By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice, American Military University
The shortage of police officers in the United States has prompted a lot of attention. Police departments nationwide are having difficulty filling vacancies.
In fact, a national survey by the Center for State and Local Government Excellence found that governments are having more difficulty filling police positions than any of other category of government personnel. The study found that organizations reported to having difficulty filling 27 percent of policing positions.
The executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association estimates that around 80 percent of large city departments are having difficulties in recruiting police applicants. The shortage of police candidates is likely due to the competitive job market in the civilian sector and by news media criticism of police over the past few years.
Supervisors Make a Difference in Officer Retention
While increasing police recruitment is challenging, it is especially important that police departments retain the manpower they have. To accomplish this goal, supervisors must focus on what will increase organizational commitment.
Fostering officers’ commitment to their work has a direct impact on job turnover and performance. Also, the quality of service that police officers provide to the public is strengthened.
Field supervisors who interact with officers on a daily basis can have a direct effect on increasing commitment. While media criticism and traumatic events are not always avoidable, a good supervisor will help officers work through these common challenges in policing.
Steps that supervisors can take to improve officer commitment include:
- Displaying empathy toward subordinates managing difficult situations
- Assisting on calls for service
- Being open and transparent regarding communication about interagency problems
Police Supervisors Also Need to Be Fair and Recognize Employee Strengths
Positive feedback and recognition of successes in the field are also important steps that supervisors can take to foster subordinates’ job satisfaction.
Fairness and recognizing employee strengths are equally essential. During performance reviews, for example, supervisors should take the extra step to clearly communicate and define any challenges their employees might experience on the job, at home, or from stressful events.
Supervisors should be resources who are readily available to provide solutions to officers suffering from stress-related problems. These solutions might involve peer support or employee assistance information.
Supervisors Affect Officers’ Perception of Policing
Supervisors have a direct impact on officers’ perception of policing, especially for new officers. As a result, they play an important role in setting a good example by properly handling police criticisms and challenges.
Supervisors should frequently monitor employee performance in the field. Any changes in an officer’s performance should be promptly addressed to ensure that underlying problems are resolved. Simply changing an officer’s zone assignment or providing opportunities in specialized units could be enough to increase organizational commitment and improved public service.
When subordinates display frustration, it is important for supervisors to speak with those officers and learn what issues are troubling them. Supervisors who can resolve their issues are more likely to reduce officer burnout and foster officer motivation.
High-Level Supervisors and Administrators Contribute to Strengthening Officer Retention
High-ranking police supervisors and administrators play an important role in strengthening officer commitment. When practical, upper-level supervisors should solicit input from rank-and-file officers on major policy decisions, such as shift rotations or scheduling that directly affect subordinates’ lives.
Police administrators and higher-ranking supervisors should stand behind their officers when media criticism is unjustified. Officers who believe they have the support of their superiors, even when they face allegations or unfair scrutiny, are much more likely to remain committed to the job, especially in cases when officers followed department policies and procedures.
While recruiting challenges are difficult to resolve in the short term, fostering commitment in current officers is critical. It will remain a major responsibility for supervisors well into the foreseeable future.
About the Author: Dr. Jarrod Sadulski has been a member of the Coast Guard since 1997. His expertise includes infrastructure security, maritime security, homeland security contraband interdiction and intelligence gathering. As a recognized subject matter expert in these areas, he frequently participates in international speaking engagements and presentations on these topics. He has received commendations from the Coast Guard and was the Officer of the Year for a municipal police agency that he served with in 2009. Currently, Jarrod is a supervisor in the Reserve Program and provides leadership to Reserve members who conduct homeland security, search and rescue, and law enforcement missions. In addition to the Coast Guard, Jarrod has experience in two local law enforcement agencies and is currently a sworn reserve deputy in Florida. To contact the author, email IPSauthor@apus.edu. For more articles featuring insight from industry experts, subscribe to In Public Safety’s bi-monthly newsletter.