Landing a Law Enforcement Job: Insider Tips from Real Recruiters
Featuring a roundtable Q&A with four law enforcement recruiters
Mike Catalano, Recruiting and Training Officer for Lakeland Police Department (Florida)
Hiring Manager for Maricopa County Judicial branch
Stephanie Fredrickson, HR and Workforce Networking for Colorado Department of Corrections (Colorado)
Jonathan Lowe, Backgrounds and Recruiting unit for San Diego PD (California)
If you are considering a career in law enforcement, now may be the perfect time to begin. While law enforcement recruiters once had a robust pool of candidates to choose from, the field is currently experiencing a shortage. When the recession of 2008 hit the United States, many cities put hiring freezes on their law enforcement agencies, meaning potential candidates chose different career fields. In addition, more police are retiring than can be replaced: between 2013 and 2018, the number of police officers nationwide dropped by approximately 23,000.
However, a shortage alone is no guarantee of job placement. Law enforcement agencies have to be selective about who they hire, so if you’re looking to start a career in law enforcement, it’s important to prepare for the recruitment process. Finding the right position and making sure you’re qualified can help you through recruitment and ultimately increase your chances of getting hired.
How to Find Open Positions
Finding a law enforcement career that fits with your skills and interests can help in the recruitment process. After all, agencies want to hire people who are not only qualified for the job but who will fit in with their organization as well. Hopeful recruits can research agencies and find open positions in a variety of ways.
How to Set Yourself Up for Success
The recruitment process often involves officers and other law enforcement personnel reaching out to individuals or groups to gain interest in law enforcement careers. However, prospective recruits still have to put in work to make themselves good candidates for hire.
How to Navigate the Recruitment Process
Getting recruited and hired by a law enforcement agency takes time, and there are many steps to follow closely along the way. These tips can help recruits understand the recruitment and hiring processes.
How to Reduce Potential Disqualifiers
Although law enforcement agencies are in great need of new hires, you won’t get recruited if you’re not qualified. As agencies navigate changes in perception between generations, some have loosened up on their expectations of potential recruits. But there are still some consistent red flags that could disqualify an otherwise good recruit from a position. These tips can help potential recruits avoid missteps.
Top Job-Seeker Tips from Our Panel: Expert Q&A
We assembled a panel of law enforcement recruitment professionals to give the lowdown on how to maximize your chances for landing your desired criminal justice job.
Meet the Experts
Where do you recruit, in-person and online?
Catalano: I recruit in-person to every academy in the state. I have a recruiting team that visits college job/career fairs as well. We have an online recruiting web page: http://www.joinlakelandpd.com.
Hiring Manager: Our recruitment process for JPOs [junior professional officer] involves posting our jobs on our website, https://www.governmentjobs.com/careers/maricopa. When we do post, we get a large volume of candidates (400+), so we usually only end up posting once a year for JPOs due to the low number of vacancies we have. We don’t have a challenge finding recruits at all. We tend to prioritize applicants who have some sort of history with juveniles in a social work capacity. After that, it simply has to do with which ones can get through our recruitment process. It generally involves application, interview, completing and submitting a background packet, completing a personal history questionnaire, background investigation, polygraph, and psychological evaluation.
Lowe: We are not limited to where we recruit; we recruit all over online. Physically, we recruit in southern California, Los Angeles, and Nevada and Arizona when we travel. However, if there is a reason to go outside that area, we will. We are also going to Texas for a mega career fair because of a military career fair.
Fredrickson: We post announcements on governmentjobs.com and on multiple social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Indeed, Glassdoor). We also attend job fairs and network with colleges and universities and military transition groups.
What is the biggest challenge you have when finding recruits?
Hiring Manager: Candidates can be disqualified for not submitting the background packet or requested supporting documentation. Some are dishonest or omit information from the background packet, some do not have a background conducive to working with juveniles, and some do not pass the polygraph or psychological evaluation.
Lowe: Challenge-wise, narcotics are the number one reason people don’t move forward. Marijuana being legal, some applicants don’t understand that police are under federal rules. Every PD has its own wait times, and SDPD has adjusted for the times. Adderall use for those younger and college kids is an issue we see, too.
Fredrickson: Some of our facilities are located in outlying areas with small populations and/or a high cost of living.
Catalano: The biggest issue right now is the generational view on recruiting. This generation is the first generation that has grown up with all digital media and also with the perception that school shootings and active shooter situations are a normal part of society. While the media exploits these horrible incidents, this is not the norm. While every agency trains in some response aspect for these crimes, some agencies never experience one.
What one piece of advice would you give incoming recruits?
Hiring Manager: One thing that is worthy to note is that many disqualifiers for the position are mandated by the Arizona Code of Judicial Administration. Applicants should understand that this is a law enforcement position, and though we are not POST [Peace Officers Standards and Training Council] certified, they should be living their lives inside the meaning and intent of the law. For example, many times we get applicants that state, “I smoked marijuana yesterday, but it was in California where it is legal.” The federal government has deemed marijuana illegal and until that changes, we are still going to consider it illegal drug use even if they utilized it in a state that has deemed it legal.
Lowe: My advice would be “be prepared and be honest.” For us, more than 40% fail the written test (which is the first step) and 25% fail the physical abilities test (which is the second step). To lose that many candidates right in the beginning of the process is unnecessary. There are study guides out there to help a candidate prepare for the written exam, and all agencies I’m aware of publish their physical testing standards. There is no reason a candidate shouldn’t be successful in those processes. Then when it comes to backgrounds, you have to be honest. Honesty and integrity are the hallmarks of being a law enforcement professional. That all starts with the initial application and background packets.