Recruitment and Retention: Part II
Law enforcement faces three challenges: recruiting good candidates, training them to understand their policing role and do the job safely and effectively, and retaining the best officers in the profession. Kentucky has spent two decades developing and progressing police training, yet many agencies throughout the commonwealth struggle to either recruit or retain the absolute best officers.
This is the second of a four-part series diving into some of today’s biggest recruitment and retention issues or strategies that affect law enforcement agencies across the nation, but often go overlooked and unnoticed in an ever-evolving workforce landscape.
Every law enforcement agency wants the absolute best officers they can get. Intelligent, enthusiastic, open-minded, honest and creative people who communicate effectively and are passionate about service exist in every community across the commonwealth, but getting them to walk through the door of a police department and apply for a job — that becomes the challenge.
But maybe that’s the problem. Too many departments still are waiting for those amazing candidates to come to them when, in this day and age, they need to be seeking them out. If agencies want to attract quality candidates, has their command staff considered making a list of colleges and universities in their area, contacting their criminal justice program coordinators and having a conversation about internships?
Internships actually provide a three-way positive benefit to university students and the law enforcement agency. First, many college-degree programs require students to complete an internship with a certain number of hours in order to graduate. Finding internships often can be a daunting task for college students with hectic schedules and limited resources. So providing police internships meets a need these students already have to fulfill.
Second, an internship can expose students to the intricacies of a law enforcement career who previously may never have considered a career in law enforcement.
“I think other departments could find people who wouldn’t typically go into law enforcement at internship fairs,” Investigator Randy Harris said about the internships fairs he has attended at the University of Louisville. Harris works for the Division of Insurance Fraud Investigation.
“At these fairs, there are tons of kids coming through. Your conversation and interaction might spark with someone who never would have thought about law enforcement as a career,” he continued. “Those are people you many otherwise never have encountered.”
Third, agencies get to sell themselves and discover if this student is a candidate for future hire.
“We try to keep it simple, interesting and enjoyable for the student, and we try to sell our brand,” said Hopkinsville Deputy Chief Michael Seis. “We want them to be successful, but we also get to review what kind of candidate they would be. It’s an insight for us to see their personality.”
Police internships may be one of the newer recruitment tools for agencies to consider, but there are as many ways to conduct such a program as there are police departments in the state. No two programs have to look alike to be effective and produce those three-way benefits.
Ashland Police Department
Former Ashland police officer and Kentucky State Police trooper, James Stephens, contacted the Ashland Police Department about conducting a ride-along program with students at Ohio University’s Southern Campus. Stephens, who now serves as the university’s director of law enforcement technology, was looking for a way to give his students a dose of reality in what a police career actually looks like.
“It’s an opportunity for the college to expand and put reality into its instruction and at the same time it affords us the opportunity to tap into candidates for police jobs,” said Ashland Maj. Mark McDowell.
For Ashland, this ride-along program isn’t exactly an internship program, but it has fostered a relationship with a local university that is mutually beneficial to both entities. Students come to the police department for about eight hours throughout the semester and ride with different officers. Officers are not restricted as to what types of calls they will answer while with these students. Students are exposed to a wide variety of officers and incidents occurring in Ashland, and they get to see how officers actually handle real calls for service.
“They have one perspective they are looking at,” McDowell said about college students. “They have an interesting view of policing, and we hope to have a positive influence on that perspective. In addition, this might give us an inside advantage on attracting viable candidates to our agency. I feel it will be a win-win for our department.”
Hopkinsville Police Department
In 2008, the Hopkinsville Police Department began its internship program with a ride-along program similar to Ashland’s. The Hopkinsville Community College approached then-Chief Guy Howie about allowing its students to complete internships.
“It was mainly about logging hours with the police department,” Seis said of the early program. “The students had a certain number of hours they had to complete at the department.”
At the time, the department’s policy only allowed someone to do a ride along once every 30 days, so they amended the policy to allow these students to ride more often and get in their necessary hours.
Then in 2010, Hopkinsville decided to professionalize the internship program and expand it to include other nearby colleges, such as Daymar Institute and Austin Peay State. The department usually has about three to four interns per semester, assigned under the Special Operations Unit. Typically students need about 100 hours to receive credit for their internship, Seis said.
After the initial background check and paperwork is complete, a schedule is planned for each intern. Working within their class and work schedules, each intern is assigned time to experience every single facet of the workings of the police department, Seis said. From clerks and dispatchers to K-9 officers and detectives, these students experience the gamut of a criminal-justice career.
Once they experience each division, students are asked what they enjoyed the most or think they would want to specialize in, then they are scheduled to spend more extensive time within that section.
