MCP in the News: How to Modernize Recruitment, Hiring, and Retention

This article originally appeared in the

The workforce-optimization concept provides a plethora of strategies and tactics that will help police and sheriff’s departments enhance their ability to add personnel and keep them for the long haul.

Anyone who has stopped by a fast-food restaurant since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic only to find the dining room closed during normal business hours fully understands the acute staffing shortage that has severely affected the operations of public- and private-sector organizations from coast to coast. The situation has reached the crisis stage, and while it has lessened somewhat in recent months, it still persists in many areas three years after the virus arrived in the United States early in 2020 and continues to afflict organizations of all types and sizes.

Law-enforcement organizations are experiencing this phenomenon on three levels. The first involves field and supporting personnel such as patrol officers, detectives, administrative staff members, and researchers. The second involves 911 telecommunicators who field emergency calls and dispatch the appropriate response — most primary emergency communications centers (ECCs) are operated by police departments or sheriff’s offices.

The third involves the information technology (IT) and cybersecurity professionals tasked with ensuring that the organization’s mission-critical networks and systems are operating optimally and are maintained properly. They also must protect them from cyberattacks to the greatest extent possible — no easy task given that cyberattackers evolve their strategies and tactics continually.

All of these job functions require very specialized skillsets, which makes recruitment particularly challenging. Also contributing to the challenge is that law-enforcement organizations are facing staunch competition from other public-safety organizations due to a talent pool that has shrunk considerably, but also from private-sector organizations that typically offer better compensation, i.e., salaries, bonuses (even signing bonuses), and benefits.

However, the factor arguably having the greatest impact on the ability of police and sheriff’s departments to recruit, hire, and retain personnel concerns antiquated approaches. This article explores modern strategies and tactics that are expected to favorably impact this factor.

The old way

“Post and pray” has been the traditional approach to recruiting personnel in the public-safety sector for decades. Job openings typically are posted to bulletin boards, in newspapers and newsletters, and on department websites. And then the department sits back and waits for the job applications to arrive. In the past they did, by the hundreds, but in current times more often they don’t — at least not in a quantity needed to ensure that enough qualified candidates emerge to fill the open position(s). This approach requires the least amount of effort by the department, but also yields considerably fewer results than in the past.

Compounding matters is that the postings often are based on job descriptions that no longer aligned with the current environment. Similarly, job requirements often are not kept current as well, with significant consequences. For example, a residency requirement that no longer is relevant could severely limit the number of applications that a police or sheriff’s department receives. Similarly, postings that fail to identify requirements that immediately would disqualify candidates could result in a flood of irrelevant applications.

Even when the post-and-pray approach uncovers qualified candidates, they often are stymied by antiquated selection methods, and by hiring workflows that are not automated, have too many steps, and take far too long to complete. The result is that candidates for a position in a police/sheriff’s department, 911 center, or other public-sector organization could wait as long as six months for a job offer — in contrast, the average timespan in the private sector is 42 days. As a result, candidates who grow tired of waiting often accept private-sector jobs, and opportunities for public-sector organizations to bolster their staffs are lost.

Other obstacles include the following, as organizations often:

  • Don’t market themselves well, especially in terms of articulating the value proposition beyond compensation that working for the department offers.
  • Lack data concerning where candidates are looking to uncover job opportunities in the current environment and failing to leverage contemporary recruitment channels.
  • Do an inadequate job of identifying candidates that are right for the open position(s).
    • This is pervasive in the 911 community — note that most primary 911 centers are operated by police or sheriff’s departments. Telecommunicators often are promoted to supervisor positions to reward them for exemplary performance, without conducting any analysis of whether they have what it takes to be effective supervisors — this error is compounded when centers fail to provide job-specific training, including leadership training.
  • Lack career-development programs, most prominently in the civilian roles such as 911.
  • Face funding limitations that limit the amount of compensation that can be offered, especially compared with the private sector.
  • Share human-resources personnel with other municipal and county departments, which dilutes the time and effort that can be devoted to the department and its needs.

Fortunately, these obstacles can be overcome via strategies and tactics that fall under the umbrella of workforce optimization.

The new way

Workforce optimization” is a term that has been bouncing around the for a few years. Many think that “staffing” and “workforce optimization” are synonyms. They are not. Staffing is about getting people into seats while workforce optimization is about getting the right number of people into the right seats as a career. There is a big difference between these concepts. The relationship between staffing and workforce optimization is analogous to the relationship between checkers and chess.

The following represent critical initial steps toward implementing an effective workforce-optimization strategy:

  • Conduct staffing assessments regularly, at least every three years.
  • Avoid the “post and pray” approach to recruitment. i.e., be proactive rather than reactive.
    • Hire a recruiter dedicated to the center or outsource the function to an organization that understands the public-safety sector, including the 911 environment.
    • If possible, establish a department-dedicated HR capability.
  • Get creative to fill open positions, i.e., seek candidates through nontraditional channels.
    • Fresh solutions include engaging recruits where they are through social media, job search websites, job fairs, public-education institutions, and cadet programs.
    • Conduct reverse searches on job search websites — a tactic known as “mining” — to target previously untapped recruiting markets and enable recruiters to initiate outreach.
    • Leverage existing applicants that may not have been selected for other positions that exist within the department. For example, someone who is not qualified to serve as a 911 telecommunicator might be well qualified for an administrative role.
  • Modernize access to job applications and make the process user friendly — candidates should be able to complete a basic application on a mobile device.
  • Get creative regarding the compensation and benefits that are offered — it’s not always about wages. Improving work/life balance is one way of doing this.
    • A very effective approach for achieving such balance concerns allowing personnel to work remotely when and where possible. This can be applied to many positions within a police/sheriff’s department.
    • However, it is important to note that providing this capability brings a few IT and cybersecurity challenges, but none are insurmountable.
  • Modernize and streamline hiring workflows and leverage nationally accepted screening and testing tools.
    • Such tools are designed to identify a person’s strengths as well as weaknesses. It is vitally important that people are placed into positions for which they are best suited, i.e., that round pegs are being placed into round holes. People tend to perform better, and sometimes achieve great things, when they are working in areas of strength.
  • Ensure that the department provides new hires and those who are newly promoted with job-specific training, including leadership training if the position requires that skillset.
    • Train new staff members based on adult-learning principles; align the training program with national, state and industry standards and best practices, to the greatest extent possible, understanding that stop-gap measures may be needed.
    • Make training more accessible through creative approaches. For example, use a video-conferencing platform to enable personnel to train when and where it is convenient for them.
    • Provide certified training officers.
  • Conduct “stay” interviews to discover why personnel are choosing to continue their employment. Such interviews are every bit as important, or even more important, than exit interviews — at that point it is too late. Then find ways of doing more of what is learned during stay interviews.
  • Implement employee career-development and health and well-being programs – take care of the person, not the position.
  • Require personnel to engage in ongoing performance-based, skills-development training and/or continuing education.

This article merely scratches the surface of workforce optimization, but following these steps can place your department more firmly on the path toward resolving its staffing issues.

Bonnie Maney is operations domain manager and a senior consultant for Mission Critical Partners, a consulting and managed services firm that supports public-safety and justice organizations. Email her at


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Topics: Company News

Posted on August 7, 2023