Strategies Suggested to Address San Diego Police Officer Recruiting Shortage

For Release

September 24, 2008

The San Diego Police Department can help reduce an officer recruiting shortfall by making its recruiting materials more welcoming and leveraging its entire workforce to recruit new officers, according to a new RAND Corporation study.

The study, requested by San Diego police leaders, also suggests the department maintain its recruiting focus on the San Diego region and further strengthen its recruiting workforce.

"As in San Diego, urban police departments around the nation are struggling to attract enough qualified recruits," said Greg Ridgeway, the study's lead author and a researcher at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. "Recruiting nationally has been hampered by higher incidence of obesity, major debt, drug use and criminal records among potential recruits."

In February 2007, the number of officers employed by the San Diego Police Department was about 10 percent below its authorized level of 2,109 — a deficit that persisted for about four years since a citywide budget shortfall caused the department to temporarily curb the hiring of new officers. The department asked researchers from the RAND Center on Quality Policing to examine its recruiting policies and recommend changes as a part of an ongoing effort to eliminate the officer shortage.

In early 2007, before the RAND study commenced, the department appointed a fresh recruiting team, which implemented several changes and has increased enrollment in the quarterly police academy classes. The RAND study identified several national promising practices to improve recruiting and noted that the new recruiting team already had adopted most of them. But the department needs to boost recruiting further to account for the number of officers who retire or otherwise leave the department each year.

A key finding by Ridgeway and his colleagues is that the department should retool its marketing efforts to appeal to a broader range of applicants.

The department's recruiting materials, including its Web site, emphasize the challenges involved in becoming a police officer and focus too little on positives such as job security, the satisfaction of public service, and superior pay and benefits, according to the report.

"Marketing materials should encourage people to explore the possibility of becoming a police officer, rather than emphasize the reasons why they may not qualify," Ridgeway said. "You want to encourage interested individuals to have a conversation with a department recruiter."

Researchers also suggested strategies to use the department's employees as tools for recruitment. This includes targeting civilian employees as possible officer recruits and establishing bonuses for officers who refer successful candidates to the police academy.

"The diversity and reach of the department's 2,800 sworn and civilian staff will always be much broader than a small group of professional recruiters," Ridgeway said. "Equipping and motivating officers and staff to participate in the recruitment effort can be an effective means of expanding the department's recruiting capacity."

Other recommendations in the report include:

  • The city should include an online sample test on the department's Web site to give recruits an idea of the types of questions they will face on the qualification exam.
  • The city should reassess the selection of the pass point for the written test. Only one candidate dropped out of the academy in the last year for academic reasons, suggesting that the test may screen out some desirable candidates.
  • The city should allow other standardized tests such as the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, the test used for qualifying to enlist in the military, to substitute for the police department's own written test. This would speed the acceptance process and send a message to San Diego's large military workforce that the department recognizes applicant's accomplishments in other arenas.
  • The city should establish stable funding for recruiting efforts that would become a line item in the police department's budget. Past recruiting efforts have suffered from a lack of financial support.
  • Continue to focus recruiting on the San Diego area. While the department has considered expanding efforts to areas out of state, researchers concluded those efforts are unlikely to generate significant number of recruits. Exceptions to this recommendation exist, such as those out-of-state venues at which SDPD has good connections or inside information. RAND also identified several criminal-justice programs nationally that produce more graduates than the local labor market can absorb.

RAND researchers compiled their recommendations after reviewing research on promising recruiting practices, interviewing San Diego police officials involved with recruiting and analyzing information about the department's recruiting.

Other authors of the study are Nelson Lim, Brian Gifford, Christopher Koper, Carl Matthies, Sara Hajiamiri and Alexis Huynh. The RAND Center on Quality Policing provides research and analysis on contemporary police practice and policy. The center is part of the RAND Safety and Justice Program.

About RAND

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