How You Can Rethink Hiring
As the nation debates what role the police should play in the 21st century, departments are reassessing their hiring processes. In modern policing, officers are more than just enforcement agents, but educators and problem solvers who can make a real difference in their day-to-day interactions on and off the job. Above all, departments want to hire people who will be a credit to the badge.
As part of an ongoing webinar series on Leading through the Policing Crisis, Envisage invited Dan Zivkovitch to speak on hiring best practices. Dan has more than 30 years of police training experience, which includes overseeing hiring and training for a state police agency, as well as directing both a state training academy and a state POST. He offered to share his lessons learned.
Some important takeaways from his discussion on hiring the right people:
- Hiring is an ongoing process.
The job of law enforcement is continually evolving, but often, our hiring processes have not kept up with the changes. As a result, we have a generation of police officers who were hired according to a previous policing paradigm, and some of those skills and traits needed for success in that paradigm cause these officers to be frustrated with the current expectations and needs of the profession. We need to revisit our selection processes to make sure we are selecting candidates who are aligned with the needs of the agency and community.
The work of hiring doesn’t stop when the position is filled. Measure performance to constantly revisit the hiring process. If issues arise with a particular officer, review the hiring processes to see if you missed any red flags and what changes need to be made to improve decisions in the future. Always keep reviewing strengths and challenges to see where improvements can be made in the process.
- Revisit recruiting.
Examine your recruiting process to make sure it accurately portrays the job and shows the agency’s diversity. Departments whose personnel more closely resemble the community demographics may have an easier time gaining trust. Make sure recruitment materials display images that reflect the inclusivity of the department.
The cornerstone to effective recruiting is cultivating relationships and connections in the community and soliciting the community’s help with your recruitment. Use social media and local organizations to help draw a variety of applicants. Use your relationships with community organizations, colleges and churches to reach potential recruits. If possible, involve a community leader or representative in the hiring process.
- Hire for personality traits, then train for skills.
Dan’s mantra is “Hire for traits and fit; train for skills.”
You are not just seeking candidates who can do the work, but those who have the traits, personality, and character to thrive on the job, in the community, and in the agency where they work. Many police skills can be learned on the job, but personality traits such as empathy and assertiveness are often more innate.
Start with the end in mind. Know what you want from your officers, and hire officers who align with that mission and expectations.
In other words, we need to identify the traits these officers will need to be successful and design a process that helps us evaluate them in our applicants. We can teach skills, but it’s very difficult to teach character, and by and large traits and personality are fixed.
The three assessments that are critical to these evaluations are the oral interview, the psychological screening, and the background check.
- Get the most from the interview.
An interview is an opportunity to explore the candidate’s attitudes in depth. Ask open-ended questions to gauge traits and personality and to get a sense of how the candidate will approach the job. Listen carefully to the language they use to describe a conflict. This can offer insights into their approach to teamwork, empathy, and other qualities.
While officers don’t have to be poets, poorly written reports are a major complaint within police departments. Include a short essay or other writing sample in your testing, preferably on a topic that will offer further insights into the candidate’s personality traits and how they will fit with the mission of the department.
From the beginning, explore the candidate’s expectations of the position and whether that aligns with reality. If a candidate seems to have unrealistic views of police work “as seen on TV,” it is better to let them down gently at this point than to hire someone whose expectations will clash with reality.
- Check backgrounds thoroughly for past misconduct.
The background investigation is critical. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.
The National Decertification Index records the names of police and correctional officers who have been stripped of their credentials. Contact IADLEST.org for more information, and make sure your state and agency are regularly consulting the NDI and contributing to its standardization and expansion.
This should be accompanied by phone conversations with previous supervisors and a thorough background check, including verification of employment dates and review of performance records. Don’t take references at face value. Applicants may leave troublesome jobs off their applications or otherwise seek to hide previous problems.
- Involve professionals in psychological screening.
Law enforcement, more so than other fields, requires a particular level of mental and emotional balance. Many agencies use a standardized psychological testing process to determine whether applicants have the qualities needed to succeed in such a challenging job. In addition to mental health issues, departments should broaden the assessment to include traits such as assertiveness, aggressiveness, empathy, and passivity. This provides a deeper evaluation of a person’s personality, character traits, and compatibility with 21st century policing.
Make sure this testing is being done by qualified police psychologists to ensure they are using the most current methods. Trained experts can also help design a process to evaluate whether a candidate’s traits and values align with those sought by the department.
- Involve your FTO program.
If your agency has Field Training Officers, encourage them to serve as mentors and examples. Role models are a key component to a new officer’s success. Make sure your FTOs are involved in the hiring decision and reflect the standards and goals of the department.
Pairing candidates with mentors and including families in the recruitment process can help allay concerns and address possible misunderstandings about the realities of police work. Ongoing communication with candidates during the sometimes lengthy onboarding process can keep applicants from growing frustrated and going elsewhere.
- Protect your investment by watching for problems and intervening early.
Recruiting, hiring, and training are just the beginning of a process that continues throughout an officer’s career and even into retirement. Continue to assess skills and attitudes so that personnel problems can be managed before they escalate.
Ongoing training is essential, but it’s not enough. You need to utilize your supervisors, your performance measures, and tracking systems to help inform you about officers who may be struggling, whether with personal issues, ethical issues, mental health issues, or performance issues. The goal is to head off potential career-ending problems that would also damage the department.
Supervisors must stay attuned to the nuances of each officer’s performance and attitude and be ready to step in to head off potential performance issues. At the same time, let officers know that they are all expected to be leaders, to set an example, and to speak up if they suspect a colleague is likely to cross an ethical line. They must know the protocols for intervention and feel comfortable with approaching a peer who is struggling. A simple intervention can often save a career and protect the rest of the department from lasting repercussions.
- Don’t settle, take shortcuts, or compromise your standards.
Take as much control over your hiring process as possible. Think carefully about what qualities are truly essential, and try to base hiring on specific, measurable, defensible criteria.
Once you’ve determined these standards, don’t compromise or cut corners. Most of all, Dan emphasizes, do not hire bodies just to fill open positions. “Over and over again, I have been assured by officers working with me that they would rather go shorthanded staffing wise than have to deal with one questionable officer,” he says in the webinar.
Hiring good people is hard work. But accepting questionable candidates can cause damage to department morale and lead to scandals, lawsuits, and the loss of community trust.
- Join the conversation.
From recruiting to hiring to retention and promotion, it’s more important than ever to foster a culture where quality applicants can thrive.
Join the conversation on rethinking hiring and cultivating more effective teams in the Webinar series “5 Keys to Leading Through the Policing Crisis” at info.acadis.com/5keys.