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To obtain details on COPS Office programs, publications, and resources, contact the COPS Office Response Center at 800-421-6770 or AskCopsRC@usdoj.gov
U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
Regardless of the size of the agency, staffing is key to effective policing, agency productivity, and positive police-community relations. Challenges typically emerge when recruitment, hiring, retention, and promotion activities are out of alignment with the strategic plan. It is vital that agencies recruit and hire personnel who reflect the community’s diversity; retain personnel by providing incentive structures, mentorship, and transparency; and provide clear, merit-based, and objective pathways to transfer or promotions. These factors are particularly important for small agencies where a single hire could have an immediate impact on the culture of the agency and reputation in the community.
Agency leadership has a responsibility to hire personnel who are qualified for the position and reflect the community’s diversity. The process should be valid and fair and comply with all applicable laws and guidelines. Recruiting is especially key as many agencies are experiencing high number of retirements and resignations. Competition is increasing among agencies because the number of people entering the profession is decreasing. Participants at a COPS Office forum said the most significant barrier to recruitment is the community’s changing image of law enforcement.1
Barriers exist throughout the hiring process that hinder the selection of talented personnel. Many of the traditional selection practices used to screen applicants have an unwarranted disproportionate impact on underrepresented populations.2 Some deterrents include the following:
Changing cultural norms have caused law enforcement agencies to revisit traditional selection and hiring criteria. For example, many have relaxed their policies on tattoos and prior drug use to prevent the unnecessary exclusion of talented job candidates, while some agencies use a case-by-case assessment.4 Experts have pointed out that entry-level testing should identify only knowledge, skills, and abilities that will allow a person to become a successful officer after appropriate training.
The following promising practices come from the COPS Office Law Enforcement Best Practices report:5
A good example of promising practice #3 is highlighted in a COPS Office publication.
The Northern Cheyenne tribe’s police department is a BIA direct-service agency; its officers are federal employees dedicated to serving the tribe through an MOU. The tribe and the police department place a priority on hiring Native officers who tend to be hindered by the lengthy application and hiring process. In response to this, the tribal council’s vice president personally helped several Native candidates go through the application materials to ensure they understood what was required. He provided ongoing encouragement throughout the process.*
* International Association of Chiefs of Police, Promising Practices in Tribal Community Policing (Washington, DC: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, 2016), https://cops.usdoj.gov/RIC/ric.php?page=detail&id=COPS-P359.
DiscoverPolicing.org is a comprehensive resource on law enforcement jobs with a full-featured career center where candidates can post resumes and hiring managers can post vacancies. In addition, agencies can use DiscoverPolicing.org to post jobs and search resumes as well as to highlight their own employees. The website is provided through a joint partnership between the IACP and DOJ.
The COPS Office Law Enforcement Best Practices report provides helpful tools and further details on the discussed practices as well as other relevant policing topics.7
Recruitment costs should be considered long-term investments to meet agency and community expectations. The cost of a single employee choosing to leave an agency not only results in recurring hiring, training, and equipment costs but also can cause immediate budget shortfalls through unexpected overtime costs to maintain minimal shift coverage.8 Throughout the hiring process, be honest about the activity level and expectations, stress the diversified workload that is seen in smaller agencies, and even focus in on the closer community engagements.
In the end, your agency may not be able to tackle every single promising practice, but by being intentional in creating your recruitment and hiring processes, you can address any barriers; recruit and hire talented, highly qualified personnel; and better serve your community.
If your agency is looking for assistance in implementing any of the practices discussed here or any other topic, see the COPS Office Collaborative Reform Initiative Technical Assistance Center (CRI-TAC) for free technical assistance and training to state, local, campus, and tribal law enforcement agencies. For more information, please visit CollaborativeReform.org.
Nazmia E.A. Comrie
Senior Program Specialist, COPS Office
Hiring for the 21st Century Law Enforcement Officer: Challenges, Opportunities, and Strategies for Success
Law Enforcement Best Practices: Lessons Learned from the Field
Law Enforcement Recruitment in the 21st Century: Forum Proceedings
Mitakuye Oyasin video
Promising Practices in Tribal Community Policing
1. James E. Copple, Law Enforcement Recruitment in the 21st Century: Forum Proceedings (Washington, DC: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, 2017), https://cops.usdoj.gov/RIC/ric.php?page=detail&id=COPS-W0830.
2. U.S. Department of Justice, Law Enforcement Best Practices: Lessons Learned from the Field (Washington, DC: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, 2019), https://cops.usdoj.gov/RIC/ric.php?page=detail&id=COPS-W0875.
3. U.S. Department of Justice, Law Enforcement Best Practices (see note 2).
4. U.S. Department of Justice, Law Enforcement Best Practices (see note 2).
5. U.S. Department of Justice, Law Enforcement Best Practices (see note 2).
6. U.S. Department of Justice, Law Enforcement Best Practices (see note 2).
7. U.S. Department of Justice, Law Enforcement Best Practices (see note 2).
8. U.S. Department of Justice, Law Enforcement Best Practices (see note 2).
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