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Recruiting and Retaining Qualified Officers:
Can Your Agency Compete?

Author: Richard M. Ayres, February 2001

Never in our nation's history have the pressures on our law enforcement agencies been greater than they are today. Not only are these agencies facing increasingly sophisticated criminal populations as well as complex demands and expectations from citizens and local governments, many of them are also confronting a crisis involving their inability to recruit and retain qualified employees.

Low Unemployment, Competition Major Factors

While the nation enjoys a low overall unemployment rate, law enforcement agencies are finding themselves in competition with both public and private sector employers to attract the most capable officer candidates. Intensifying the problem is the fact that many agencies seem to be losing officers as fast as they can hire and train them.

Enlarging Applicant Pool Critical to Resolving Crisis

Recognizing the need to enlarge their applicant pools, some agencies with severe recruitment and retention problems have begun to take strong measures, ranging from actually lowering recruitment standards to developing a variety of marketing strategies to attract qualified candidates.

Impact of Lowered Educational, Age Standards

Recently the New York City Police Department waived the 2-year college requirement it had instituted in 1995 and lowered the applicant age from 22 to 21 years. Suddenly allowed to substitute 2 years' work experience for 60 college credits, nearly half of the city's 5,000 traffic agents and school safety officers became eligible to apply for the position of police officer. (Candidates with 2 years of military training were already allowed to waive the college credits.)

Despite some opposition to waiving the college requirement, Patrick J. Lynch, president of New York City's Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, contended that the requirement disqualified a huge number of people. "Whether you're qualified for this job should have nothing to do with whether you have a sheepskin from college or not," said Lynch. "The key to improving recruitment is raising salaries and improving working conditions," he added.1

Private Sector Wages, Benefits: Harsh Competitors. Most law enforcement professionals would agree that raising salaries and benefits would impact positively on recruitment and retention of qualified people. However, a sliding economy and concerns about a recession make it unlikely that law enforcement will be able to compete with wages and benefits offered by private sector employers.

Marketing Strategies for Enlarging Applicant Pools

Many agency heads oppose lowering educational and age standards and are examining other avenues for enlarging their applicant pools.

Addressing Candidates' Needs, Interests

Some agencies are considering marketing programs that address potential applicants' needs and interests. Sergeant Kim Carrier, Phoenix Police Department, suggests that, to attract and retain "Generation X" officers, marketing strategies should be developed that highlight cafeteria benefits and other incentives and that list opportunities available at the officer level, such as computer technology and career development programs.2

Projecting Positive Image

Other agencies, hoping to tap into groups that have not yet shown interest, are turning to marketing strategies that project a positive image of law enforcement, such as what the U.S. Marines' well-known slogan, "The Few…the Proud…the Marines," does for that organization.

Overall Goal: Creating Credibility, Professional Pride

Undoubtedly, any of these marketing tactics are valid and can be expected to achieve some positive results. But is it possible that, in the rush to develop a quick fix to the recruitment and retention crisis, law enforcement executives have overlooked one of their most valuable assets? Have they forgotten that one of their most important leadership tools-the organization's mission and values (guiding principles)-can be used to develop credibility in the marketplace that will enhance recruiting efforts and develop professional pride that will encourage employee retention?

It's a Rewarding Career! Communicate it Through the Agency's Mission

If we want to attract more people to law enforcement and increase the pool of candidates, we need to tell them what we do, why we exist, what business we are in, and why this is a more rewarding career than other occupations that can provide higher wages and benefits. Let's develop marketing strategies based on one of law enforcement's greatest strengths-its mission.

In general, a clear mission statement accomplishes the following:

  • Defines for employees the organization's purpose and intent;
  • Allows employees to see themselves as part of a worthwhile enterprise and instills in them a sense of pride and belief that this is more than just a job;
  • Enables employees to see how they can make a difference and improve the community through their participation in the law enforcement agency.

Communicating Mission Builds Agency Loyalty

Belief in the mission is critical for inspiring all employees, management as well as line officers, to commit to the organization and provide the involvement and dedication necessary to establish a good workplace that serves both employees and the community.

Belief in the mission develops a sense of pride both in the organization and in the employees' work, in turn generating organizational loyalty by demonstrating how the employees can improve their qualify of life. Thus, a good place to work begins to evolve-one that experiences minimal turnover and that has a clearly defined mission statement that is known, understood and practiced throughout the agency.

