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Looking for Mr. (or Ms.) Right: Risk Management through Targeted Recruiting

Employment is a marriage and recruitment is the courtship. Mistakes made in hiring often haunt us for a professional lifetime. Once we hire, there may be no legal grounds for divorce. Also, every time we propose to the wrong one, the right one gets away. But who, exactly, is the right one and how do we attract that person? Think about recruitment with an eye on liability prevention and organizational risk management.

People Skills

In police work, unlike some professions, most skills that were necessary 40 years ago are still necessary today. We need new hires with the capacity to perform both traditional enforcement duties and emerging requirements. Now and in the future, the skill set that best predicts success in police work is people skills. Human relations and interpersonal communication skills have long been the hallmark characteristics of our most successful officers and leaders.

The ability to successfully manage one’s own emotions and positively influence the behavior of others is critical to successful outcomes in our most menial tasks and in our most dangerous and important duties. Officers who are “good with people” will work more safely, relate better to both their co-workers and the public, catch more crooks and cause fewer complaints and lawsuits. The result is more effectiveness and less liability.

Open-Mindedness and Tolerance

Beyond communication skills, the high-value employee of tomorrow must be more tolerant of differences and open to views other than his or her own. During their careers, our new hires will have to deal successfully with a more diverse and dissimilar population than we ever dreamed of as new officers.

Empathy—the ability to understand others, what’s important to them, and why—has long been understood to be a primary tool of conflict management. In American law enforcement, that tool becomes more important each day.


All veteran officers know that as they matured, their decision-making and judgment improved, especially in regard to high-risk transactions and dynamics. No single factor better predicts heightened maturity than age itself. Military personnel retiring at age 38 after a successful 20-year career tend to make great hires—not because they are “military” but because they are past the “terrible 20s,” which means they are used to following rules, and most of them will be at least modestly physically fit, with a longstanding habit of remaining so. In any event, older is usually better.

Collaborative Recruiting

There are two types of recruiting: active and passive. Passive recruiting may include little more than posting a want ad or offering an entrance exam. Smaller departments often find themselves stuck with this approach. Active recruiting produces the best results, but it is costly and manpower intensive. Even some larger agencies have found themselves cutting corners due to manpower and budget reductions. This can be costly in the long haul.

Collaboration is the key. Many agencies are experiencing success with the formation of recruitment task forces. Select officers from a handful of departments work together under one roof to seek out qualified applicants. They may share costs, give one standard test, conduct background investigations together and even share the training function. Still others have adopted a “big guys helping little guys” approach. This involves a large state or county agency assuming all of the functions, possibly for a fee.

Here are some tips on how to make a better hire.

Step 1: Choose the Right Recruiters

Your recruiters have to be officers who put the agency’s best foot forward. They are your poster children and your match-makers. What do you want your officers to be like? Recruiters have to reflect everything you are looking for in your candidates. Most of all, your recruiters must have an obvious zeal for law enforcement.

Step 2: Identify Your Targets

The gender, race and ethnic composition of both your incumbents and your candidates must be carefully considered. You must also be cognizant of the political climate, your own demographics and any active consent decrees or Justice Department mandates. Liberal arts colleges may be your most fruitful hunting grounds, especially in terms of open mindedness and tolerance, but don’t overlook the over-30 individual who may be looking for a change.

Non-traditional candidates are excelling in police careers all over the country, but they often have to be propositioned. Remember that recruitment is not about attracting a great number of people. It’s about attracting a number of great people.

Step 3: Cyberize Your Strategy

If you have an out-of-date, static, thin Web presence, you will not attract your fair share of high-achieving candidates. Your “curb appeal” to potential high-value candidates is not in front of headquarters; it is in front of a monitor. Jazz up your Web site, get onto the social networks and make free app videos for smart phones.

Beware, however, of neglecting traditional methods. Recruiting efforts that function solely in cyberspace may have an adverse impact on some protected classes that do not have enough access to the necessary gadgetry. Your hiring history will come under scrutiny and the results of your recruitment efforts may be second-guessed.

Step 4: Give Them the Straight Scoop

You have to give potential applicants both sides of the story. Our business is not all guns and roses. There are rainy traffic posts, abused children and death notifications. Your best candidates will be those prepared to take the good with the bad of the job, for better or for worse. This reality is all too often forgotten, and the recruiter becomes no more than a salesperson. The last thing you want is an employee who becomes disillusioned due to initially distorted expectations.

There are many techniques to giving a balanced portrayal of police life. Conduct group lectures capturing the realities of police work. Include a video. Provide ride-alongs and apprenticeships. A stint with the auxiliary police can be an eye opener, and the creation of a youth group or “Explorer” program is a wonderful approach.

Liability Prevention and Risk Management

Active recruiting efforts to attract older people, women and young men with tendencies toward open-mindedness, tolerance and compassion, if successful, will pay great dividends in general and particularly in liability prevention and risk management. Men in their 20s cause almost all of the disasters.

It turns out that lack of a fully formed adult brain, general immaturity, extra susceptibility to peer pressure and spectacularly high levels of testosterone make a dangerous cocktail. Recruitment efforts targeting women, older men and openminded young men could produce a millennial workforce we can live with.

Court your eventual betrothed with honesty and you may live happily ever after.

Randy Means is a partner in Thomas & Means, a law firm specializing entirely in police operations and administration. He has served the national law enforcement community full time for more than 30 years and is the author of “The Law of Policing,” which is available at He can be reached directly at

Kevin Lowry recently retired as a chief from the Nassau County, N.Y., Police Department. He is a qualified attorney, arbitrator and hearing officer in matters of personnel and employment. Lowry has held supervisory and management positions in patrol, investigations and administration. He can be reached at

Captain (ret.) Greg Seidel is the training director for Thomas & Means and teaches nationally on the subject of police recruiting and hiring. He is also the director of The IMPACT Project, a law enforcement human relations think-tank. He may be reached at

Published in Law and Order, Nov 2010

Rating : 8.0

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