In an era where policing issues — like use of force or the need to intervene in officer misconduct — have repeatedly become national news stories, recruiting and retaining police officers has grown into a larger challenge. Departments have experienced declining numbers of job applicants and growing numbers of officers leaving the profession. And at a time when costs of living continue to rise, several municipalities are addressing their recruitment and retention efforts head on with innovative solutions coupled with time-tested methods.
The challenges facing law enforcement recruitment have come to be well understood.
On request of Gov. Henry McMaster in early 2022, the Division of State Human Resources embarked on a compensation analysis of statewide law enforcement positions, partnering with state agencies to shed light on the difficulties facing employers regarding the recruitment and retention of officers. The DSHR report concluded that the threat to law enforcement recruitment and retention was threefold: a smaller pool of applicants, officers leaving their roles or the profession entirely, and an increase in officers eligible for retirement.
Noted in the DSHR report which was published in February 2022, South Carolina saw 444 vacant positions as of the month prior, with an application pool down 25.6%. Furthermore, the analysis concluded that 15.63% of all officers were eligible to retire within the next five years. The analysis recommended that although there are several factors that influence law enforcement's ability to attract and retain recruits, providing adequate compensation is the one variable that employers can ultimately control, urging agencies to consider offering competitive base salaries with a greater emphasis on the total compensation package in order to retain officers.
The Town of Port Royal capitalizes on social media to advertise its police officer openings, as well as by attending job fairs and various community events, according to Chief of Police Alan Beach.
With recruitment help from Detective Norman McCown, Beach said that the department maintains a presence by tabling at festivals and other community outreach events. The use of pamphlets and QR codes aid in the recruitment efforts.
“[Detective McCown] came up with idea of a card with a QR code on it for hiring so people can just scan it and it takes [them] right to our application and what we have to offer,” said Beach.
Another strategy for hiring is using the town’s website.
“We’re doing everything we can,” said Chief Beach, adding that the town advertises for the department in its weekly newsletter that is circulated to about 3,000 recipients.
Recently, the town began advertising police department openings with a banner outside of the town’s fire department. Other out-of-the-box solutions include partnering with the Technical College of the Lowcountry and reaching out to local detention centers.
“We’re trying to reach out to everybody,” Beach said.
Regarding officer pay, Beach noted that Port Royal’s is comparable with other agencies in the area, and that the town covers 100% of officers’ health insurance, a gym membership to the YMCA, and a yearly subscription to a firing range. Word-of-mouth practices seemed to have offered a short-term solution to the hiring crisis.
“We’ll talk to people when they come in the lobby to do their business, and we just put it out there and ask if they’ve ever thought of law enforcement?” Beach said.
In the City of Fountain Inn, Rebecca Mejia-Ward became human resources director in 2020. One of the first tasks she embarked on was an audit of the city’s hiring process. Two years later, the need to streamline the police hiring process was apparent.
Working alongside command staff, Mejia-Ward initiated a social media presence to promote job openings and highlight department staff. Competing with the likes of larger cities such as Greenville, Simpsonville, and Mauldin, Mejia-Ward said that the city was challenged with having to put its best foot forward in terms of what it has to offer.
“Parental leave, city vehicles, education incentives … [we had to take] a good look at what other places are doing and putting it in front of our command staff and saying, how can we incorporate things like this?” she said, explaining that pay was the biggest incentives of them all.
“Even though we have amazing things to offer, [the biggest challenge] was really acknowledging how behind we were when
it came to starting pay as it compared to surrounding cities but also as it compared to what our expected growth would be,” Mejia-Ward said.
She added that having a mid-year market adjustment definitely helped, along with collaborative efforts between HR, the city administrator, the police chief, and command staff about what was trending elsewhere and how these trends could be applied locally.
“We’re in constant, constant communication,” she said.
One way of improving the hiring process was to automate it.
“We are very intentional on making sure that people have some kind of response to their application within five to seven business days,” Mejia-Ward said. “We have consistent spaces in our schedules where … we’re actually scheduling the components that we need to get people processed ahead of time, like empty slots, so to speak.”
As candidate applications come in, the patrol lieutenant sees them in real time and has the ability to change a candidate’s status if he believes they meet the minimum requirements, she explained, adding that she will then automatically get a notification alerting her to call that candidate and offer them a slot.
With a smaller applicant pool and hiring crisis, police departments across the state are using creative and innovative tactics to attract potential candidates while investing in their existing force through better training, pay, and other incentives in efforts to keep them.