Hardly a day goes by without a news report about police officers somewhere in the country. Stories about officers being injured or killed, police misconduct, and protests over police actions, comprise most of the stories reported. With so much negative publicity, how do police departments remain staffed and recruit new officers? One local police agency, the Salt Lake City Police Department, has been making it work.
Detective Richard Chipping, of the Public Relations Unit for the Salt Lake City Police Department, says there are a variety of factors that affect police recruitment.
“I think there is a combination of things affecting hiring across the nation,” he says. “The national tone right now, with concerns about police and the threat faced by officers, definitely influences people looking at police work as a career.”
“Another issue facing local departments is the change in the retirement system, making it less beneficial for new hires. Instead of retiring after 20 years with a 50% pension, the requirement is now 25 years with only a 37% pension. So new hires will be working longer for less benefit.”
Despite these problems, Salt Lake City is able to fill their hiring quotas. The department recruits “aggressively” through community outreach and youth programs.
According to Chipping, “The traditional image of a police officer is someone with a warrior mindset; someone very aggressive who comes from a military background. But we look for problem solvers and those who can dialogue with people, not just someone who is able to shoot a gun.” In other words, they look for intelligent people who are invested in the community and want to make a positive difference.
Chipping thinks police work is a great career choice for so-called millennials. “They get a bad rap sometimes, but they like to change things up regularly and experience new things.”
In many careers, people’s skills are limited to doing the same things over and over, but in police work, there are a lot of different aspects and opportunities to try new things. An officer can start out as a patrol officer, then move to a variety of different areas including detective work, financial crime investigation, homicide and robbery. They can also train to be motorcycle or bicycle officers, become part of the K9 unit, or become school resource officers.
To start the application process for Salt Lake City Police, the only education requirement is a High School diploma or GED, although the city does reward further education as well as experience. More education can mean more pay, and officers certifying in different areas such as hostage negotiation or SWAT can also see pay increases. Furthermore, the city reimburses some school expenses for officers who continue their education while working.
Another way the department is looking to the future is through their Explorer Youth Program for kids ages 14 to 21. Those in the program are able to learn about police work, build professional skills, assist with public events, and even go on ride-alongs.
One exciting aspect to the program, according to Chipping, is the demographics. Right now the police department is primarily male and white, but, he says, “youth in the Explorer program are at least half female with a strong Hispanic presence. They come from the community and can go back into the community and correct misconceptions about the police, which hopefully, in the future, will improve the department’s demographics.”
The department also holds public recruitment outreach events throughout the year. For example, every year they sponsor a Turkey Bowl in Glendale, passing out hot chocolate and coffee to citizens in the community—an incentive to get people involved, and to help humanize the police force.
“I think there have been a lot of unfortunate circumstances across the nation, and it is disheartening to watch the distrust that is out there,” Chipping says,“But ultimately, overall, the public is very supportive and aware of what the police across the nation are doing. We are interested in feedback to see where there is room for improvement. It is important to let everyone know that we appreciate the confidence they have in us, and we are working to better ourselves and the department.”
Story by Connie Lewis