One of the leading complaints departments have is retaining valuable officers. The second complaint is hiring qualified officers. We should strive to keep our assets, but search for those who have “go get ‘em” attitudes, are eager to serve and not simply looking for a job. Departments are spending and wasting money hiring “warm bodies” who are not staying.
So, imagine a department that is fully staffed and no one is leaving for greener pastures or retiring. This is not happening anywhere, correct? The jobs of law enforcement are exponentially greater due to homeland security threats and crime rates rising in certain areas. Budgets are strained as is, but are departments utilizing their officers, and determining where, who and what can be done to recruit and retain officers? For most, compensation is typically the number one answer.
Solutions other than increased pay are available. Since we live in a time where millennials have now saturated the work force, we have to look at different avenues to maintain departments’ personnel by retaining our veteran officers and also new hires. Professional development is a key component in keeping veteran officers, but is money the only key to holding on to young officers? To make a broad statement, officers like to be personally improved and professionally recognized for those improvements or accomplishments.
Departments must invest in their personnel who are already in the workforce. Mentoring sounds rudimentary and something that has not been widely introduced in this field, but for those officers who need guidance, who can feel and see the department’s investment in them, will flourish faster and grow stronger in their departments.
If they are recognized as an asset, and that their departments are willing to spend time and effort on them, they will more than likely remain loyal. It is my experience that approximately 80%-85% of graduated cadets do not have the opportunity to train post academy graduation and approximately 90% are not at the department that paid for their academy training. There’s no investment in them so, why would they stay? How can we coach and develop our personnel to stay?
Mentoring programs are easy and cheaper than spending thousands of dollars sending new recruits through training to have them leave soon after graduation. Even if they stay for two or three years, the attrition sets the budget on a demanding cycle forcing departments to refill positions.
Leadership has to supply guidance and new opportunities for their officers. There has to be a willingness for growth on behalf of administration, to see the greater financial and sustainable picture. What worked 10 years ago, is not working today with this particular hiring market.
Mentoring, or I prefer coaching, focuses on current and hirable officers and has a concentration on professional development. Departments can utilize free or internet-based classes, host training where free slots are given, access regional training facilities, or federally funded programs such as the FLETC Training Centers, US HOMELAND, EMRTC at New Mexico Tech, TEEX at Texas A&M, also US Attorney’s offices, FEMA or state’s emergency management offices, to name a few. These are online, free training opportunities, and on occasions if travel is required, it is paid for by the hosting agency.
Coaching through professional development for new hires is setting realistic expectations of what they want out of the job. New recruits are sometimes given bad advice in order to get them hired, and already they have the unrealistic outlook they will earn 50K upon completion of the training academy and move up through the ranks quickly. The average salary for a Mississippi officer is 30K (LawEnforcementEDU.net).
The true reality is officers need attention, time and education, which ultimately is coaching. Coaching allows department staff to ascertain what sort of investment they need to make in each particular officer. Coaching programs will guide departments to who will flourish and who needs more attention, time and education. It’s the positive attention and development that will help officers make the choice to stay. Attrition of both veteran and new officers is difficult to evaluate and control. Recruiting, coaching and investing in only those who truly want the service work, and the administrations determination to develop their officers, only then will departments slow the attrition rate.
Tony Carleton, Officer
Oxford Police Department, Oxford, Mississippi
Amy Vanderford, Ed.D.
Mississippi Delta Law Enforcement Training Academy, Moorhead, Mississippi
University of Mississippi, Oxford, Mississippi