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Hiring and Keeping Police Officers

NCJ Number
Date Published
July 2004
14 pages

This study analyzed the hiring and retention of police officers.


As a result of Federal funding and increased demands for service, more than half of the Nation’s police agencies grew in officer strength during the late 1990’s. However, in about 20 percent of police agencies officer strength declined, often as a result of fiscal or recruitment problems. The supply of good police recruits was down throughout the Nation during the summer of 2000. More than half of the small agencies and two-thirds of large agencies with recent vacancies reported a lack of qualified applicants caused difficulty filling available positions. Many agencies reported staffing problems due to unanticipated vacancies. Agencies that had difficulty filling positions had roughly one unfilled vacancy for every three that were filled. This study did not include recent historical data that could show whether recent patterns differed from earlier ones, and it did not examine specific practices in hiring, training, and retaining officers. The researchers used three methods for studying police staffing issues: a national survey of police agencies, a critical synthesis of the literature, and an analysis of police employment data. The survey showed the process of screening and testing applicants, basic/academy training, and field training averaged 31 weeks in small agencies and 43 weeks in large agencies. Since the mid-1990’s, training has become longer and more complex; one-third of agencies reported that training time increased by up to 3 weeks since 1995. Approximately three-quarters of agencies reported hiring officers during the previous year at an average of 4.4 officers per agency. Overall, attrition rates were not usually high in 1999, but unanticipated vacancies caused difficulty for about half of the agencies. The study found that many police recruiters and managers would need to assess the effectiveness of their recruiting methods and find ways to make working in their agencies more attractive. Strategies might include improving pay and benefits, recruiting officers with the right skills for community policing, changing job roles to enhance officers’ satisfaction, improving career development, changing residency requirements, and creating incentives for retirement-eligible officers to remain with the agency.

Date Published: July 1, 2004