Police recruiters nationwide have a new message for potential applicants. No longer is the job of being a rookie cop just about athleticism, adventure and youth.
Departments nationwide now cast a wider net when advertising for new officers
National police recruiting expert Matthew Scheider said agencies must go beyond the blue-collar-job pitch and frame the profession as one that relies on critical thinking and problem solving to make a community a better a place to live.
Scheider, who has a doctorate in sociology and criminology, said he has encouraged recruiters nationwide to change their focus from the spirit of adventure to the spirit of service. Being an officer isn’t just high speed chases, he said, but exposing crime patterns and looking at the big picture.
Scheider studies the issue as assistant director of Community Oriented Policing Services, an independent branch of the U.S. Department of Justice. He said police departments large and small have been forced to get creative as the battle for new officers extends up the West Coast, down to Texas and up the East Coast.
Departments need to draw people from fields other than the military, Scheider said. And they need to consider older applicants with diverse backgrounds who are ready for a second career.
The Los Angeles Police Department, which has increased the maximum age for recruits, finds itself butting heads with other agencies as the state seeks thousands of new cops.
For many departments, the difficulty of drawing officers comes with a limited budget that requires low salaries. Another obstacle is the length of time it takes to get from a written exam to the interview process to the police academy.
It takes emotional and financial commitment to become an officer, said Elaine Deck, a senior program manager for a branch of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, based in Alexandria, Va.
Deck said the battle has been difficult in the years following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when the military began taking many of the strongest recruits.
Deck said police departments must now sell themselves when trying to recruit prospective officers, and cities must form partnerships with the community. In some states, she said, businesses and banks have worked together to provide low mortgage rates as they seek ways to help officers and their families land homes.
Cities have also turned to signing bonuses and paying their officers money for referring applicants.