This article appeared in the September 2018 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
eorgia is rated as one of best states in the U.S. to do business and local governments are aggressively competing to attract these businesses. One of the critical factors for attracting new employers is a community’s quality of life, which makes public safety an important element of a city’s economic development initiative. Having a safe community is becoming as important as a good education system and solid infrastructure. Because of this, it is critical leaders view their police department and its personnel as an investment in the future of their community.
The quality of an agency’s service delivery is directly related to the quality of its personnel. Unfortunately, many departments are having trouble attracting and retaining quality candidates. The cost of turnover, often more than $100,000 per officer, is a huge expense to the taxpayers. In addition to the financial expense, the value of officers’ institutional knowledge and experience takes years to replace.
There are several factors contributing to this problem. First, the economy is doing very well. In the last quarter, the economy grew 4.2 percent and is projected to be at five percent in the next quarter. With the latest unemployment estimates at 3.9 percent, many parts of Georgia have more jobs than persons to fill them. When this occurs, the employees have greater control of the employee-employer relationship and can demand higher salaries.
The caliber of candidates that agencies are seeking is much higher than a few years ago. Traits critical for a good police officer including critical thinking, oral and written communications, conflict resolution, problem solving and integrity, are the same characteristics most other employers are seeking and with a good economy the best candidates have multiple career opportunities. The problem is compounded for agencies when their best officers are often the first persons to be recruited away from the department.
Over the last few years, highly publicized incidents have portrayed law enforcement in a negative light and do not accurately reflect the dedication, service and sacrifice officers make every day. Regrettably, many individuals no longer view law enforcement as a potentially rewarding career and many agencies across the country have reported significant reductions in applications.
Being perceived as a safe place to live, work and play is critical to a community’s economic development, and the local police department is an integral part to creating this environment. There are several steps community leaders must take to ensure they have a quality police department staffed with well-qualified, experienced officers:
- Select highly qualified, professional chief executives and supervisors who can effectively lead the agency. Once they are in place, provide financial and political support of their efforts to meet evolving standards, hold staff accountable, and address problems within the community.
- Create a culture that respects and values police employees. This requires the community recognize the economic value of their officers and provide highly competitive salaries and benefits as well as up-to-date equipment. Failing to do this is likely to ensure these individuals will eventually carry the city’s investment to develop these officers to another community willing to provide the desired compensation package.
- Make recruiting, selecting and retention of officers an organizational priority.
- Refine selection processes to not only focus on identifying persons possessing the qualifications for the position, but who also “fit” with the department and the community they serve.
- Ensure officers are properly trained to perform their job. Currently Georgia has the 5th lowest training hour requirement for police recruits of any state in the country. To ensure officers have the knowledge, skills and abilities expected of them, local leaders should support the Georgia Law Enforcement Training Review Commission’s recommendations.
- Require all supervisors be provided formal and hands-on practical training prior to being placed in a new role.
- Every agency will eventually be placed in a controversial situation. To counter the negative publicity associated with these events, build a strong social media presence and brand image that provides an accurate reflection of the department. This enables the public to recognize the incident is an isolated occurrence and if individuals acted inappropriately, it will be addressed.
The Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police is dedicated to serving the needs of police executives across the State. In additional to training, the association provides a variety of other services and resources for communities. For more information on these services please visit our website at www.gachiefs.com