The e-newsletter of the COPS Office | Volume 1 | Issue 7 | July 2008

The Recruitment Challenge

use of force image One of the most pressing challenges facing law enforcement agencies today is recruiting and retaining highly qualified officers. Many agencies across the country have had difficulty filling vacancies and are looking for promising practices in the recruitment arena. The COPS Office is striving to help agencies meet this challenge through a cooperative agreement with the RAND Corporation to collect promising practices and provide a new tool for law enforcement recruiters.

Throughout the nation, stories of recruiting challenges are universal. Agencies cannot find enough highly qualified individuals to fill their vacant slots and, therefore, are left with a smaller force than authorized. A cursory review of articles detailing the recruiting challenge quickly leads to several examples including Oakland, California; New York City, Raleigh, North Carolina; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; and Vancouver, British Columbia. Oakland’s difficulty in filling vacancies has hampered its voter-approved community policing enhancement of placing dedicated community policing officers in beats. New York City’s force is projected to be less than its 1993 levels, partly because of the recruitment crisis. Raleigh, Lancaster, and Vancouver are seeing low numbers of applications to fill vacancies—a theme recurring throughout law enforcement agencies.

To address the staffing and applicant shortage, many agencies are taking unique and unprecedented approaches to beef up their applicant pool. Hiring bonuses, such as Seattle’s new $5,000 bonus to new recruits, are being offered by more and more jurisdictions. Agencies are developing robust marketing strategies, including ads on buses, billboards, subway cars, radio, and even YouTube recruitment videos.

Several national-level projects, both in the United States and abroad are also underway. England has started a web site,, to challenge the public to look into the policing field as a career choice. The Bureau of Justice Assistance in the Department of Justice, in cooperation with the International Association of Chiefs of Police, is developing a “Discover Policing” web site modeled after the successful Johnson & Johnson’s "Discover Nursing" site. In addition to the work by the RAND Corporation, the COPS Office is also working with Eastern Kentucky University to develop a recruitment strategy and marketing templates for smaller departments that otherwise may not be able to invest significant resources in recruitment.

The RAND Corporation is working on a multifaceted recruitment project for its partnership with the COPS Office. The RAND project will focus on helping law enforcement personnel accomplish their recruitment goals. Major deliverables will include a web site clearinghouse of recruitment-related publications and materials, a promising practices guidebook, and a recruitability tool to assist agencies in targeting areas within their jurisdictions that seem to be good sources of community policing recruits. RAND also hosted a recruitment summit in its Arlington, Virginia, offices on June 17–18, 2008. The summit featured prominent law enforcement officials discussing recruitment and retention issues, promising practices, and lessons from other employment sectors. RAND will publish the proceedings of the summit, which will be available from the COPS Office.

One of the most important factors in recruiting is to think outside the box to identify potential applicants and to recruit applicants who are interested and able to participate in community policing efforts. The COPS Office’s previous work on hiring in the spirit of service (see Innovations in Police Recruitment and Hiring – Hiring in the Spirit of Service) marked an important shift toward looking for service-oriented recruits. Looking beyond the traditional pool of military, ex-military, and criminal justice majors to various untraditional majors, second-career individuals, and other service-oriented fields can help produce a more robust recruiting program. Recruitment focused on minority and female populations are also important to ensure a representative force as we recall Sir Robert Peel’s famous quote, “the police are the public and the public are the police.”

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