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Poaching Experienced Officers, Part 2

Written by Dwayne Orrick

In “Poaching Experienced Officers, Part 1,” October 2010, we discussed the benefits and risks of hiring experienced officers from other departments. In this issue, we will focus on how to attract candidates from other departments, as well as how to avoid losing veteran officers to other departments.

In his recently released study, “Recruiting and Retaining America’s Finest: Evidence-Based Lessons for Police Workforce Planning,” Dr. Jeremy Wilson found three factors that were statistically significant for attracting officers to police organizations. Those factors were higher salaries, size of the city and crime rates.

Every two weeks, officers’ paychecks objectively demonstrate their value to the organization. Because “compensation matters most in attracting recruits,” those departments that offer higher salaries and better benefits packages have a strategic advantage over those that pay less. This enables these agencies to “cherry pick” the best officers from other departments.

Recruiters from larger communities often use community and department size to suggest they offer more opportunities to specialize and develop a career. Similarly, it is perceived that communities with higher crime rates allow officers to do more “real” police work as compared to other communities.

As a result, officers working in areas with high crime get more experience in a shorter period and have more opportunities to “make a difference.” Those individuals with a “taste” for crime fighting are more likely to seek opportunities with these agencies.

When seeking to attract experienced candidates, recruiters should search in locations where these officers are most likely to be found. Many large departments are reporting their most effective recruiting source is the Internet. Department Web sites are accessible 24/7, giving interested officers the opportunity to assess career opportunities, employment standards and selection procedures. Because of this, it is also important for departments to include information that highlights additional benefits offered to candidates seeking lateral transfers.

Second, employee referral systems capitalize on informal networks among officers. Research has consistently found candidates who are referred by an incumbent employee are more likely to succeed in the selection process and be retained by the agency.

Another source for agencies to consider is the use of part-time officers. Having officers work in the community before they are provided a fulltime job enables agencies to provide realistic job previews of what it is like to work in the department and identify individuals who fit with the agency.

When talking with people who are seeking lateral transfers into the department, recruiters must listen for the five common “hot points” that indicate dissatisfaction with their current position and how the prospective agency can better meet these needs. These include the current department or community, type of boss, job responsibilities/duties, career advancement opportunities and salary.

As recruiters speak with potential candidates, they should exercise active listening skills and be prepared to describe how working in their department will be different from continuing in their current situation. It is important to point out that candidates who are seeking a job simply because of the increased salary are at greater risk of leaving as soon as another agency offers them more money. At the same time, there are exceptions to every rule, and the individual may be genuinely underpaid and have a valid issue.

Guarding Against Poachers

The issue of employee retention is a complex subject. To guard against other agencies trying to recruit veteran officers, departments must employ people who identify with their organization, minimize factors pushing candidates out, identify at-risk employees, and maximize the use of retention incentives.

Each department has its own “culture” and performs the same tasks differently. Due to this, leaders must seek those candidates who are more likely to identify with the department. If the new officer does not “fit” with the organizational culture, he is less likely to be retained.

For those agencies that constantly find themselves as a stepping stone for larger departments, the first step is to quit hiring those candidates who are most “at-risk” for leaving. Employing younger officers who are seeking the exciting aspects of the profession and have no ties to the community forces the agency into a perpetual cycle of hiring and training new officers. While these candidates may be easier and less expensive to hire, the elevated attrition rates result in fewer benefits and more costs to the community.

When addressing the issue of agency size, leaders must constantly send the message that bigger does not mean better. Smaller departments give individuals more opportunity to perform different work activities. In addition, individuals can quickly become just another number in the larger agency with fewer opportunities to stand out. At the same time, specialization can quickly lead to boredom for those who are seeking the diversity offered by smaller agencies.

Minimize factors pushing candidates out. Every employee in the department is constantly weighing their current working conditions with potential opportunities. It is incumbent on department leaders to identify factors pushing employees out of the agency and initiate steps to redress these grievances. Factors most frequently cited include: immediate supervisors, inadequate career opportunities, insufficient feedback and limited training. Each of these factors can be easily corrected but requires executives to exercise courage, creativity and concern.

Identify at-risk employees. The majority of officer turnover occurs within the first few years of employment, with 25 to 33 percent of officers leaving within the first 36 months and 50 percent departing within five years. By evaluating tenure of former officers, leaders can easily identify patterns of turnover and focus retention efforts accordingly.

Other factors that should be considered are behaviors that indicate an officer is at risk of leaving. For example, an officer who contacts human resources about transferring benefits or early retirement, asks for isolated days off in the middle of the week, or makes comments about considering other job opportunities is probably seeking other opportunities.

In other instances, the officer may have had a close friend leave a few months before or exhibited prolonged unhappiness after being turned down for a transfer or promotion. Major life changes including recent marriages, newborn children, divorce or recent graduation of children from school may indicate a potential career move. It is imperative that supervisors be trained to look for these indicators and to initiate steps to retain the individual.

Employing experienced officers from other departments offers prospective agencies potential benefits and risks. Whether a department is trying to attract or retain these officers, agencies must formulate a message that resonates with people who are more likely to fit with the organization. In addition, agencies must maximize those factors pulling experienced officers into the agency and minimize those pushing them out.

Chief Dwayne Orrick has been the police chief in Cordele, Ga., for 20 years. He may be contacted at dorrick@bellsouth.net.

Published in Law and Order, Dec 2010

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