During the last few years, most communities have endured the
worst economic recession since the Great Depression of 1929. With massive
unemployment across the country, more persons were seeking employment than the
number of available positions. This surplus of potential candidates has made
the search for good candidates easier for departments.
However, as the economy rebounds, highly qualified
individuals will have more employment opportunities. As a result, law
enforcement agencies should expect greater competition for qualified candidates
and increases in employee attrition. This will result in agencies having to
enhance their recruiting efforts. One viable source of good candidates is
officers who are employed in other law enforcement agencies.
Lateral transfers offer benefits and challenges for both
officers and departments. Traditionally,
lateral transfers have been limited to entry level and command staff positions.
But with the number of persons in the workforce falling over the next few
years, departments may also be forced to increase their reliance on transfers
to fill vacancies in mid-level and specialty positions.
For the officer, the reason for changing departments should
be to find an employer where the individual will fit better and be happier.
Before exploring opportunities for a lateral transfer, there are a number of
issues officers should fully understand. Most law enforcement agencies are
dealing with the same problems, so the grass is not always greener on the other
side of the fence. Some are just better at addressing these issues.
Second, if the officer chooses to move to another
department, they will have no seniority.
Because of this, they will likely have less latitude in choosing their
shift assignments and off days. This can be discouraging for some experienced
When an officer moves to a new department, they are
typically required to complete a mandatory orientation and field training
program. Being considered and treated as a ‘trainee’ can be difficult for some
officers. In addition, when an experienced officer joins another department,
they will likely have to ‘prove’ themselves as being worthy of their fellow
Finally, disparate retirement programs between agencies may
prohibit the transfer of benefits to the new department. As a result, the
officer may lose credit for their years of service toward retirement. To
account for this, individuals should take this into consideration before making
a decision to switch agencies.
Once a decision is made to explore other career
opportunities, the officer should spend some time identifying his/her long-term
career goals. When seeking to join a department, applicants are required to
submit to extensive background and selection processes. It is just as important
for candidates to conduct a similar investigation of the department.
Do the Research
Using their personal and professional goals as a baseline,
the officer can better make an informed decision as to whether a department
will be a good fit for him/her. There are a number of steps to accomplish.
First, evaluate the department’s website. Is the site
up-to-date, professionally designed, and provide an accurate image of the
agency? Conduct an Internet search of the department to identify positive and
negative reports on the agency. Any questions about the organization should be
closely examined and resolved.
Second, talk with a number of officers about what it is like
to work in the agency. Pay careful attention to the quality of the officers’
relationships with supervisors, governing authority, and community. If
possible, participate in a ride-along to get a real feel of what it is like to
work within the department.
Third, inspect how officers carry themselves. Are their
uniforms neat, clean and pressed? Also, take time to examine their equipment.
Are their cars in good condition or do they have peeling decals, missing
hubcaps, or a significantly worn appearance? Similarly, determine if the
officers are issued well-maintained personal equipment including weapons,
computers, radios/portables, and other emergency equipment.
Fourth, when investigating the benefits package, look beyond
salary. A robust compensation benefits program is a great indicator of whether
the governing authority views their employees as an expense or investment. The
best organizations are constantly investing to enhance their officers’
abilities through career development opportunities, tuition reimbursement
programs, and robust training programs.
In addition, with federally mandated changes to
employer-based health insurance programs and rises in the cost of medical care,
increases in employee contributions and co-pays can make a significant
difference in the real cost of the benefit to the employee.
The Big Advantage
When examining the issue of lateral transfers from the
department’s perspective, the greatest advantage for seeking lateral transfers
is the financial and operational savings associated with training and
on-boarding a new officer. Experienced officers typically have the skills and
abilities that can only be developed by doing the job. When an agency hires an
experienced officer, they obtain that knowledge and ability at the other
In addition, officers who have worked with other departments
often have a different perspective of how to address issues. This diversity
often strengthens the agency’s response to evolving issues.
Finally, an often-overlooked advantage of employing officers
who are making a lateral entry is the informal connections that provide better communications
between agencies. These informal
channels of communication enable officers to maneuver the bureaucratic red tape
that often impedes cooperative efforts.
The Greatest Concern
At the same time, some leaders have the perception that all
experienced officers are the same. This is simply not the case. While there are
many benefits with hiring a well-qualified, experienced officer, some
candidates have baggage that prevents them from being a good fit with other
One of the greatest concerns for a department hiring an
experienced officer should be accepting another department’s problem employee.
Oftentimes, the officer’s supervisors are so happy the problem employee is
leaving, they do not warn the new agency of issues with the individual.
While there are some potential liability issues associated
with failing to notify a prospective employer of these problems, many simply
neglect to provide negative information. To avoid this, it is imperative
agencies conduct a thorough background investigation in which the candidate’s
supervisors are interviewed and their personnel files reviewed.
Second, years of service are not always a good indicator of
an individual’s experience. If the individual worked in a department with a low
call volume, he/she may have had fewer opportunities to develop a broad range
of experience. In other instances, the person’s assignment may not have
provided him/her with sufficient exposure to important developmental
In still other cases, individuals simply marked time in
grade and never took advantage of opportunities to improve their skills and
abilities. Essentially, these persons have little more to offer than a new
Another concern may arise if the officer worked in a
department with lower ethical or performance standards than the new department.
When this occurs, the new agency is forced to spend more time improving the
individual’s performance to comply with the higher standards. In the worst
cases, the department is forced to separate the ‘experienced’ officer for bad
Tourists and Poaching
Agencies also have to be cautious of ‘law enforcement
tourists’ who frequently move from one department to another. An employment
history that is composed of multiple moves within a short period may be
indicative of an officer with discipline issues or an inability to commit to a
department’s mission, vision, and values.
In other cases, the individual may simply be the type who is
never happy at any job. Regardless,
these individuals seldom add value to the organization since they do not stay
long enough for the department to obtain an adequate return on their
Departments aggressively poaching experienced officers from
nearby departments may find the practice has the unintended consequence of
adversely affecting interagency relationships. Nearby departments may fear the
poaching agency is targeting their employees and limit contact with them. The
fear of losing valuable talent to aggressive recruiting techniques could interfere
with the coordination of activities between the departments.
In today’s labor market, individuals are constantly weighing
their current situation with other alternatives. When individuals determine
they will be better somewhere else, they leave.
Over the next few years, the traditional employer/employee
contract is likely to dramatically change. Engaged, critical-thinking
individuals who are constantly seeking to contribute in a positive manner are a
valuable investment for any employer. Officers seeking to make a lateral
transfer must recognize the complexities associated with these moves and make
an informed decision that is in their best interests.
Agencies seeking to employ lateral transfers should develop
a comprehensive process to verify candidates’ performance ability, fit with the
department’s values and levels of experience. These processes will maximize the
agency’s ability to attract high-quality, seasoned officers.
Departments experiencing elevated levels of attrition to
lateral transfers must explore those factors that are pushing individuals out
or pulling them into another organization including leadership, interpersonal
relations, selection processes, career development opportunities, and benefit
Once these issues are identified, organizational leaders
must establish a strategic plan to minimize these losses. Failure to accomplish
this will likely result in the inability to maintain sufficient numbers of
experienced staff to meet their community’s needs.
Major Dwayne Orrick commands the Support Services
Division/Training Unit with the Gwinnett
Sheriff’s Office. Persons wishing to contact him can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.