Opinion: The tough job of recruiting new police officers

The Lilburn Police Department is offering local business owners who have decided to temporarily close the opportunity to utilize the city’s out of town house check. (Courtesy City of Lilburn)

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The Lilburn Police Department is offering local business owners who have decided to temporarily close the opportunity to utilize the city’s out of town house check. (Courtesy City of Lilburn)

These days, it’s not always easy being Blue, given our unprecedented social and political climate. Yet I can say with confidence that the Lilburn Police Department, and our peer agencies, stand ready to protect and serve their communities.

It’s our job.

Still, a demise in public confidence, partially due to high-profile police incidents, continues to be detrimental. Look no further than police recruitment, retention and marketing efforts. My department, as well as those here and nationwide, are at wit’s end in the shared struggle to adequately staff our operations and seamlessly manage daily police operations.

Some call this a workforce crisis. Whatever the descriptor, these are historic times as it relates to the dearth of, and disinterest in, law enforcement careers.

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Lilburn Police Chief Bruce Hedley

Credit: contributed

Lilburn Police Chief Bruce Hedley

Credit: contributed

Combined ShapeCaption
Lilburn Police Chief Bruce Hedley

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

What’s an agency to do?

Recently, the Lilburn Police Department has taken an “all hands on deck” tactic to address this pressing issue. We brainstormed with our officers to gather ideas, views and opinions on what makes working for the city special and how to incorporate those variables into a “Police Recruitment and Retention Campaign.”

Needless to say, ours will be a full-court blitz of social media, public messaging, videos and whatever else will entice interested men and women to take a look at our top-notch operation, which has the unwavering support of our mayor, city council and city manager.

As agencies, we must realize that money, alone, isn’t the answer to growing our ranks. There have to be incentives to bring people on board, and if your department has those elements, they should be the story you tell in your marketing efforts.

In our initial discussion, we rattled off a number of tangible benefits beyond pay ($50,719 starting salary; and an additional 5 percent with college degree) that Lilburn offers its sworn officers. First and foremost, all agreed we are, indeed, a family. That said, here’s just a sampling of what we came up with that makes LPD, in our opinion, a special place to practice law enforcement:

  • Two retirement plans; health insurance
  • Take-home cars and police equipment, including less-lethal shotguns, patrol rifles and double-shot TaserX2′s
  • 12-hour shifts; officers get a three-day weekend every other weekend
  • New equipment and uniforms when hired
  • Multiple divisions – criminal investigation, traffic unit, K-9, Gwinnett Metro Task Force, Special Response Team
  • Free dry cleaning
  • Visible tattoos allowed
  • Advanced training opportunities and certifications.

And that’s just a few of the pluses and advantages of being a Lilburn police officer. Going forward, these attractive offerings will be front and center of our overall message to grow our ranks.

We plan to reach all aspects of our community and have already made inroads in that regard. For example, our officers and city officials routinely appear on Energia Auditiva Radio, an Hispanic radio station in Norcross, to talk about community policing and national events such as the Uvalde shooting. In fact, we plan to visit Energia again soon to talk about the need for Hispanic recruits as well as other nationalities.

And when our citizens contact us with gratitude for something we have done, regardless of how insignificant it may appear to be, we try to share it with our community via social media. Recently, Rose Munguia wrote about an interaction with one of our officers when she stopped by headquarters as a surprise for her 4-year-old son, Diego, who wants to be an officer one day.

She wrote, “Good day, I just want to talk about my experience with the Lilburn Police. I went to run errands last week and my kids went with me. My 4-year- old boy dreams of being a police officer, so when he learned that we were going to the police station, he decided to dress up in his police uniform. Once in the police station, everyone was so nice to him. He even got overwhelmed with all the attention he received. Then a police officer showed him the police car and the lights and he was so excited. He took pictures with him, too. They gave him a sticker and a real Lilburn Police patch! I just wanted to say, ‘thank you’ for being so nice to us. Later that day, he told me he was going to ‘drive a police car’ when he grows up!”

All departments should tell their stories, not shrink from them. And our noble profession has great stories to tell, better than the horrific narratives that are often placed front and center of our news media.

The 911 calls won’t stop.

Neither should we when it comes to finding the right recruits.

Lilburn Police Chief Bruce Hedley oversees 33 sworn officers.