“We want it to be more than just logging hours, we want it to be enjoyable and for them to get something out of it,” Seis said. “If they find a niche they like, they may stay local and pursue a career in law enforcement.”
Since 2010, 26 interns have passed through the Hopkinsville Police Department. Seven have gone on to full-time careers in the criminal justice system — four stayed in Christian County and one currently is working for HPD.
“Yes, we want to get the best candidates,” Seis said, “but law enforcement as a whole needs our help and we need to contribute to that as well. We also are serving the greater good for the profession.”
In addition to recruiting aspects of internships, relationships built with each college benefits the department as well. If the department has a question or needs a study conducted, they contact the professors at these universities and students will research the material and report back to the department on their findings, Seis said. The students get credit for the work and the department has a useable resource for the information it sought.
Division of Insurance Fraud Investigation
Bringing in students from UofL, Kentucky State University and Eastern Kentucky University, the Division of Insurance Fraud Investigation began its official internship program in 2012, after having a great experience with its first intern, Tra’sean James.
As an intern, James handled incoming fraud complaints and preliminary interviews over the phone, attended court proceedings with investigators and carried out a number of administrative tasks. At the time of his internship, James was a senior at UofL and that year he completed two internships — one with the Department of Insurance and the other with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
“I honestly didn’t know about the division at all and didn’t know what to expect,” James said. “I didn’t know how exciting it would be.”
As a unique section of law enforcement, investigators Harris and Shawn Boggs said that unfamiliarity is one of the main purposes for adopting an internship program.
“We look at it as an opportunity to expose students to other forms of law enforcement,” Harris said. “Once they see what we do and how we do it, they can determine if they are interested in investigations or just normal uniform work. We expose students to something they wouldn’t have thought of until they were in law enforcement for a while, but we’re showing them there are other options up front.”
In order to fulfill the 120 hours he needed for his internship, James drove from Louisville to Frankfort — where the Division of Insurance Fraud Investigation is headquartered — and worked a full day every Friday.
“When doing the internship it was good to get a basic understanding of what the division did and the different types of fraud they dealt with,” James said.
For James, his internship experience sealed the deal for him — he knew that this was where he wanted to be and what he wanted to do. After coming back in a temporary position after he graduated, James was hired on as a full-time investigator in November 2014.
During his semester at the division, James also was assigned a project to research all the fraud claims that came into the division and break them down to see where the majority of claims originated. That information was going to be used to decide where future investigators hired by the department should be assigned to be the most effective.
“I truly enjoyed that project,” James said. “I learned a lot about the fraudulent activity going on across the state, and it made me feel like I had control and a sense of real input.”
Daviess County Sheriff’s Office
Western Kentucky University — Owensboro campus contacted Daviess County Sheriff Keith Cain about a way to help both the university and the students in their internship program. A security program was born from that conversation. DCSO interns are assigned as security guards for the WKU — Owensboro campus. On their first day, they undergo a four-hour orientation with Sheriff Cain and Sgt. Nick Roby and are supplied with a uniform — 5-11 pants and a red WKU shirt.
“They are the eyes and ears of the campus,” Capt. Barry Smith said.
Students are trained in CPR and first aid, and taught how to take a report if they run into any issues. However, they are only allowed to respond in low-key situations, and required to call 911 or an on-duty officer if there is anything close to an emergency.
“They are mainly getting the idea of what the job involves, and it’s a way for them not to just do ride-alongs for the entire semester,” Smith said. “And it allows them to take hold of something and make it their own.”
During the semester, Sgt. Roby checks on them each night and builds a rapport with them. Each student works at least one night per week.
In addition, the students do spend time at the sheriff’s office getting to know the staff and seeing the inner workings of the department, and they do experience ride alongs. Throughout the semester they are graded on attendance and on their written reports, then at the end, they write a term paper about the class and their experience, Smith said.
“I would recommend a program like this because it’s so structured,” Smith said. “In previous years we had interns come in but it wasn’t structured, and I don’t know if they got a total feel for what the job is about.
“I think this experience helps put them ahead of the game, especially because of the rapport they build with our deputies,” Smith continued. “If an intern has been real active with wanting to do things within the department, then it gives them a leg up on the inner workings of the department.”
Since beginning this internship program, Daviess County has hired one intern as a full-time deputy.
No matter what an agency’s internship program looks like, the exposure of the profession and gaining the knowledge of the character and personality of potential job candidates makes it a viable program for any department to consider as a recruitment resource. It is a way for the community to interact with, and learn about, the police department, and a way for the department to give back to the community by helping students succeed in their course studies.
“Internships help students graduate and give them the opportunity to see if they are cut out for the job,” James said. “It eliminates the problem of hiring someone and then having them learn that they don’t like the career. It helps with weeding out perspective employees.”