Mission Should Connect Agency, Community

Used as a marketing strategy, the mission should be worded specifically to connect the law enforcement agency with its community. The following are examples of current agency mission statements that achieve this objective:


Maui, Hawaii Police Department

The mission of the Maui Police Department is to serve our community in a manner that epitomizes those ideals woven into the fabric of the Constitution of the United States and the Spirit of Aloha. We will strive to enhance the quality of life in cooperation with all who share these beautiful islands in making this a safer and better place to live. We are committed to excellence through Integrity, Compassion, Fairness and Service.


Miami-Dade, Florida Police Department

The Miami-Dade Police Department will commit its resources in partnership with the community to promote a safe and secure environment, free from crime and the fear of crime, to maintain order and provide for the safe and expeditious flow of traffic, while practicing our core values of Integrity, Respect, Service and Fairness.


Trotwood, Ohio Police Department

We, the men and women of the Trotwood Police Department, are committed to excellence in partnership with the community by upholding the Constitution of the United States, the laws of Ohio and the City of Trotwood. We acknowledge our responsibility to be role models by promoting diversity, building trust, reducing crime and providing a safe environment, thus enhancing the quality of life. We are dedicated to the core beliefs of Integrity, Professionalism, Fairness and Compassion.

These mission statements all lend credibility and professional pride to law enforcement and thus have the potential for attracting candidates who want to work to make a difference by improving the quality of life in their communities. Incorporated into an overall marketing strategy, mission statements such as these can serve as invaluable recruitment/retention tools.

Traditional Marketing Approach Prevails

Despite their obvious potential, mission statements as well as any references to "making a difference in the community" are generally absent from law enforcement recruitment strategies. Most agencies today still take the more traditional approach, as seen in one major city police department's current flyer: "You Can Be Anything…But Bored!" The department's consent decree, job requirements, salary and benefits, selection process, testing and advancement opportunities are detailed. Lacking, however, is any appeal to a potential applicant's sense of professional pride-any indicator that this is more than just a job.

Generation X'ers want Jobs with Meaning

Such a recruitment approach sells Generation X'ers short. While they may have different values than other generations, many in both Generation X and Y want jobs that provide meaning in their lives, where they can make a difference, rather than those that just mean a big paycheck.

As an Amherst College senior wrote recently: "If we choose corporations and computers over teaching and non-profit work, we may grow tired of sacrificing our values for the bottom line…a strong economy also gives us the luxury to ask about the role of social responsibility in our jobs." 3

Potential Law Enforcement Officers Want to Make a Difference

Today's young potential officers want to make a difference, and many law enforcement agencies are ignoring this need. By using their missions as a recruiting tool, agencies can appeal to the most valuable of all candidates-those who want to serve their communities because they care about the people in them and want to help create a safe environment.

Community Policing Appeals to Candidates Who Want to Make a Difference. The concept of community policing, in particular, lends itself to such a marketing strategy, by stressing partnership building, problem solving and community service over the traditional law enforcement duties. Recruiting campaigns that include an agency's mission statement and that also depict officers working with DARE, participating in town meetings, crime prevention or neighborhood watch groups, helping victims, etc. promote the message that police officers are people who care about people and who can make a difference in their communities.


Law enforcement agency executives are urged to use their missions as recruiting and retention tools. Not to do so would ignore the very real opportunity to appeal to the most valuable of all candidates and employees-those who want to make a difference by serving their communities and improving the quality of life for all citizens.

1 Law Enforcement News, Vol. XXVI, No. 542 (October 31, 2000), 1.
2 Carrier, Kim, "Marketing Strategies for Attracting and Retaining Generation X Police Officers." The Police Chief, Vol. LXVII, No. 2 (December 2000), 45.
3 "Slick Recruiters Woo Collegians." USA Today (January 2, 2001).


Richard M. Ayres is Director of the Center for Labor-Management Studies, a management-consulting firm in Fredericksburg, Virginia (Tel. 540-373-9670; e-mail Ayres' firm specializes in value-centered leadership, organizational and executive development, team building, ethics, labor-management relations, community-oriented policing, and other key areas of concern to today's law enforcement professionals.

Formerly a special agent with the FBI, Ayres served for 17 years on the faculty of the FBI Academy, as an instructor and as chief of the Management Science Unit. The National Executive Institute Associates Leadership Bulletin editor is Edward J. Tully. He served with the FBI as a Special Agent from 1962 to 1993. He is presently the Executive Director of the National Executive Institute Associates and the Major City Chiefs. You can reach him via e-mail at or by writing to 308 Altoona Drive, Fredericksburg, Virginia 22401