Local Police Should Address Recruitment and Retention Challenges

For Release

November 16, 2005

Local police agencies struggling to attract and retain high-quality law enforcement officers should develop long-range planning strategies to help meet their future labor needs, according to a RAND Corporation report issued today.

The study says local police agencies are usually focused on near-term objectives, such as daily staffing and mandatory training requirements. But to better adapt to new homeland security duties and a changing labor force, police agencies should also develop plans to recruit enough new officers with needed skills, the study says.

Ways to recruit needed officers include: regularly surveying young people to gauge interest in police work; closely analyzing the skills needed among future officers; and forecasting the personnel needed for future challenges, the report says.

“Most police departments don't have the resources to closely study long-term issues,” said Barbara Raymond, a RAND researcher and lead author of the study. “They need to develop planning tools to deal with a period of rapid change.”

Other authors of the RAND report are Laura J. Hickman, Laura Miller and Jennifer S. Wong.

The study says forecasting and planning for police personnel needs could be spearheaded at the national level by the federal Department of Homeland Security or by a national trade organization. Many states also have organizations that could work on planning for police. A central resource for personnel issues would particularly benefit small police agencies.

In addition, the RAND study suggests it might be possible for police to conduct surveys on youth demographics and attitudes. Such surveys could help gauge whether young people are interested in law enforcement careers and whether police need to make changes to attract the best candidates.

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, local police agencies have accepted new duties related to homeland security, particularly in jurisdictions with likely targets such as airports and seaports. Police also have assumed new intelligence duties, such as working with federal law enforcement officials to identify potential terrorist activity.

Meanwhile, police departments are anticipating a wave of retirements among aging baby boomers and are re-examining the skills needed by recruits as departments adopt more community policing policies, which emphasize communication skills. In addition, police may face increased competition for recruits from an expanding number of federal and private security jobs.

As part of the study, RAND researchers examined police recruitment policies in the Long Beach Police Department since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Long Beach is a California city of nearly 500,000 residents with about 1,000 sworn police officers.

Highlighting the challenges facing many departments, Long Beach police have shifted resources to boost protection of the city's seaport, airport and water treatment facilities, including moving detectives from a white-collar crime unit to a new counter-terrorism unit. Staffing also has been reduced among officers assigned to the department's narcotics division, foot patrols, and lower-urgency programs such as youth drug awareness efforts.

The Long Beach Police Department uses standard computerized programs to help deploy officers on patrol. But there are no tools available to help departments balance both local needs and new demands for homeland security protection, according to the study.

More strategic planning may help resolve debates within many departments over whether to modify entry requirements, such as accepting candidates who have experimented with marijuana and who have financial debts.

Historically, police agencies have rejected candidates who have tried marijuana or have significant consumer debt, believing they could be subject to corruption. Some departments are now reassessing these restrictions, prompted by research that shows nearly half of all 12th graders report having tried marijuana and that consumer debt has risen sharply among young people.

The study was conducted by the Safety and Justice Program, within RAND's Infrastructure, Safety and Environment division. The division's mission is to improve development, operation, use and protection of society's essential built and natural assets; and to enhance the related social assets of safety and security of individuals in transit and in their workplaces and communities. The Safety and Justice Program research addresses many aspects of public safety—including violence, policing, corrections, substance abuse, and public integrity.

“Police Personnel Challenges Post September 11: Anticipating Expanded Duties and a Changing Labor Pool” (ISBN: 0-8330-3850-8) is available electronically at www.rand.org.

About RAND

RAND is a research organization that develops solutions to public policy challenges to help make communities throughout the world safer and more secure, healthier and more prosperous.