The Challenge for Law Enforcement

How do we recruit & retain the best candidates in this pathological climate? Focus on the local

By Crawford Coates  |   Feb 19, 2015

A public lack of support for law enforcement is the top reason given for why 81% cops surveyed by Calibre Press said they can no longer recommend this profession to a son, daughter or other loved one. Meanwhile, 70% of respondents said they would have recommended this profession five years ago.

The challenges of this moment are manifold.

  • Current police morale and public safety: Are officers doing their best in the face of this criticism? Or are they doing the minimum to avoid scrutiny? Or worse? Is withering public criticism affecting officer safety and wellness?
  • Future recruitment: How will agencies attract the most qualified officers from a diversity of backgrounds to serve our communities?

A final, most-difficult question  encapsulates the whole problem: What does law enforcement do now—as departments and as a profession—to improve standing in the community and right this negative trend? 

Politics Is Local
The good news is that despite the national debate about police as a profession that’s taken place since Michael Brown’s death, most departments have solid standing in the communities they serve. A poll by Reuters last month found that nearly 75% of Americans approve of the job their local police department is doing (even if they find the profession lacking more generally). Police are routinely spotlighted by the local community for their service. As just one example, Scot Haug, chief of the Post Falls (Idaho) Police Department, was named that city’s Person of the Year for 2014.

“Great departments don’t have recruiting issues,” says Hassan Aden, who recently retired as chief of the Greenville (N.C.) Police Department and now serves as the director of research and programs at he International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). “If the department has standing in the community, well then it’s going to get the applicants it needs to fill those positions.”

Aden sees an opportunity in this moment. “Frankly, there are things we could do better as a profession and we should take this opportunity to improve where necessary.” For some departments steps toward improvement are small and incremental. Others have longer-term issues that might require bold decisions and decades of work. Either way, constant improvement is the only way forward.

Important: Listen to your officers!

Youth will drive change, says Aden. “I’ve hired you officers—21 years old—who just blew my mind with their approach to this job. You get a few people like that, who look around at the department and see that they can really make a difference, and positive change just starts happening because of a few motivated officers.”

One area most departments could improve is in getting their message out to the community. “We could do a much better job of in this profession of dealing with the media,” he says. “Too many officers are downright hostile toward reporters. It doesn’t have to be that way. Start by forming positive relationships with the local media. When I retired as chief, I had members of the media with tears in their eyes. These were people I had come to really respect and admire, and apparently it was mutual.”

IACP has developed a resource to educate those people considering entering this profession: The site is a job board and career advice center all in one. It handles the realities of the job in a positive, realistic light. It’s also a great, simple way of educating your community about what you do. Post it on your Facebook or Twitter feeds and website.

Times are tough for this profession. No question about it. But in every challenge is an opportunity, and the primary responsibility of every agency in this country is to serve its community well. Communication is a huge part of the equation. Do a good job and tell your story. Do this well and the rest will take care of itself.


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Crawford Coates

Crawford Coates

Crawford Coates is the author of Mindful Responder: The First Responder's Field Guide to Improved Resilience, Fulfillment, Presence, & Fitness--On & Off the Job and the publisher at Calibre Press.
Crawford Coates

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