Recruitment and Retention: Part III
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 third 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.
You can’t talk about recruitment without also talking about retention — the two inevitably go hand in hand. No matter how effective your recruitment strategies, if your trained officers walk out the door in one to three years, your agency gains nothing and actually loses a great deal.
“By reducing the number of officers with experience, turnover inhibits effective decision making,” cites a RAND Center on Quality Policing Police Recruitment and Retention for the New Millennium report. “It diminishes the strength and cohesion a department gains by having experienced staff, and that cannot be replaced over time. Agencies with higher turnover and less experienced officers suffer reduced productivity and more-frequent complaints.
“Retention and turnover programs should be more than targeted prevention strategies,” the report continued. “Properly designed, they can address early- and mid-career reasons officers leave and reduce turnover at all stages of a career.”
In a study conducted by the North Carolina Criminal Justice Analysis Center and Criminal Justice Education and Training Standards Division, respondents cited six retention techniques they viewed as most used and effective. As might be expected, annual pay increases irrespective of performance ranked highest at 81.5 percent using the technique and receiving a 5.9 (out of 9) for effectiveness. But next in line were educational incentives, such as tuition reimbursement and allowing officers to attend classes during work hours, at 76.6 percent and a 5.6 for effectiveness respectively. Promotional opportunities ranked next, used 69.4 percent of the time.
These numbers show that officers want to develop themselves, and they respond well to incentives that help them advance their education and standing within the department.
Two Kentucky departments have taken these concepts to a different level — using education and leadership development to not only retain their best officers, but, moreover, to change the overall atmosphere of their agencies in the way officers think, problem solve and respond to their communities.
The Paducah Police Department pursued a partnership with Murray State University last spring. Under the lead of Assistant Chief of Operations Brian Krueger, a loose conversation began about developing a curriculum that catered to the needs of the police department, but worked within the framework of Murray State’s academic structure, Paducah Police Chief Brandon Barnhill said.
What emerged is the Cultural Leadership Academy — a four-module, 12-month program built off the core curriculum for Murray State’s Human Development and Leadership master’s program. The four modules focus on community interaction, social intelligence, ethical practices within the community and intercultural leadership, said Dr. Landon Clark, Murray State assistant professor and HDL program coordinator.
“This is a way for us to help out and increase their level of education attainment,” Clark said. “The [department] feels that a more educated police force is a benefit to the city of Paducah. I was speaking to someone about the Cultural Leadership Academy and he said, ‘Wouldn’t it be awesome if a very high percentage of our police force had master’s degrees?’ This could really be an agent of continued change and improvement, and just bettering the partnerships they’ve already developed.”
Paducah Police Department requires 60 credit hours or two years of military experience for entry-level officer hire. With these minimum requirements, Paducah makes it clear that education is a priority for the police department. Opportunities like the Cultural Leadership Academy allow officers to complete undergraduate degrees or work toward their master’s degrees.
In April, eight officers began the first two modules of the program, challenging them to think outside the box on community and personal interaction.
“These officers have the technical skills, they need to complement those with leadership skills — those softer skills that go with the technical knowledge,” said Terry Clark, Murray State assistant professor who works with her husband, Landon Clark, in the HDL program. “There are a lot of things touched on in the social intelligence module based on models and theories about personal interaction, and these are things the officers were aware of and use on a day-to-day basis. But, in the course, they are able to view them from different lenses. They are trained from a police officer point of view, but this helps them see how others perceive their presence.”
Chief Barnhill envisions this program as one that will filter down throughout the department as people go through, eager to see how ideas and things learned in the modules will expand to other officers through conversations, he said.
“This is an opportunity not everyone gets to experience,” Barnhill said. “It could have presented itself with no interested people. But the willingness of these officers to say, ‘I need to learn’ is huge. It’s huge to make sure we have that understanding of our diverse community, and if we are closed and unwilling to learn, it does not benefit us as an agency.
“Some agencies stay closed minded, stick to traditions and don’t expand their knowledge base and, therefore, police in one way,” he continued. “As society evolves, they don’t, and that’s why there are incidents from which we all can learn. We are trying to stay ahead of that curve.”
In Lexington, this idea of using education to expand officers’ ability to problem solve and think critically catapults all officer development efforts.
