Building Your Team
Steve Jobs, the late CEO and co-founder of Apple Inc., in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, once said, “It’s not the tools you have faith in—tools are just tools—they work, or they don’t work. It’s the people you have faith in or not.”
So too, would many chiefs and sheriffs agree, that while equipment and resources are essential, it is the men and women behind the badge who make a department, set standards of service and seal its legacy within the community.
However, finding qualified individuals who are excited about policing, fit Peace Officer Professional Standards (POPS), have a clean record and a desire to engage in community building can be difficult in today’s competitive job market.
Embracing New Methods
The first thing Bowling Green Police Department Deputy Chief Michael Delaney did, after being tasked with his agency’s recruitment and retention strategy last year, was to develop a team to assist with the effort.
“Rather than continue to watch the number (of applicants) decrease, we decided to come up with a solution on how to fix it,” he said, noting the team consists of 15 people, from police and telecommunications, for whom the agency recruits.
“We have many faces and many talents, but one purpose, and that’s service for our community. It takes a lot of people with different skill sets to accomplish that,” he continued. “(And by having the team) we have buy-in from our employees who want the right people to come work with them.”
At the start, the colonel began looking at other agencies and sectors that were successful in recruitment.
One piece of advice from a military recruiter stuck with him and changed the way Bowling Green has conducted recruitment ever since.
“You can’t recruit from your office,” said Delaney, quoting the recruiter. “That became part of our main strategy. Now our focus is to get out into the community…we have to be visible.”
Recently, to demonstrate their “fun side,” BGPD hosted a “Workout with a Cop Challenge” event at a local gym. Officers led circuit workouts that resembled POPS testing and ended with a pushup challenge with prizes at the end. Those interested in the department could apply through laptops onsite, a common recruitment strategy for the department. Allowing interested parties to complete short applications immediately reduces the risk that they will go home and forget, said Delaney. The rest of the application is mailed to candidates.
The agency also attends many job fairs and college-career days and often sets up a table at the local mall with employment information.
BGPD visits high schools to recruit young members for its Pathfinder program (much like the Boy Scouts for those younger than 18) and the Cadet program (for 18 and above). The Cadet program allows young people to become part-time city employees working within the department doing assigned duties while also learning about the agency and police culture.
“We get them at an early age, they have a little more structure, and we keep them out of trouble,” Delaney said, adding the program has been a successful recruiting tool. Several cadets have been hired as police officers after turning 21.
“They know us, we know them and have a better understanding of their character,” he continued. “And (during that time) if they have needed some help, maybe with physical fitness or interviewing, we prep them and try to get them to become successful law enforcement (officers).”
Branding a Desirable Team
Sometimes departments find themselves facing off with unfavorable portrayals and news reports of risk. Rather than accept the negative narrative, agencies are striving to get out the message that today is still a good day to be a police officer, and that policing is about service, integrity and respect.
Richmond Police Department’s Chief James Ebert said his agency often markets their team spirit during recruiting.
“When you look at our (social media) posts or our advertisements, they are all about joining a winning team,” he explained. “This is a generation that really wants to see something bigger than themselves. Traditionally, (applicants) looked at benefits and retirement. And while those things are still important, as far as recruitment and retention, as far as getting them in the door, people want to know they are doing something important that has meaning.”
Departments should also celebrate their successes, not only saying “good job,” but also publicly acknowledging officers’ good work, Ebert said. Even a social media post tagging the celebrated officer will show future recruits that their work will be appreciated, he explained.
In 2019, styles and trends have changed the way individuals express themselves or what they deem professional. Many agencies are choosing to relax rules on style choices, such as beards and tattoos, to prevent eliminating qualified candidates.
Hopkinsville Police Department has found a way to allow officers to respectfully express themselves while also benefiting their department, according to Sgt. Federico Rodriguez and Public Information Officer Michael Atkins. For a minimal fee, $50 per year donated to their Officer’s Fund, HPD law enforcement may wear well-manicured facial hair, tattoos and vibrant hair colors.
