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Law Enforcement Recruiting
Leaders Must Embrace A New Recruiting Strategy
The law enforcement profession is dying a slow death. While I have made it my life mission to help encourage leaders to develop great law enforcement agencies, if we fail to recruit, that potential will waste away slowly and painfully.
While many failed to heed the early warning signs that a recruiting crisis was pending, almost every agency is now working fast and hard to recruit but it’s not working for most agencies.
The effort is there but the results are not and that has many leaders blaming the issue on a host of third parties including politicians, the media, the defund the police movement and even a generation of young workers that don’t see “service” oriented occupations as a viable career.
This sentiment goes against an important Courageous Leadership Principle that leaders must “own everything” including outcomes good and bad.
Placing blame and not fixing the problem is not leadership….It Is Weakness.
While I applaud leaders for pouring a ton of effort and resources into what they believe is recruiting; if it isn’t working, courageous leaders must evaluate and change course.
The difficult truth is that the recruiting efforts aren’t working because there is very little recruiting going on. There is plenty of marketing that includes fancy websites, cool videos and a ton of money being paid to social media companies that drives traffic to websites, but that is a marketing strategy and not recruiting.
When I was hired into the profession 30 years ago, there was no need for recruiting. Sure, recruiting occurred but it was simply to convince those already going into the profession to come to a certain agency. Until a few years ago, there were more qualified candidates than positions and there are a ton of cops reading this that had to test multiple times to get hired because the competition was fierce.
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The only reason to recruit in that environment is to get the best qualified candidates to your agency but this does not exist anymore. There will always be a segment in our population that wants to go into law enforcement. They don’t need convincing (or recruitment) but simply enough information (or marketing) to sway them to a certain police department.
That remains today but unlike the past, that will only fill about 80% of most agencies. It may be worse in Portland or Seattle but generally, the “old school” strategies such as job fairs, websites, etc. will get you that far.
Grabbing the remaining 20% will take a different strategy
Many leaders have recognized this and moved their effort and a lot of money to online. While this has been trending for a few years, very little has changed and that’s because of how it’s being done. Rather than a recruitment strategy that focuses on finding candidates, most online campaigns simply focus on marketing and driving web traffic.
Marketing Is Not Recruiting
There are a ton of marketing/ ad / recruiting agencies taking money from agencies and yours is probably involved. While I applaud the effort and new concepts, if you aren’t seeing more candidates, you are wasting your money. Most of these companies use a ‘cookie cutter’ approach with very little knowledge of what law enforcement needs and while they will drive traffic to your website there is some dishonesty in doing that.
As an example, the social media companies have an “anti-age” discrimination policy on job advertisements. This means that while your web traffic may be increasing, that 75-year-old retiree and 15-year student won’t help you much but I can guarantee that you paid for them to visit the site.
It's Not About Clicks
This is probably the biggest scam being told to police agencies from firms that are making a ton of money "helping" them recruit. To justify the continuous ad spend, the agency will be given data that shows their web site or recruiting page got more clicks or views but once again, that's not recruiting.
If you give me $1000, I can take $200 of that and get you more website views. If you want to know why all those marketing firms are willing to help law enforcement recruit, guess where the other $800 goes?
That is not recruiting but in a desperate environment such as law enforcement recruiting, we sometimes count that as a win. On a good day, I may call that marketing but unless you got more applicants, it is not recruiting.
We Can’t Do This
Status Quo is the biggest enemy every leader encounters and we have become accustomed to seeing a problem, throwing money at it and grabbing a cop to fix it. That may work in some areas, but the crisis of law enforcement recruiting is going to take much more.
We absolutely need law enforcement recruiters because we still need to grab the other 80% but the idea that a police officer can become a professional recruiter and grab the other 20% is a fantasy and our ongoing problems in this area should confirm that.
How Do I Start?
The vast majority of law enforcement leaders will unfortunately ignore what I say here. I’ve heard it in person, and I’ve witnessed it countless times, but I will not stop and I’m hopeful you have an open mind to dig deeper on this topic. Courageous leaders will have an open mind and while we are not yet at critical mass, I’ve seen enough success stories to have the motivation to continue speaking and writing on this subject.
There are no easy answers, but it starts with hard work, commitment, and a willingness to look outside the traditional views on recruiting. Courageous Leaders never run away from that…
A few years ago, Sergeant Doug Larsen was in my Courageous Leadership Seminar and heard me discuss the issue of recruiting and what leaders needed to do. Doug had just retired from his agency and was working in the recruitment environment for the trucking industry. It’s one of the toughest around and he told me that he had put into practice much of what I had discussed, and he saw it working. I checked back in with him a few months later and asked if he was ready to bring the philosophy to law enforcement. At first, he was nervous because he knew how difficult change was in our profession but shortly after, Doug and his partner launched SAFEGUARD Recruiting.
I believed so much in what they were doing, I filmed a series of training videos that they graciously sponsored on law enforcement recruiting. You can view that training here.
The training and the podcast will improve your efforts alone and if we care about the future of this great profession, we need Courageous Leaders to step up now and get very serious about the issue of police recruitment.
Lead on & Stay Courageous!
Dr. Travis Yates is a commander with a large municipal police department and author of “The Courageous Police Leader: A Survival Guide for Combating Cowards, Chaos & Lies.” His risk management and leadership seminars have been taught to thousands of professionals across the world. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy with a Doctorate Degree in Strategic Leadership.
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