Quitting Law Enforcement? The Retention Issue Facing Law Enforcement Agencies

The media has made us all aware of the ever-growing lack of teachers, nurses and those working in S.T.E.M. positions. What the media has kept quiet is that there’s another career path that faces the same problem to an even higher degree.

Law enforcement agencies throughout the United States are struggling (Read 5 Common Causes of PTSD in Law Enforcement). Not only are they having problems with recruitment, but once recruited they are fighting to retain their officers. It is evident that the issue is escalating as more officers choose to leave their careers in law enforcement.

There is much study and research into the matter and the numbers don’t lie. Employee resignation in the police force hits a whopping 14% compared to that of teaching, which has a 13% rate and nursing which sits at 12%. It’s clearly an issue that needs to be addressed for law enforcement agencies to keep operating effectively. The first step is the awareness and acknowledgement of the issue, but there’s much more to it than that. Agencies have to find out what is making their officers quit and how they can stop the trend from continuing to grow. 

The Realities of Working in Law Enforcement

It takes a certain type of person to be able to endure the pressures of working in law enforcement (10 traits and characteristics of an effective police officer). While the idea of becoming an officer may seem exciting and heroic, many soon realize it’s not what they expected.

Statistically, it doesn’t usually take very long for people to realize they aren’t cut out for the job. Out of the officers who leave the force, most do so within 5 years of getting hired, and the greater part of them, during 2 years. 

Reality sinks in fast once an officer is on the job and realizes how the police force operates. It is not all it is cracked up to be and the realization of this can be deflating for those newly hired. Most applicants have a strong idea of what they are getting into and an excitement and passion for law enforcement, but it doesn’t necessarily work the way that media or textbooks portray it. 

There are many tough and scary situations that are faced as an officer and many aren’t prepared for them. The additional stress of working erratic schedules and the effect it has on family and social life is also something that can come as a surprise. 

These problems should be thoroughly discussed and defined during recruitment so that new candidates are fully aware of the issues prior to deciding to go through the hiring process. This, in itself, will lead to less officers resigning, as the ones that do decide to continue with their applications will have a better idea of what to expect. 

Beyond that, an assessment of the officers who choose to stay in the police force can help to define the traits to look for in new candidates. This means hiring those who are most likely to stay. 

How Do the Wages Measure Up?

A large motivator in officer resignations is the salary. That being said, officers are not paid poorly. The salary is relatively good considering that no formal education is required to join the police force, besides the police academy itself. 

When you compare the salary with what is required from the job, it just does not measure up. Working as a police officer is incredibly demanding, stressful and requires a lot of sacrifice. The shifts are erratic and days off are not guaranteed. Law enforcement does not stop on the weekends or during holidays and therefore officers are required to work and may miss important family moments.

On top of that, the job is stressful, and officers must deal with many unpleasant situations on a daily basis. The pay is just not enough to make the job worth it. This factor alone will encourage officers to seek out higher pay elsewhere, whether that be another position in the federal sector or elsewhere. 

The salaries are not controlled by the head of each jurisdiction and therefore there is not much that can be done locally to change them. Other benefits need to be offered to the officers to off-set the loss in pay. These benefits must be suited to each officer and actually make their lives better. Allowing them to use their work cars to make local personal stops, like picking up their child from school, could be one benefit that they would really appreciate. 

Respect and Value

Another factor contributing to retention of officers is the lack of respect received from their superiors and from the community. Considering what they do on a daily basis and the value they bring many do not feel appreciated. This can lead to resentment and frustration with those above them. 

Those who are in higher positions can show respect and appreciation for their officers by getting their hands dirty a little bit and coming out of their office to spend time in the field. This creates a level of understanding instead of creating a divide between them.

Also, recognizing an officers’ achievements through reward schemes will demonstrate that they are valued members of the team. The rewards should not be generic. They should be thoughtful and based on the employee themselves, otherwise they will just feel like another number. 

Taking an officers’ wellness seriously can lead to higher retention in the police force. Creating personalized plans can help them better their work and home life balance. 

The Main Point 

The most effective way to increase police officer retention is with appreciation and care. Working as an officer is stressful and tough.

Officers want to be re-assured that all the hard work they put in is acknowledged and that what they do is meaningful. They make many sacrifices to keep the community safe and with just a bit more appreciation, they will continue to do that. 

Not only respecting, but also rewarding police officers for their contributions is the key to ensuring they remain motivated and continue their careers in law enforcement for years to come.