“I think you need to develop core values — it’s not just about retention, but very consistent leadership throughout, and really that starts at the bottom and goes all the way up, with people working on the road level being able to influence leadership, decision making and policy,” said Lexington Police Chief Mark Barnard. “Once they are accepted and know they have some voice in that, it incorporates everyone into the leadership model.
“We value No. 1, recruiting the right people to come into our community, No. 2, attrition issues — what people are leaving and who we’re replacing them with and No. 3, developing the people we have here,” he continued. “We’re very high on education — and there’s a reason for that. It promotes problem solving and critical thinking, and people who have those qualities use less force, are better problem solvers who use the community-policing model and like challenges and solving issues. They are involved in the organization, and that helps us.”
Lexington first implemented its ideas of developing leadership from the bottom up under former Chief Ronnie Bastin, who attended every in-service class and spoke to recruit classes, impressing upon officers that they are leaders regardless of rank or title.
Combining the ideas of education and leadership development, Lexington began partnerships with Bluegrass Community and Technical College and Eastern Kentucky University to ensure every officer in the department has the ability to work toward higher education and pursue a promotional path, Barnard said.
When officers come into the Lexington Police Department academy and do not have their undergraduate degree, they are awarded an associate’s degree through the agency’s partnership with BCTC, when they complete and graduate from basic training.
Once officers graduate from the academy, there is a formalized program with EKU for a Pathways program where they can finish their bachelor’s degree, and LPD reimburses the cost of tuition, Barnard said.
From there, officers are encouraged to continue furthering their education through the Police Executive Leadership Program. PELP is a leadership program that originally was developed to help sworn personnel who had earned some graduate-level credit hours through the FBI National Academy and the Department of Criminal Justice Training’s School of Strategic Leadership to complete a post-graduate degree.
PELP has since evolved into an intense partnership with the School of Justice Studies in the College of Justice and Safety at EKU. Its purpose is to promote advanced education using an exchange of ideas and management styles with other police executives.
“The Police Executive Leadership Program is an excellent example of two public institutions partnering to achieve extraordinary results for the community of Lexington,” said Dr. Victor Kappeler, Dean, foundation professor with the School of Justice Studies and PELP lead instructor. “The partnership with EKU’s College of Justice and Safety demonstrates a strong commitment by the Lexington Police Department to enhance its administrative capacity by promoting progressive leadership throughout the agency.
“The program is visionary, in the sense it invests in the agency’s human resources, through an educational program that provides officers with experiences beyond traditional police training,” he continued. “Likewise, the agency demonstrates a high level of maturity and transparency by opening itself up to the critique and critical review that accompanies an academic education. Both institutions have benefited greatly by the on-going collaboration.”
After completing the PELP program, participants earn 30 graduate credit hours toward a Master of Science Degree in Criminal Justice through EKU.
“This program is a tremendous value for law enforcement,” Barnard said. “When you look at our agency, most all our commanders, including myself, and most of our lieutenants and sergeants have completed, or are working on, their master’s degrees.
“This changes the agency so much because there is more theory-based critical thinking and looking at things outside of how police affect crime and neighborhood perception of crime,” he continued. “EKU has put this wonderful program together that really says, ‘Deconstruct the way you’re policing and how you’re affecting the community and look at other theories.’ It changed our agency tremendously because we started looking at how to interact with the community differently.”
Lexington can use these great education programs not only as a way to retain officers by building them up and preparing them for future leadership roles, but also as a recruiting tool for the agency. Essentially, an individual can start with LPD with no advanced education and end their career with a master’s degree. And as added incentive, there are pay increases tied to educational advancement as well, Barnard said.
“These opportunities also can have symbolic meaning, fostering professionalism by allowing for promotional advancement and responsiveness to employee needs and career ambition and reinforcing feelings that employees are engaged in a bona fide career,” the RAND Center report cited. “Visible career ladders show employees multiple pathways to organizational success.”
According to the RAND Center study, the average length of time officers in North Carolina stay at their departments is 34 months, and the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training found that 25 percent of officers transfer within 1.3 years and 50 percent do so within 3.2 years. If people are our most important assets, repetitively losing those valuable resources so soon after investing in training can lead to insurmountable consequences. Helping officers find organizational success invigorates them to stay committed to the organization. And retaining well-trained, highly-qualified and deeply-invested officers strengthens the department’s ability to successfully navigate and build relationships with the community. Providing educational opportunities and molding officers throughout their careers delivers the skills and incentives officers need to stay for the long haul.