How technology can help with police recruitment

Author: Michael Begonis

Police recruitment and retention may be among the most crucial challenges facing public safety organizations today. One survey of police officers found recruitment and retention was the biggest challenge to law enforcement, ahead of media coverage of police issues and officer wellness and morale.

Maintaining a robust, well-qualified, and sufficiently staffed police force is the fulcrum for organizational success; without adequate staffing, all other organizational goals may be unreachable regardless of how well they are conceptualized and executed. Simply put, public safety depends on its people.

Technology is a crucial component of any holistic recruitment strategy. The new generation of police recruits will feel very comfortable using multifunction communication and technology tools. Showing off your agency's commitment to first-responder-focused communication and technology solutions can help entice promising candidates and overcome the challenges that are the modern police shortage.

The status of police recruitment across America

According to, “Across the nation, the challenges police departments face in retaining and recruiting officers are daunting – a staffing crisis exacerbated by retirements and resignations, as well as high-profile killings that have put policing under increased scrutiny and made it a frequent target of protests and calls for budget cuts.” A glance:

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) exemplifies how historically large and thriving organizations are experiencing the challenge of police recruitment. Local political actors, witnessing the city continue to struggle with rising crime, homelessness, and social disorder, are calling to add between 200 and 1,500 law enforcement professionals to the agency's existing 9,500 sworn personnel. However, projections show that the LAPD is unlikely to recruit enough officers to compensate for retirement and attrition to simply maintain its current staffing levels. Academy class sizes are down by one-third, and the organization will likely fall short of its goal of recruiting 740 new officers. Once a "hiring machine [that] has been rolling for decades," the current recruitment dynamics were summed up by Los Angeles Magazine: "When it comes to hiring police officers, the city is moving about as quickly as a raft floating in a river of molasses and glue."

In contrast, consider how acute the impacts of the police recruitment challenges are on small organizations. One small police department has three full-time police officers and relies on a rotating cadre of part-time police officers to fill vacancies to serve their community of 2,300 residents

The perfect storm: What is driving the police shortage?

In March 2022, the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) conducted a nationwide survey on recruitment and retention. The results demonstrate that the cumulative challenges of a global health pandemic, budget challenges, and media focus on the use of force have exacerbated police recruitment challenges. They found, on average, that police departments can fill only 94.1% of authorized positions. Moreover, responding agencies reported high rates of resignation and retirement:

  • 42.7% more resignations in 2021 than in 2019
  • 23.6% more retirements in 2021 than in 2020

Police1 describes the existing hiring pool for law enforcement as "small and competitive." A host of complex and overlapping factors likely drive decreased interest in the profession and exacerbate the police recruiting challenge. Often cited is the real and perceived critical national narrative about law enforcement, high stress, physical danger, and unpredictable schedules. As one PERF survey respondent put it, "We have seen an approximate 40% reduction in applicant packets this last fiscal year … The current rhetoric and negativity surrounding law enforcement are having a negative impact on the number and quality of applicants we recruit."

Millennials and Generation Z recruits may be more resistant to working in a strictly hierarchical organization. Moreover, these generations may be less attracted to a long-term career with relative stability and an attractive pension. Instead, they may prefer a more fluid and dynamic adulthood defined by multiple jobs in multiple industries.

In addition, according to the Department of Justice, today's aspiring officers may be less qualified by traditional markers compared to the previous generation. Increasing levels of debt, illicit drug use, questionable social media posts, and substandard physical fitness are more frequent disqualifiers for today's aspiring police officers. Several agencies eased restrictions on some of these disqualifiers to broaden the applicant pool, according to the PERF survey.

What works for police recruitment?

There is no silver bullet for police recruitment in the current climate. To succeed, law enforcement agencies must be agile and willing to employ many traditional and non-traditional recruitment strategies. Of paramount importance will be proactive, targeted, and technology-centric strategies.

First, agencies must embrace social media as a force multiplier for recruitment efforts. While posting job advertisements is a good first step, think creatively about how to capture this diverse and dynamic profession in short video clips carefully tailored for modern social media platforms. Today's law enforcement professionals must be adept at a wide variety of skills, including communication, technology, and meaningful community engagement. A social media recruiting campaign could capture officers in action at a police athletic league game, youth mentoring program, or unveiling new communications technology.

Second, many agencies would benefit from a more streamlined and user-friendly application process. A regional or statewide smartphone application could allow an applicant to efficiently progress through the application process at multiple agencies simultaneously. Moreover, the app could help candidates compare the opportunities, advantages, and disadvantages offered by different agencies, allowing a more informed and earlier decision from the applicant. An unnecessarily long application process requiring a burdensome amount of physical paperwork to be completed in person may be off-putting to the new generation of recruits.

Technology and recruitment: A modern mandate

A holistic recruiting strategy for the new generation of officers must feature integrated technology tools that help officers accomplish the array of duties inherent in the organization's mission.

The 2022 Public Safety Communications Survey, conducted by Lexipol on behalf of Verizon Frontline, asked first responders about technology challenges and their predictions for the future. It found a strong dependence on smartphones, growing interest in new devices such as drones and the capabilities of 5G, as well as a continuing demand for features like network reliability and interoperability when a crisis strikes. 92% of first responders say smartphones are essential daily communication tools, and that’s unlikely to change in the next five years. Land mobile radios (LMRs) are used daily by 89% of first responders, but usage is expected to decline.

A recruiting strategy leveraging social media and efficient online application processes sets a precedent about the importance of technology and support. This precedent naturally builds momentum into an agency that supports its officers with cutting-edge technology that keeps officers connected, allows them to make good decisions based on near real-time evidence and intelligence, and is rugged and reliable during emergencies.

Learn more about the mission-critical integration of recruiting, technology, and Verizon's commitment to public safety on the Verizon Frontline website.

The author of this content is a paid contributor for Verizon.