Improving Economy Hurts LE Recruitment

Improving Economy Is a Challenge to Law Enforcement Recruitment

by ALADS Board of Directors

A recent Wall Street Journal article entitled “Robust Job Growth, High Wages Show Solid Labor Market” should be a wake-up call for local governments looking to hire officers. A Desert Sun article titled “Where Have All the Cops Gone?” highlights the issues law enforcement agencies have seeking to recruit and retain personnel. Santa Barbara Police Chief Lori Luhnow made the point last year that by the end of 2015, job openings increased 600% statewide versus the previous five years, and in 2016, the ten largest police agencies in the state combined for more than 3,000 openings. A strong economy that offers well-paying jobs and wage growth will make the challenge of hiring deputies and officers even greater.

Compensation (pay, benefits, and pensions) is a key factor that affects the recruitment and retention of law enforcement personnel. We have covered in previous blogs the exodus of officers from the San Jose and Dallas police departments when pay and pension benefits were cut, or their viability questioned. Officers simply walked out the door to better-paying agencies with secure benefits, and recruits shunned those departments for better opportunities.

Just down the road, the same dynamic can be seen playing out in San Diego. The San Diego Police Department (SDPD) has faced officer shortages for at least a decade, as their pay ranked near the bottom when compared to the 18 other large departments in the state. As officers left to work for other agencies with better pay, the city exacerbated the problem by canceling five hiring classes in 2004 and 2005. In 2014, city leaders approved a pay raise that moved San Diego from the bottom of the pack to the middle of the pay scale compared to the 18 other agencies. Yet, two years after this raise, SDPD continues to struggle to recruit and retain officers, as officers are still leaving at more than twice the rate than in previous years and the SDPD Chief noted the raise simply prevented the department from “being in worse shape.”

In contrast, the nearby San Diego County Sheriff’s Department (SDSO) faced no such issues. In 2016, the department even reported that it had slightly above the authorized number of deputies, with the sheriff commenting that he had little trouble finding new hires to replace departed deputies. An SDPD officer could have earned $18,000 more per year simply by a lateral transfer to the SDSO. A five-year contract signed in 2014 by SDSO deputies likely widened the gap, as deputies received a pay increase that totaled 18% over five years with a base wage increase of 8% over five years and an additional top step for all classifications that totaled another 10%.

In a competitive job market, some city police departments such as Beverly Hills, Santa Cruz and Fresno are offering lateral transfers $10,000-$20,000 signing bonuses. While law enforcement signing bonuses certainly will not ever become too outlandish, it is a given that a department seeking to reach or remain at full strength must offer competitive pay and benefits, possess a top notch professional reputation, and implement strong recruiting efforts.

An improving economy is certainly welcome, but it will also make the job of recruiting and retaining the very best law enforcement officers more difficult.

The Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (ALADS) is the collective bargaining agent representing more than 7,900 deputy sheriffs and district attorney investigators working in Los Angeles County.

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