THE REALLY GOOD ONES ARE GOING SOMEWHERE ELSE
Hiring: the toughest and most important job that management has on its plate. Many (if not most) agencies are failing to attract the people who would make the best cops.
Why? We cling to doing things the way we’ve always done them. The world has changed. The old approach just isn’t working anymore.
THE OLD MODEL
Let’s look at the hiring process just a scant few years ago. Annually, an ad would go in area newspapers announcing that our department would be testing for cop jobs.
There were far more applicants than there were openings. The stereotypical candidate was a male, 25 years old, maybe with military experience. He was in excellent shape, with a muscular physique and that could outrun a gazelle.
His home life was ideal: he was raised in a nuclear family with two parents who stayed married. They taught him right from wrong at an early age. He respected the law and was certainly drug averse.
He was competitive, having been an athlete in school. His brawn closely equaled is brain in relative ability and power.
The screening process was intense. The slightest hint of a flaw in character or background ended the process instantly.
Because most of those performing the background checks and reviews had been the same kind of applicant when s/he signed on, the process tended to be self-perpetuating. Only those candidates who were similar in nature made the grade.
THE WORLD HAS CHANGED
Today, many social problems which were previously “worked out” between peers now land in front of a judge. Ours has become a very litigious society.
The brawny nature of cops led to the citizenry filing an unprecedented number of excessive force complaints. Those flames were fanned by social activists, i.e. Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and others. Possibly the greatest damage to recruiting has been done by our nation’s high-level leaders in Washington D.C. over most of the prior decade.
Cops are being watched, recorded, and photographed at every turn. Uncomplimentary video snippets are aired without end on CNN, MSNBC and other news outlets. The smartphone, coupled with Twitter & Facebook has turned everyone and anyone into a potential national news reporter. Social media has proven to be an extremely powerful forum.
But, there’s more.
The reality is: there are fewer young folks today who are our potential recruits. Growing up, a visit to McDonalds guaranteed that the counter person taking my order would be of high school or maybe college age. But, no more.
Look at the age of the folks who greet you at WalMart, Target, or K-Mart. Kids? Hardly. There just aren’t enough kids to go around.
Though we may all picture the stereotypical police recruit as a young macho male, the fact is: there aren’t enough of them to go around.
That has forced agencies to hire older recruits in many instances. And, those agencies have often been pleasantly surprised. How, you ask? Equipment lasts longer, there are fewer citizen complaints, excessive force problems tend to evaporate, and the “real” job of cleaning up a neighborhood or community is accomplished with more precision skill and less overall pain.
IT’S A NEW SOCIETY
The war on terror and other global factors have siphoned many top candidates away from coppery. There’s the military, an explosive growth in federal law enforcement jobs, and private enterprise that seeks candidates from the same group. The competitors for recruits have great benefits and envious rates of pay.
We have watched good candidates go elsewhere in the last few years. We know why: today’s cop job comes with too much grief. There are the real dangers brought upon by being hated by a swath of the population.
Cops simply don’t get the respect they’ve long received and richly deserve. That degrading attitude comes from all levels, right up to the highest leaders in our land. Thank God, that seems to have radically improved in the past few months.
Over the years, local law enforcement has endeavored to improve the “brain power” of recruits by requiring some level of college education. Improved actual intelligence remains a goal that is largely unmet. In some instances, ‘ideal’ candidates were turned away. In others, the force ended up filled with ‘egg-heads’ who lacked even a molecule of street smarts and/or people skills.
In general, employees are now demanding (and getting) self-satisfaction in their careers. Seldom do they stay in the same job with the same organization from the beginning to the end of their work lifespan. They are now able to pick and choose where to work, based upon their individual preferences. I believe current statistics show that the average person has 4-5 different employers over a lifetime.
Terminally stupid people who test well have become supervisors in many cop shops (we know who they are). They tend to drive away the good talent. New hires go to places where they’re paid well and treated better. Employees today insist on having a job that they want to go to each day.
ARE YOU STUCK IN THE LAST CENTURY?
But, “that’s the way we’ve ALWAYS done it!!”
PERSONAL EXPERIENCE: I had an experience with a lieutenant in Gillette, Wyoming. I had applied for one of their open positions. The application package (more than 100 pages) was submitted along with relevant supporting background detail.
The lieutenant handling the background investigation combed through it as though he was searching the car of a known drug dealer. He seemed to be searching even a shard of information upon which the application might be rejected.
