Police work pays diddly-squat. The hours are long, the stress is high and it's not unusual for officers to end up divorced, working two or more jobs and, sometimes, looking for solutions in a bottle of alcohol. It's a wonder why anyone gets into this business.
Or maybe not. Being a cop means never repeating the same day. It means doing something proactive to make the world better. And it brings individuals into contact with people and situations that make television cop shows look tame by comparison.
But it's getting harder and harder to sell police careers to young people straight out of college. Many who enter the field stay for short periods of time and then move into the private sector where they can make more money and often have much better benefits. Who can blame anyone for making the best of an education, particularly when it costs so much to live?
This mass exodus of police officers who work two, three, five, even 10 years, then move on down the road to bigger, better-paying work, whether it's another government agency or private industry, leaves agency heads with a problem that has no easy solution.
Well, that's not quite true. There are candidates, but often these candidates don't meet the agency's qualifications. Maybe it's time to review those qualifications with an eye to what is keeping an agency from filling its ranks.
First, understand I'm not advocating hiring people who clearly do not match the criteria for police work. They must be healthy, uncorrupt and capable of doing the job. But there are two stumbling blocks police put in the paths of otherwise terrific candidates, and neither have much relevance to successfully fighting crime.
Police agencies began to equate college degrees with competence several decades ago and, while a degree is a nice thing to have and probably increases a department's literary standing, it doesn't make the officer.
Two-year degrees or a high school diploma with a good job history can produce a cop that's competent, loyal and — especially if he or she has ties to the area — intent on making a career with your agency. Why set the entry-level criteria so high it shuts out perfectly good candidates who couldn't afford to go to college? This brings me to the other classification of candidate that I think gets wrongfully shorted in the hiring process: older applicants.
Years ago I interviewed an expert in the field of physical fitness as it pertains to criminal justice agencies. He talked a lot about how older officers are being forced to retire due to government rules and regulations, often sending perfectly fit individuals into a retirement they don't want at the precise time departments are finding their ranks diminishing.
Not only should you do everything in your power to retain capable older officers, but you should also redirect your recruiting efforts to look at attracting older applicants. Why? Because individuals on their second careers can make great officers.
Military retirees in particular are superior candidates, and they're a perfect match for the job. Already fit, already comfortable with chain of command and firearm use, ex-military have the right mind-set for police work. I answered calls for service with numerous former military and they were outstanding officers.
Military retirees are usually in their early 40s to early 50s. They already have a retirement income and many have long nursed a desire for law enforcement work. While you may not get 30 years of them, in some cases they can work efficiently for many years.
To resolve the manpower shortage will take quick and innovative thinking. Maybe the solution is not in coming up with new pools of applicants. Maybe it's revisiting older pools that have somehow fallen by the wayside.