptitude, and who can communicate effectively with many different types of people. (Raymond, B. , Hickman, L. J. , Miller, L. Wong, J. S. , 2005, p. 15, 1).
However because of the shortage, these requirements have already been toned down to fill in vacancies. Working Conditions – Police work is stressful with 24 hours a day, seven days a week work clock. These officers are continually exposed to the environment of crimes witnessing homicides, child abuse, drugs, battered citizens, and homeless people among other worst human behaviors. They suffer cultural shock in their line of work, which also takes them away from their families most of the time and feel isolated.
There is greater risk of civil liability and accusations wherein some complained of not receiving enough support from the department as they face suspension and strict disciplinary measures pending investigations of complaints. Few opportunities are given for personal and career advancement, if there is one, the officers feel that it is not satisfactory. The demands of police work often times are different from what is expected. Police professionals believe that the biggest factor influencing candidate dropout is the lack of awareness of the real job task requirements prior to testing procedures. Jurkanin, Fischer, & Sergevnin, 2001, p. 6, 1).
External factors such as failure in examinations (written, psychological, physical, and drug test), lack of trust in police, less support from the community, lack of coordination from the local government, and not enough knowledge of the English language by the ethnic minority groups have contributed to poor police recruitment. The traditional model of recruitment focuses on getting the largest number of candidates but in the process selects only a few.
Police officials admit that this has been ineffective and costly. A new approach is needed in today’s candidate pool that is to cultivate a new generation of public servants who have the desire to help others and serve the community. Instead of being reactive only to those who respond to the call and wait for those who will apply, recruitment must be proactive and aggressive starting at early stages in various social groups especially among students by instilling educational programs that will help them identify their desire for a career in law enforcement.
The process must likewise be centralized and standardized with allocated funds to ensure qualified applicants. Other agencies lowered their standards to fill positions and suffered the adverse consequences. Policing is hard work and calls for a character that can deal with all types of people and all kinds of situations. Recruitment, though problematic at this time, must concentrate on quality rather than quantity. The process can be corrected along the way. Improved pay and benefits are necessary to retain personnel plus a career development.