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KEEPING GOOD COPS: Study serves as guide for cities like Columbia

Is CoMo doing what it takes to find and keep good cops?
Final of two parts


COLUMBIA, Mo 10/26/13 (Beat Byte) --  "Community approval of a police department has an impact on how many persons choose to work and stay with the agency," says Beverly Todd, a Texas-based researcher who authored a study about the challenges small cities face recruiting and keeping good police officers. 

Recent reports point to tight budgets and a dwindling applicant pool as major causes of Columbia's struggle to hire more police. 
 
But Todd's out-of-the-box study -- Recruiting and Retaining Qualified Police Officers in Small Agencies  -- suggests other factors are also at fault, like the Columbia Police Department's historically low community approval ratings

The need for more police couldn't come at a worse time.    A "shortage of qualified applicants is plaguing most departments," Todd says, while law enforcement is "being held accountable, as never before, for both departmental actions and use of critical resources." 

Out-of-the-box thinking, Todd repeatedly emphasizes, is the only way to turn the situation around.  "Police departments must take a lesson from the Marine Corp and 'improvise, adapt and overcome'," she says. 
 
Written for the Blackwood Law Enforcement Management Institute at Sam Houston State University's Criminal Justice Center in Huntsville, Todd's study focuses on recruitment -- covered in Part 1 of this series -- and retention.  

Police chiefs and city managers "have an obligation to see that people with high morals, ethics and a genuine desire to do police work are a part of the department," she explains.   "After these people are hired, administration must then focus on retention."

But retention isn't easy, especially in a mobile generation.   Research has shown "the average length of an officer's employment is 34 months before leaving," Todd explains. 

Limited promotion opportunities, lack of pay increases, feelings of under-appreciation, personal problems, and dissatisfaction with supervisors or co-workers are the top reasons officers move on.   But each department is unique, so exit interviews "with every employee who decides to leave the police department" are critical, Todd advises.   

Leaner budgets, too, are a retention impediment.  "In some departments, even yearly cost of living raises have become a thing of the past.   In order to retain the best officers, departments need to go beyond the traditional salary enticements, benefit packages and retirement plans," she says.  

Shift schedules that allow officers more family time; take-home cars; signing bonuses; and educational rewards are proving helpful with many police departments.  

Retention begets more retention, nowhere more evident than in the value of mentors, whom Todd calls "knowledgeable and skilled veteran officers who provide insight, guidance and developmental opportunities to lesser skilled and experienced colleagues." 

Mentoring not only improves an officer's training, it helps create "a work environment that provides employees with a feeling of personal value to the department," she explains. 

The upshot:  better retention.   "In this area, smaller departments have a slight edge over larger departments," where administrators have less opportunity to get to know the officers and their families.   A "family-oriented feeling promotes loyalty to the department and satisfaction on the job," Todd says.   

Like any family, police officers must feel free to speak.   No one wants to stay with an organization trailing its peers, and the best way to keep up and get ahead is to encourage candor.   

"The key to success will be a police department where employees can give honest and candid feedback without fear of humiliation or reprisal," Todd says.   

It's only through honesty and understanding, Todd emphasizes, that smaller law enforcement agencies can develop the innovative ideas that will answer, "Where will the next generation of officers come from?" and will they "emerge as problem solvers and care takers of the community they patrol, while allowing agencies to do more with less?"   

 

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