Police departments across the country are using bonuses and increased attention to attract recruits after several years of low staffing and fewer applications.
More and more departments are using a variety of strategies to attract applicants.
Sometimes, this includes making a fuss over new hires and recruits to keep them interested and satisfied.
In Fairfax County, Virginia, police are treating new recruits to a formal “signing day” ceremony when they accept their job offers.
Louisville police, meanwhile, are flying prospective officers in to take entrance tests, putting them up in a hotel and even giving them a ride-along with an officer to pique their interest.
Other agencies have turned to concrete financial incentives to lure candidates. Many West Coast departments are offering tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of bonuses as a way to attract transfer hires.
Law enforcement experts say the departments are trying to find ways to reverse the damage to the profession caused by the 2020 riots and the COVID pandemic.
Experts believe the pandemic in particular has given more leverage to job seekers, which has in turn forced police departments to adapt.
“The game has clearly changed,” Montgomery County, Maryland, Police Chief Marcus Jones told The New York Times.
Jones said he realized his department needed to make drastic changes after finding that other agencies were poaching candidates in his area using digital advertising.
Despite calls to defund police departments becoming increasingly unpopular, staffing levels have yet to fully bounce back.
The Seattle Police Department is one agency that is still struggling. According to Chief Adrian Diaz, his department has lost around 100 officers since the unrest in 2020.
Diaz is urgently looking to fill vacancies. “I need an officer that’s literally going to be the community outreach officer, but also can respond to that active shooter,” he said.
Although Seattle offers a $30,000 bonus to transfer officers and a $7,500 signing bonus to new recruits, the chief said that recruiting is still difficult.
New police officers in Seattle earn around $83,000 annually after graduating from the academy. Transferring officers can earn more than $90,000 in their first year.
Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, told the Times that while the law enforcement industry isn’t alone in terms of falling employment rates and increasing retirements, the killing of George Floyd worsened the problem.
“It wasn’t just what happened in Minneapolis — it was felt nationally in a way it never has been,” Wexler said. “I think that’s taken its toll, either on prospective candidates or existing cops rethinking what it means to be a cop in America today.”
And it’s not just retirements or difficulty recruiting new officers that is causing departments’ woes. Instead, many officers are leaving larger departments for smaller, safer and better-paying suburban agencies.
Commissioner Michael Harrison of the Baltimore Police Department said that officers transferring to suburban departments created a cycle whereby fewer city officers have to do more work in difficult conditions.
To incentivize city officers, Minneapolis and San Francisco are reorienting their search toward older applicants looking for a career change, or they are offering retention bonuses.
For Harrison, it’s about adapting to the situation in any way they can — even if they have to cancel days off.
“We have to make up the difference of officers who are not there: We want response times to be good; we want to be able to patrol and be visible to deter as much crime as we can,” Harrison said. “We have to sometimes make them do it, sometimes cancel their off days to make them do it. And that’s a morale buster.”
In addition to the aforementioned strategies, some departments are opting for more liberal hiring policies — such as by allowing those who smoke marijuana or have a low credit score to apply — to expand the pool of applicants.
Other departments, including the NYPD, have lowered the fitness requirement standards to include more female candidates.
In Akron, Ohio, police are allowed to grow beards. Chief Stephen Mylett hopes this will keep officers satisfied.
“I came in a generation of police officer where you just didn’t have a beard,” Mylett said. “The officers wanted it, and we were losing qualified applicants because we didn’t allow beards.”
Making quality-of-life improvements for officers and having a community that is supportive of police is also important for staffing.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has made “backing the blue” a priority in his state by passing a law to provide $5,000 signing bonuses to all police recruits. As a result, many departments, such as the Clearwater Police Department, have seen an influx of recruits from out of state.