6 Strategies for Attracting A New Generation to Become Law Enforcement Officers

For years now, police agencies across the country have faced challenges in finding, recruiting, and retaining talent—a predicament only complicated further by the COVID-19 pandemic. With millennials and Gen Z candidates making up the largest demographics of the current candidate pool, many departments are recognizing that their recruiting strategies need to change but are unsure as to how. Below, we’ve rounded up some top tips from industry leaders that can help you change your approach and inspire the next generation to join your ranks.  

  1. Know that Millennials and Gen Z are Different. One of the biggest factors in a successful search for new law enforcement recruits is understanding that millennials (ages 27-42) and Gen Z (ages 11-26) not only want different things than previous generations of cops—but that their interests, concerns, and career goals also look different from one another’s. According to an article by Courtney Levin for Police1, across industries millennials tend to move from company to company, looking for an organization until they find one that provides them with a sense of purpose and where they feel they can make the biggest positive impact. Gen Z, on the other hand, shows a tendency to change roles within a single organization in order to advance their career, as job security and financial stability are their biggest motivators. To target millennials, the job posting should reflect the more human side of police work. To attract Gen Z, a focus on potential growth and career opportunities within the advertised role is essential.

  2. Make Technology Work for You. Although job fairs and campus recruitment efforts are still valuable, job posting and seeking is done primarily online; therefore, it’s worth investing in a specific job recruiting site, using Google Analytics to track applicants, and using targeted social media channels to attract candidates. The U.S. Department of Justice also recommends employing a site such as PoliceApp, which aids both police departments and job applicants, as well as using job boards on sites like Discover Policing and Police1. Finally, don’t be afraid to think outside of the box when it comes to your marketing efforts. Creative recruitment videos can be a great way to showcase your department and agency’s culture.

  3. Give Them Goosebumps. A top candidate is not only qualified, but inspired. Consider what led you and your colleagues to want to work in law enforcement. Was there a specific situation or moment that led to your calling? What do you love most about your job? Policing isn’t easy; it’s often stressful—and can be dangerous. But whatever it is that gets you out of bed in the morning, whatever it was that inspired you to serve your community—it’s time to share it. Real-life stories help potential applicants see themselves in a hero’s shoes. Epic Recruiting highlights their strategy employed by Berkley PD by featuring individual officers and their personal stories—proving that police officers can come from all walks of life.

  4. Build Bridges, Not Walls. If you’re having trouble finding recruits, it’s important to see how you can change or adapt your department’s qualification requirements—as well as how you make the application process easier. The DOJ offers several topline criteria to review and potentially modify, such as residency, education, physical standards, training, and/or academy requirements. And if you can’t budge on certain requirements, consider how you can help otherwise strong candidates overcome these hurdles. It’s also vital that you make the application process as simple and streamlined as possible, explains law enforcement recruitment strategist Matt Cobb, ensuring that your website is both user- and mobile-friendly with easy to spot call-to-action buttons like ‘Apply Now’ and ‘Get in Touch’. Finally, consider looking outside of “traditional” criminal justice majors and former military. Consider recruits with sociology, psychology, or political science degrees, as well as folks transitioning out of a service profession—like teachers or medical professionals—who still want a career serving their community. 

  5. Focus on What Sets You Apart. When it comes to your department, what makes you different? Does your department have any unique programs or initiatives? Do you use any cutting-edge technology? Is your department a showcase of diversity, with a number of female officers, minorities, or a wide range of ages? And when it comes to your city or town, what about it sets it apart from other places in the country? What are the perks or elements unique to your community? What do you and your fellow officers enjoy about living there? Unlike many other industries, police work is more than just a nine-to-five. By showcasing what makes your department and community special, you can catch the attention of recruits in a job market where they can afford to be choosy.

  6. Officer Happiness is an Investment Worth Making. In such a high-risk and stressful profession, it’s important to promote both the physical and mental wellbeing of your department. Sergeant Scott Sylvester with the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office in California, suggests taking a few pointers from how tech companies boost employee morale with low-cost investments like healthy food on-site, a nice coffee machine, and a lounge/sleeping space for resting up for those long shifts. He also recommends using gift cards to local restaurants and entertainment places to instantly reward a job well-done—like “when officers make a high-risk arrest or go above and beyond in the community.” Also consider starting a physical fitness program, or partnering with a yoga program designed for first responders. This kind of support will not only attract new recruits, but will keep your existing officers healthier, happier, and motivated, too. 

By focusing on the human side of police work, highlighting your community, and investing in officer wellbeing, you can attract top talent from a whole new generation of law enforcement officers. And if you’re interested in learning more about law enforcement recruiting strategy, check out this webinar from Police1—What Cops Want in 2023: The Impact of Police Recruitment & Retention Crisis.