Factors Influencing the Increased Police Officer Retention


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In recent years police agencies nationwide have had a needed increase in hiring new employees. Conversely, these same agencies have had an increasingly difficult time retaining employees. I will be covering some possible reasons why and that history is possibly repeating itself.

In a NIJ study from July ’04 Dr. C. Koper from the University of Pennsylvania found the following statistics: Due to rising crime rates in the 80’s to early 90’s, Congress passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. This legislation included the Public Safety and Community Policing Act (Establishing the COPS program), which provided funding to put an additional 100,000 police officers on the Nation’s streets. Slightly more than half of the Nation’s police agencies grew in strength from 1996 to 1999. The supply of good recruits was down throughout the Nation by the summer of 2000. More than half of small agencies and two-thirds of large agencies with vacancies reported the lack of qualified applicants caused difficulty in filling those slots. The reasons were not examined. The following are possible explanations:

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  • A strong Economy may have lured good candidates and experienced officers away from law enforcement to better paying jobs.
  • Increasing educational requirements for Applicants may have restricted the number of recruits. This effect likely would have been compounded by the economy’s draw on prospective applicants who have a college education.
  • Negative publicity over such matters as racial profiling and the excessive use of force may have discouraged people from wanting to join the profession.
  • The increased hiring in the 5 years before may have also contributed to the shortage by draining the pool of applicants and intensifying competition for recruits among police agencies.

Today we are experiencing most if not all of those same issues. Years ago when the hiring started most applicants were looking for good pay, benefits and job security. We will call those lower-order motivational needs. Today’s applicants are looking to satisfy higher-order, ‘Hygiene needs’ of belongingness, self-esteem, and self-actualization. Officers being recruited today are seeking challenging work environments and problem solving opportunities. When these needs go unmet for an extended period of time, it causes internal conflict for the individual. Other contributing factors:

  • Lack of Career Growth or Better Opportunities – Other agencies have often used this against agencies as a way to lure employees away.
  • Poor Supervision or Leadership – It is very important for an employee to have a positive relationship with their immediate supervisor. This will greatly influence whether they stay or go elsewhere.
  • Inadequate Recognition – Positive reinforcement is the easiest, least expensive, and best way to improve good performance and job satisfaction.
  • Inadequate Training – Today’s officers view training as an opportunity to improve their skills and make them more effective. If departments don’t provide these opportunities, they will start looking for other agencies that do.

Agencies are also having another problem that is concerning. Experienced officers from the 90’s are now retiring. This is causing a gap in experience between new hires and experienced officers. Agencies should try to find ways to retain their experienced officers for a little long to better bridge the gap. There are some that are going to leave no matter what you do. These are the people who came into the job with the sole plan of using the job as a stepping stone “getting your foot in the door”. The following are some ways to help a department to retain employees who are on the fence.

  • Compensation – Competitive salaries and benefits. Benefits are not limited to medical but also include retirement, leave, schedules and equipment. Studies say that people under 35 years of age generally are more concerned about salaries. Those over 35 are generally more concerned will benefits such as medical and retirement because they may have a family and are not just looking out for themselves.
  • Feedback – For feedback to be meaningful, it must be timely. “A coach doesn’t wait until the end of the year to correct a player’s performance. He or she pulls the player to the sideline, explains what he or she needs to improve, and keeps the guidance focused on the game”.
  • Recognition – Everyone values recognition for a job well done. The more this happens, the more likely the employee’s will repeat like behavior.
  • Provide a Caring Environment – Members of law enforcement spend more time with their co-workers than they do at home with their families. Officers need to know the people they work with and for care about them on a personal level.

The best resources we will have to evaluate the reasons for officers leaving are exit interviews. Agencies should always make time to interview people to get there feedback and reactions to the way we do business.

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