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Recruiting Former Officers
Written by Dwayne Orrick
Poaching employees from other employers is common practice. Every law enforcement agency periodically loses great officers who laterally transfer to another department. In other instances, people may accept a position outside law enforcement in another government position, the private sector, or to start a new business.
Today, many employees change jobs or careers several times. Some suggest that the average employee will change careers seven times over the course of his work life. In his book “Winning the Talent Wars,” Bruce Tulger notes that employers have two groups of employees. The first group consists of a group of “core” employees, who ensure continuity of operations. The second group is composed of “transient” employees, who may join, leave, and return to an agency several times. Eventually, they choose another career or start to identify with the core group and become anchored with the agency.
When people join a police department, bonds of friendship are forged that last for a lifetime. Because of this, the decision to leave a department is very emotional for departing officers. After they leave, many find the work environment or factors that were used to entice them are not what they were perceived.
Unfortunately, former employees are often ignored by law enforcement agencies as a potential recruiting pool. A number of reasons contribute to this, including pride and stubbornness. The attitude of many leaders in the past has been, “If the person doesn’t want us, we don’t want him.” Because of this, most departments fail to keep contact with officers who have left to explore other alternative employment opportunities.
However, hiring boomerangs offer benefits for both the employer and the employee. Both know what to expect from the other. The time to bring the employee up to full speed is drastically cut when compared with a traditional recruit. The department has lower costs associated with hiring and training the person. Oftentimes, returning officers make more loyal employees and spread the word to other officers considering employment alternatives that the grass may not be as green as it is portrayed.
This is not to say that all former employees should be considered as candidates. Before trying to attract a former officer, recruiters should contact his former supervisor and co-workers to identify what kind of employee he was. An officer should not be allowed to return if he does not have a good work history.
To identify potential candidates to recruit, develop a list of officers who have left the department on good terms within the last three to five years.
There are a number of strategies for agencies to consider when trying to lure a former employee. The first approach is to have a friend call the departed officer about two to three months after he leaves. This is long enough for some of the excitement of a new position to wear off.
In addition, the individual will have an opportunity to recognize if promises made by the new employer are going to be fulfilled. When calling a recently departed officer, inquire as to how well his transition is occurring. The agency should also let the departed officer know that others were talking about him and he is missed. In other instances, officers who have been gone for a longer period may take a gentler approach. It is natural for people to recognize that many of the aspects they thought were negative may not have been as bad as they thought.
When talking with a former employee, callers should be prepared to answer questions regarding salary, seniority, orientation training, and opportunities for career advancement. In some cases, it may be beneficial to know the reasons the officer gave for leaving the department. If the issues have been resolved, it may be important to point it out to the person.
Many departments that have initiated this technique have found that former employees jump at the opportunity to return. Agencies often report that boomerangs thought they may not have been welcomed back or were too ashamed to admit they may have made a mistake. As a rule of thumb, having a boomerang rate of 10% or higher is considered very good.
In summary, recruiting former employees enable agencies to recoup their original investment in the officer, limit the uncertainty associated with hiring a new employee, and dramatically reduce the time required to bring the new hire up to full speed.
Dwayne Orrick has been the Cordele, GA Police chief for 18 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in Law and Order, May 2008
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