Law enforcement leaders surveyed during 2018's National Police Week concurred: The number one issue facing police today is remedying this country's shortage of qualified officers. Nationwide, officers are retiring faster than agencies can staff up to fill the vacancies. In Boston, for example, 2017 saw 272 police officers become eligible for retirement, while only 56 graduated from the Boston Police Training Academy.
Shortfalls like this are happening all over the country, from big cities to small towns. With staffing deficiencies putting both the public and officers themselves at risk in so many communities, it is imperative for police departments to explore new ways to engage prospective officers. That is why 21st-century police technology is playing an increasing role in the recruiting process.
Start with basic internet recruiting
Of course, the internet is where any modern police recruitment effort begins. Studies show that recruiting online has helped departments across the country stay apace of staffing needs even in the face of declining budgets, and it helps smaller agencies contend with larger ones for visibility in a limited candidate pool.
In addition to placing employment listings on traditional recruiting outlets such as Monster, Indeed.com and law enforcement-specific venues, social media is also becoming the first stop for law enforcement recruiters when looking to fill open positions. Police agencies benefit from branching out to all the venues their prospects might monitor: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and even Snapchat make great platforms for police recruiting posts.
Then go way deeper
The emergence of electronic media and interactivity provides a wealth of further opportunities for recruitment online, with departments using techniques such as simulation-based video games, mobile apps and even reality show formats as recruiting vehicles. While these constructs may sound complex, they do not have to be: In most cases, police technology is readily accessible, and the price of deploying these techniques to recruit can be offset by accelerated time-to-hire.
One thing to keep in mind, however, is that the trick in deploying more advanced, experiential techniques lies in ensuring that the experience mirrors what the potential recruit will encounter in his or her day-to-day policing work. It is imperative not to provide an overstimulating game or dramatic slice-of-life clips from beat work that simply does not exist in mundane tasks the recruit will encounter. Otherwise, it will seem as though the tool was a bait-and-switch.
Achieve diversity through police technology
Diversity is a critical issue in police recruiting: It is imperative for their effectiveness that agencies mirror the communities they serve. Technology can also be a valuable tool in increasing diversity in force demographics, enabling agencies to extend the reach of their hiring initiatives by recruiting online.
Additionally, agencies have enjoyed success nationwide through the implementation of secure platforms for acceptance of applications and related documentation online, a tactic that both substantially removes barriers to applying and increases rates of applications from millennials, the largest generation in the workforce today.
Use police technology to speed hiring
In law enforcement, the hiring process can take months; it is also invasive, tedious and often costly. So it is no wonder that qualified candidates drop out of the process every day to take civilian jobs; there, not only is the bar lower, but they also earn an income in a much shorter period of time. In an age where nearly all law enforcement entities are experiencing hiring shortages, technology can be applied to shorten the hiring process and decrease the number of candidates who are lost in the Byzantine process.
For example, the Michigan State Police have adopted an online-only hiring process that allows applicants to submit their credentials year-round instead of during predefined application periods, to monitor their application progress and status as they desire instead of waiting for a call back from the department and to take initial exams online when cleared through. While this process is too early in its development to have returned results, its director notes that it has been easier for his section and believes it has been easier on their applicants as well.
With so many challenges in policing - including a nationwide shortage of officers - the onus is on the police departments to take assistance where possible without compromising standards. The use of police technology is one instance where help is available and needs only to be put into practice in order to improve the recruiting and hiring processes. In this manner, police forces dramatically decrease administration, enabling a return to this important business: "To Protect and to Serve."