Money collected is used to fund events or pay for special equipment. Guidelines state the beards must be neatly trimmed (no longer than one inch), that tattoos may be visible, but not covering more than 30 percent of exposed skin and not bearing offensive images/phrases. Hair colors can be fun, a little red or maybe even blue, so long as it’s not too extreme, Atkins said. Officers whose tattoos might cover more skin than allowed have the option to wear long sleeves or a flesh-colored tattoo sleeve.
“(With this policy) they still get a chance to show off their art and still be in compliance,” he added. “The staff is pretty pleased with more options. It’s a morale booster.”
With Fort Campbell a short distance from their agency, Atkins noted that allowing officers to show off a little ink can also be a recruiting incentive for many current and former military personnel who might have decorated their bodies while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.
When seeking to police a diverse community, departments look to fill their ranks with qualified representation of all those being served.
During recruiting cycles, RPD begins by sending out letters to various groups, such as the state NAACP asking them to push (the listing) out to their local chapters, as well as contacting local universities, according to Chief Ebert.
Bringing a diverse group of officers out to recruit can also be a benefit, Atkins said, specifically noting Hopkinsville’s push toward adding more female officers to their agency. Sometimes women might be concerned that they are too small, but are motivated after speaking with a female officer, he said.
In a day where media consumption is changing, departments are adapting and placing more emphasis on online job listings and branding.
Since social media is the method by which much of the population starts and ends their day, Delaney said tapping into to the digital resource has been a fantastic way to increase visibility for the department among future team members.
In addition to posting when positions were available, BGPD began producing recruitment videos that are fast-paced with lots of energy emphasizing all the department offers.
“We also wanted to show what the city of Bowling Green has to offer, and how we fit into the big picture of city government,” Delaney said, adding the video allowed applicants to visualize being part of the community with their families.
Videos, he said, can capture a lot of information in a short amount of time. The first video the department produced was only 30 seconds, the second three and a half minutes. However, there have been results. Last year during a spring recruiting cycle BGPD had 28 applicants for their telecommunications section and 97 for police, and this year during the same time (with weeks left to apply) telecommunications had 192 applicants and police had 117, Delaney said.
Also keeping up with digital trends to see how best to proceed in the future, Hopkinsville Sgt. Rodriguez said his agency polls applicants to see where they heard about the job listings—many of whom say social media.
Richmond’s Ebert said his department targets specific social platforms based on the age group they are trying to reach, also posting listings to sites such as indeed.com and other employment engines.
However, that doesn’t mean agencies have forgotten the oldest form of spreading the news—word of mouth. One of the best advertisements for a department is something they already possess, their officers who often know someone who would be a great fit and with whom they would enjoy working.
“When recruiting begins, I always tell people that it’s their chance to choose their coworkers,” said Ebert.
When needs become great, whether because of officers moving on to other departments or retiring, it might be tempting to hire to fill spots. However, BGPD’s Delaney said to remember not to seek people for jobs, but rather the right people for the team.
According to Rodriquez, ideal candidates for law enforcement are community-minded, honest and have integrity. However, they must also be flexible in a career that is ever-changing and understand that while peace officers have authority, they are present to assist.
“We look for someone with personality,” added Atkins, noting the number of community events in which officers take part. The ability to interact with the public positively is integral in making the public more willing to assist agencies with information and crime reduction.
“Law enforcement, especially in a small community, is all about meeting local needs,” said Ebert, adding that once upon a time police hires were about physical strength. Now, physicality and techniques can be trained, but compassion for the people in a place is something an individual has in their heart, or they don’t. It’s that part that makes a good officer, he said.
“One of the most important things to remember about recruiting is to explore lots of options, think outside the box,” offered Delaney. “Not everything we tried at first worked. So be willing to try different things. Have a board with brainstormed ideas for (your next) hiring cycle. Never get stagnant. Every contact with the community is a chance to recruit.”