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article / January 16, 2023

Recruiting the next generation of officers

3 Proactive Steps Every Police Agency Can Take

Recruiting the next generation of police officers is a challenge for many agencies around the world, but listening to community and agency feedback can provide helpful guidance.

Every day, My90 by Axon hears from thousands of people around the country who share confidential feedback about policing. Our surveys help give voice to community members who called 911 for help, as well as to active police officers on the job.

We hear from people who live in major cities, tech suburbs, rural towns, and just about everywhere in between. As a result, we see a wide range of feedback. Some people are struggling with gang activity down the street, while others are concerned about the stray cow on Highway 9.

Despite the wide range of voices, our data show one strong unifying theme—when the local police department is short-staffed, everyone feels it.

In this article, we’ll first discuss why there are challenges around staffing and recruiting police officers. We will then provide 3 proactive steps every police agency can take to improve recruitment of new officers.

Police Staffing Challenges in 2023

When a police department is short-staffed, it affects everyone.

For community members, this can mean waiting a longer time to receive help after calling 911. For officers, it can mean that they arrive on the scene burnt out after working mandatory overtime to cover shifts.

As one officer shared in a My90 survey, “We need more officers. As much as we are willing to do overtime, it does take a toll on everyone and that will reverberate in the community.

So why is it so hard to recruit police officers?

For starters, even as the private job market has rebounded, data shows a decline across public sector employment, including for law enforcement.

Second, in the private sector, recruiters report that candidates are seeking positive social impact, opportunities for career growth, and strong benefits. It is not always clear that law enforcement offers these things. As one recruiter told me, “No one grows up wanting to be a cop anymore.

And finally, many potential candidates—especially women and people of color—do not see themselves represented in the profession and are less likely to consider it as a career path.

Police chiefs want to challenge the skeptics to join their departments to help make a difference. Chiefs tell us all the time, “if someone in our community thinks we should do better, we want that person here to help us make the change happen.”

Sir Robert Peele’s wisdom from 1829 still rings true almost 200 years later: ‘the police are the public and the public are the police.’ Police departments who are able to hire their officers from the local community are believed to have greater legitimacy, trust, and cooperation.

Given these challenges, how can law enforcement leaders take action?

Based on our analysis of My90 data from employee surveys, interviews with tech company recruiters, and feedback from law enforcement leaders, there are 3 proactive steps every police department must take to help recruit the next generation of police officers:

1) Build a Brand

The public sector is quickly catching up to the private sector when it comes to brand management. Departments can use social media at no cost to build their brand, engage the public, and meet candidates where they already spend their time.

Rather than strictly controlling social media posts, the most successful departments give employees wide latitude on what to post. As one sergeant told us, “If I’m willing to give this person a gun and the right to take away someone’s freedom, I should be able to trust them with an Instagram login.”

Videos still get more engagement than photos, and departments can partner with local high schools or colleges to create recruitment videos with limited budgets.

One recruiter I spoke with was horrified that her local department was still advertising in the local newspaper and on the radio. “Who do they think they’re going to reach with those?” she asked. Branding takes all of this into account—not onlywhatyou post, but where and how you post it.

2) Cast a Wider Net

If a department is confident they have the right message out in the world—and not just in the local paper—then the agency also needs to reflect on who it’s recruiting. You can start by looking at the images in your recruitment posts and the language used. Is your department truly trying to recruiting everyone, including women and people of color?
Research shows that women in law enforcement generally use less force and de-escalate more effectively. Given the staffing challenges that police departments face, it makes sense to go after 100% of the qualified candidates to improve the odds of achieving hiring goals. To that end, is your department:

  • Recruiting at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs)?

  • Removing restrictions around hairstyles, tattoos, beards, and other rules based on appearance that don’t interfere with job performance?

  • Providing parental leave, mother’s rooms, and other family benefits?

  • Displaying diverse imagery in recruiting materials? 

  • Genuinely engaging with the local community through events, surveys, and social media?

Digging in here will open up recruiting to a much wider audience. Even loosening drug use restrictions is on the table. For instance, states like Arizona have loosened drug use policies to disqualify fewer applicants. In changing the rules, Matt Giordano, the Executive Director of the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, noted that “we're modernizing rules to meet the societal expectations of what a police officer should be, and the life experience they have had.” (source)

3) Create a Positive Candidate Experience

Once you have an interested candidate, great! But what happens next? Creating a positive candidate experience increases job satisfaction, decreases attrition in the hiring pipeline, and makes the hiring process more efficient. In the private sector, for instance, recruiters are expected to:

  • Communicate persuasively about why the job is exciting, impactful, and a good opportunity for the candidate

  • Ensure that candidates understand the job description, compensation band, hiring timeline, etc. to make sure that expectations are appropriate and aligned with next steps

  • Communicate often with candidates to keep them interested, even if they are waiting on next steps

Ready to learn more?

We hope that these tips help your department. My90 can help with confidential surveys that help you evaluate your recruitment strategy, trainings, and overall employee wellness and job satisfaction.

If you have any questions, including about how to run confidential My90 surveys for recruits, academy graduates, and employees, please visit our website get in touch at