Retention and Recruitment of Law Enforcement Officials in the 21st Century
BY: Yvonne Trevino, Attorney
Recently I spoke to several OPBA members and we discussed the recent troubles concerning recruitment and retention of law enforcement officers. In a time of increased crime – recruitment and retention of officers is becoming a growing challenge for police departments in many Ohio cities. Many may agree this has been an ongoing issue throughout the history of law enforcement as agencies strive (or we hope) to maintain an effective workforce. Two issues that impact local agencies include increases in causes for attrition and decreases in sources of recruitment.
First, attrition can result from several sources. For example, a budget crisis might cause jurisdictions to reduce their number of officers. This was evident during the financial downturn in 2008 and 2009 as many agencies throughout the state of Ohio experienced drastic cuts, making it difficult to maintain their current workforce. It is unfortunate that we continue to see bargaining units that have staffing levels resembling levels from 8-9 years ago. The OPBA continues to be steadfast in our pursuit to demand an increase in the workforce as call volumes remain consistent over the years.
Additionally, the wave of the baby-boom generation retirements has threatened reduction in experienced officers. The increasing numbers of military deployments are requiring more officers for longer periods of time for military duties. Lastly, younger generations or the millennial generation of workers may be more likely than older ones to change careers to find a career they like best. Many realize that a career in law enforcement isn’t for everyone.
There are several ways agencies can increase their ability to recruit and (hopefully) retain qualified applicants. For example, agencies need to work and interview the membership regarding job satisfaction – or the lack thereof. Understanding the concerns of the officers is paramount in addressing possible morale issues or conflict prior to recruiting new candidates. Secondly, enhancing compensation and other benefits to attract and retain candidates. The OPBA strives to zealously negotiate for our members as the benefits of enhancing compensation and other benefits improves retention by meeting immediate employee needs. Lastly, agencies can increase retention through improved employee engagement. For example, allowing employees to have a voice or input in decision making and other feedback opportunities. If both the agency and the membership can create effectiveness through improved hiring and management practices it not only benefits the employees but the surrounding community.
It appears the pool of available candidates continues to decrease year after year. I mentioned earlier the baby-boom generation retiring and the generation replacing that group is smaller. Other factors that face this smaller pool of candidates are disqualifying behaviors and/or lack of physical fitness. These are just two examples challenging agencies when reviewing potential candidates.
A difficult impediment facing departments is the evolving tolerance of society as whole for minor crimes and illicit drug use. Many states and their legislative bodies are drafting laws to legalize marijuana and other drugs. This may lead younger generations to engage in behaviors that will ultimately prevent them from obtaining a job in a law enforcement agency. Additionally, the increasing sedentary lifestyle of younger generations increases the occurrences of obesity. The relatively low fitness level of so many families have led to a decreased level of potential candidates. With the demanding physical rigors of police work, departments are faced with fewer applicants who can meet physical agility standards.
Undoubtedly this is not a comprehensive list of key issues nor does it address specific ways of determining staffing needs for each agency. Each agency will be faced with their individual challenges. However, during difficult times, the OPBA will continue to stand behind their members to provide aid, education, and for the general welfare of each member and their families for the betterment of police and their communities.