He discovered a single sentence from an incident report written years earlier that didn’t suit him and the process came to an abrupt end without any recognition of the overwhelming positive references, awards, and other material which was provided.
The Gillette process was long. It was difficult to gain any sense of progress along the way. There was virtually no feedback, no interaction, and no opportunity to provide additional information.
Thirty years ago, agencies could get away with that. Today, those who insist on such archaic practices end up with the candidates who couldn’t land a job anywhere else.
Gillette PD sounds like a recruiter’s nightmare.
IT’S A NEW DAY
At the other end of the spectrum from Gillette is Madison, Wisconsin.
There is a fresh and aggressive recruiting campaign, largely the brainchild of Chief Mike Koval. The department sends ambassadors around the region to host recruiting meetings.
They make very clear what kind of candidate they seek and what the most important skills are for success in Madison. They encourage candidates from mid-life who have real-life experiences they can bring to the job.
Madison takes an “upside” approach: they do not search for a reason to reject an application. Rather, Madison judges their candidates on the preponderance of information available. They are looking for way to cause an applicant to succeed in the process. Madison might not get the “perfect” candidate, but they are most likely to get those who will in fact make THE BEST cops.
Additionally, Madison PD employs a communication system that keeps a candidate aware of the status of their application. They encourage applicants along the way with mailings, emails, phone calls, and other forms of communication.
For those who don’t make the grade, Madison PD promises each applicant a full disclosure of what problems were identified. If those are corrected, the applicant is invited to reapply.
WHAT DO WE DO TO CATCH UP?
If your agency is caught in the last century, there are some steps that you can take that will bring you up-to-date.
Assess the talent pool upon which you can draw. Measure it geographically, demographically, and by quantity of potential applicants. Is the overall size of the available talent pool large enough to meet the agency’s needs, or do you need to change your criteria in order to enlarge it?
From the available pool, identify the characteristics of the candidates that you want to attract. Of course, stay within federal laws relating to discrimination. But be able to articulate your vision of the “perfect” candidate, from the standpoint of education, experience, physical ability, etc.
Confirm that the traits you’ve identified for the ideal candidate are really needed in your agency’s cop jobs currently. Example: I wrote a column recently about physical fitness suggesting that the timed 1.0 – 1.5 mile run bears no relationship to what a street cop does today. No cop on the street today chases bad guys on foot for a mile. It just doesn’t happen. Therefore, it ought not to be part of the testing process.
STOP doing things, “because we’ve always done them that way.” What nonsense! Choose tests and measure which are relevant to coppery now. Enlist the aid of the street-level cops in your department to develop and check the list of desired traits and skills. You may be surprised at just how insightful those street-level patrol cops can be.
Determine if the market conditions and your resources will allow you to attract the candidates you want. If the Feds are routinely in your backyard, offering entry level law enforcement jobs at $50,000, you won’t get far if your starting salary is $25,000. Figure out who your competition is. Be better than they are in a way that’s important to your ideal candidates.
Recognize social change.
Technology has radically affected most areas of life from the patrol car to the way we buy airplane tickets. Thinking back just a few years, we can all see that social media coupled with the wireless internet have turned societal communications on its head.
In my humble opinion, some youngsters have carried it too far: they are socially stunted and often struggle with face-to-face human interaction. That limitation probably will not work in a cop’s world.
One of the most technologically advanced agencies in the country as related to the recruiting process is Peoria, AZ. I made application there and completed the background information on line, keeping a printed copy for my files.
They have sent me monthly mailings announcing tests. I receive bi-weekly emails with department news. The local chamber of commerce sent a fantastic book showing how they will help me and my family acclimate to their community if I come to work there.
The Peoria experience has been the most advanced and adapted to the current world that I’ve seen.
If all your department gets in its new recruits are Misfits, Morons, and Mal-contents, it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee. It’s 2017, in case you missed it.
It is no longer an, “employer’s world.” New employees are in control and have radically changed the playing field.
Yes, you can choose to ignore it. Likely, you will be hiring cops with troubled backgrounds or other deficiencies that caused them to be declined elsewhere. You will be fielding the rejects of every other agency in your region.
Is that what you want? I suspect not. Your officers’ lives depend on each other. They deserve the best crew you can muster. Their lives depend on you to do a great job.
At the bottom line, it’s all about saving just ONE life.
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