Police Departments Pull Out All Stops To Recruit Officers

Years ago I took part in a simulated hostage crisis exercise conducted by the Alexandria, Virginia Police Department. The exercise was created to help officers test their negotiation and their rescue skills and, as such, I and my fellow hostages were asked to play our roles as realistically as possible upon finding our bus taken over by a crazed gunman.

Keeping in mind that this was pre 9/11 and citizens still believed that their compliance might result in a safe release, we tried not to antagonize the gunman. We hoped for the best as he negotiated with the police and just prayed that he wouldn’t loose his cool — no one wants to be shot or killed, even in a simulation. When the officers finally stormed the bus and handcuffed us before dragging us outside onto the pavement, it felt all too real. (Quick note: the officers, not certain who among us was the gunman and who might have developed some loyalty to him, took the precautionary step of handcuffing us all.)

This little exercise reinforced my belief that law enforcement work isn’t easy. Between risking lives for modest pay to dealing with a distrust of police officers among certain segments of the population due to an abuse of the uniform by some, law enforcement work is frequently under-appreciated or even unappreciated.

Now the Washington Post reports that “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.” With reasons ranging from service-minded people choosing to join the military, to an increase in baby-boomer retirement and a more educated population pursuing other career paths, the police shortage is being felt across the country.

According to the Washington Post, some counties, in an effort to attract viable candidates, are offering a variety of incentives such as signing bonuses (Prince William County, Virginia, for example, offers a $3,000 signing bonus), bounties for referrals and pay increases. Prince George’s County, Maryland even began a $1 million dollar advertising campaign last summer.

Police departments have taken other steps as well:

“Departments have dropped their zero-tolerance policy on drug use and past gang association, eased restrictions on applicants with bad credit ratings, and tweaked physical requirements to make room for more female candidates or smaller male candidates, police officials said. Departments also offer crash courses in reading and remedial English for the written parts of the entrance exam, and provide strength and agility coaches for the physical part — all of which have raised concerns about how qualified some of the new personnel will be.”

Unfortunately such actions aren’t without risk:

” ‘That [hiring less-qualified people] is clearly a concern, and police chiefs are very uneasy about that possibility,’ said Hubert Williams, president of the Police Foundation, a law enforcement advocacy group. ‘The question is, do we keep our radio cars empty or hire people who a few years ago we wouldn’t have hired? It is very problematic.’ “

This sentiment is echoed by others:

“There are concerns, said Elaine Deck, a researcher at the International Association of Chiefs of Police, that staffing changes and shortages could affect public safety and the well-being of law enforcement officers. The LAPD, for example, is too short-staffed to investigate complaints against its officers, so that many complaints from 2005 may not result in punishment until this year.”

 

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