Rohan Galloway-Dawkins, Chief Product Officer at Versaterm Public Safety explores how enhanced resources can improve the experiences of law enforcement, to help police recruitment and retention.
One of the biggest challenges facing public safety agencies today is police recruitment and retention.
Every day, police officers are exposed to high-pressure incidents that can put their lives at risk. They must be prepared to evaluate the situation and respond quickly when needed. Even when the incident is resolved, the stress can linger.
They have to deal with the aftermath of the situation and the emotions that come with it, not to mention ongoing challenges with community relations and trust in public safety agencies.
Unfortunately, morale in law enforcement has seen steady a decline in the past few years. A study from 2021 summarizes trends showing how low morale can come from “pandemic fatigue” and an outlook that things will not improve in the force.
It also highlights how low morale leads to higher resignations and retirements with fewer new candidates in the hiring pool to replace them and worse police recruitment.
For instance, in 2022, major city agencies like the NYPD saw over 2,465 officers submit their resignation papers – a 42% increase from the 1,731 officers who exited these departments in the same period in 2021.
The combination of on-the-job stress, the COVID-19 pandemic, public perception towards police work and other factors have challenged departments to find and keep police recruits.
This low morale isn’t just bad for officer interactions in the office, where negativity can spread and affect others. It can also result in a reduction in the workforce where officers retire early because of burnout or leave the profession for something new.
To solve the police recruitment and retention challenge and meet the critical safety needs of their community, agencies see the need to make proactive changes. This starts by fostering and implementing a culture of innovation focused on officer wellness and community engagement.
Police officers need to feel safe when they’re on the job – both physically and mentally. If an incident occurs where an officer is in harm’s way, they need to have access to mental health services to recover just as they would from a physical injury.
However, serving the community is not a one-way street. The mutual trust between officers and the individuals they are sworn to protect every day helps communities feel supported.
Ample goodwill can lead to them looking favorably at career opportunities in public safety and help police recruitment. In this endeavor, there are technologies that can support officers on the job and enhance community engagement.
Body-worn and dash cameras offer law enforcement a wealth of benefits from audio and video evidence to situational awareness, that can help improve both police recruitment and retention.
However, there are often roadblocks when adopting these systems, such as budget, the need for additional equipment (i.e., docking stations) or expensive livestreaming options.
To meet these challenges, there is software available that can transform an officer’s issued smartphone into a body-worn or dash camera, enabling agencies to bring the benefits of these solutions to their officers.
Situational awareness of an officer’s status by their fellow officers and supervisors can be a significant factor in the safety and therefore the morale of officers in the field.
Innovative and cost-effective offerings that leverage a smartphone to replace a standalone body-worn camera enable agency supervisors and dispatchers based in the command center to remotely access the officer’s live video feed and GPS location for greater communication, co-ordination and situational awareness during an incident.
In addition to managing effective responses, the live feed paired with the GPS functionality in the smartphone can prove critical to locating an officer and ensuring their safety in any case where the command center cannot establish communication with an officer out in the field.
This digital connection offers operational support and some peace of mind in not feeling alone during an incident.
Making strategic use of the smartphone also reduces the amount of hardware that police units need, which means fewer training requirements and fewer items to carry.
Body-worn smartphones also relieve some of the hardware fatigue officers can experience. Moreover, access to actual incident response footage and audio can form a comprehensive view of what happened to almost immediate post-incident response to further training opportunities.
Outcomes from using the captured video often translate into better transparency that can create community goodwill and encourage prospective new police recruits to join the team.
Nicole Fink of Robertson Wesleyan College captured the issue perfectly when she wrote: “Employees with low morale will display signs that include increased absenteeism, conflicts with co-workers, insubordination, decreased productivity, disorganized and unkempt work environments, routinely complaining about seemingly insignificant work-related issues and increased patient [public/citizen] complaints in regard to the employee’s behavior.
“Leaders can help bring morale issues forwards by allowing staff to voice concerns as a group in staff meetings, through employee feedback surveys or through employee suggestion programs.”
New software applications can help supervisors provide early intervention methods that support the wellness and effectiveness of team members across their departments.
These solutions help to surface instances of performance that fall outside of agency standards or repeated exposure to events that could be traumatizing.
Once identified, officers and other agency staff are diverted to programs where they can receive additional training and resources. Supervisors can identify potential issues from peer reviews and other organizational elements with supporting information to determine performance outliers and identify a solution.
With this real-time intelligence, supervisors gain a more complete and accurate picture of events related to each officer.
These actionable insights allow them to have a constructive dialogue about agency practices, further training or necessary support services.
Early intervention measures are especially critical to supporting the wellness of officers. According to a study published by Police1, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and other mental health conditions have been estimated to affect up to 35% of police officers during their careers.
Solutions that centralize relevant information and are accessible online can help alert agency leaders if an officer may require mental health support based on case details.
Driven by customer service expectations in the private sector, community members today expect a high level of transparency and almost-instant communication from every organization that they interact with. This includes law enforcement.
Agencies should consider solutions that can help provide visibility to community members on the status of their cases with regular notifications via preferred channels like email or text messaging – from the moment they call for service to resolution.
Keeping individuals apprised of their situations can make them feel valued and give them a positive perception of their local police department.
Community engagement software also allows agencies to easily administer surveys directly to community members about their experience interacting with officers.
Gathering these insights can create goodwill for the agency and help drive a culture of continuous improvement.
When the community provides positive feedback, agencies can boost staff morale by recognizing officers who have gone above and beyond in their service. If a community member has a poor experience with an officer, their supervisor can work with the officer to ensure their professional standards were followed and provide additional guidance or training.
Agencies can share these metrics internally as well as with their community in regular reports or even a digital feedback board.
The importance of recognition lies in its ability to instill confidence in officers, validate their impact on communities and foster a sense of fulfillment, all of which contribute to improved retention as well as police recruitment.
Law enforcement agencies know that there will always be the need to improve, modify and create new types of training for officers, protocols and overall department policies.
Modern technology supports a proactive approach by agencies to building trust in their communities and streamlining workflows for more efficient and effective operations.
Adding these solutions to an agency’s toolkit allows officers and other personnel to improve communication and access needed resources.
Improved morale and public perception help with police recruitment and retention and may inspire more community members to pursue a career in public safety.