As with any other job, the nation’s police force has seen plenty of ups and downs. After 9/11, the rush to apply for the academy and specialized training skyrocketed. In light of some headlines in the past few years — not to mention COVID-19 — enrollment was down. In order to fill the need for more officers, many departments have put the idea of lateral recruiting into action. And while some might see it as poaching, it’s no different from any other field of work where a job seeker mulls over several offers before choosing the best fit, for whatever reason that might be.
The city of North Las Vegas tried offering incentives in the form of signing bonuses — $30,000 for lateral police officers who joined the North Las Vegas force. Other perks included a one-time relocation allowance of $5,000 for new hires outside the Las Vegas Valley if they would reside in the city of North Las Vegas. Honorably discharged military members, or active members of the National Guard or Reserves would be paid $5,000 after passing background checks and being hired.
North Las Vegas Officer Brian Thomas is a lateral hire, but he started his career before this program began. “I was a 911 dispatcher in Idaho for several years, and then an officer for another five. I’ve been an officer here for almost seven years. I didn’t get the bonuses they have now, but I’m all for it. It’s a big attraction, and it’s a great benefit. We never offered things like that before. It’s kind of a new strategy. We always look at new and creative ways to draw in more recruits, and it seems to be happening nationwide. So we took a stab at it, and it’s paying off so far.”
It’s not uncommon to have multiple generations from one family serve on police forces. That was never so clear as it was in the days after 9/11 when the names of the lost were read.
Thomas agreed. “We have some legacies in our own department right now, like brothers. Or where there are sons and grandsons of active or retired officers. And we even have some husbands and wives, too.”
During the hiring process, there are both sides of the spectrum: those who are seriously looking for work, and those who fill out applications for jobs they might not really want to keep unemployment coming a while longer.
Thomas said, “With anything, I think there is always that level of people who aren’t fully committed, but the way our process works, we can weed those out fairly early so it doesn’t delay the total process. And we’re getting four or five more interested men and women than what we saw before the bonuses. I won’t say it never happens, where someone doesn’t really want the job, but it’s minimal. We hire both entry-level and regular positions, and yes, lateral.”
Thomas explained, “It’s like this, because there may be some who apply everywhere, like competing at all of them. So we get them as fast as we can, get them on the payroll and keep them on the books, so they can go to the academy. We can only offer so many spaces. And someone else could say, ‘Hey, we can take you.’ You gotta move fast as if to say we want you, and we need to start you a month or two early. It shows you we’re committed to you, and we want you.”
And, Thomas said, “Essentially, the reason is there’s a huge big upfront cost in training new officers — the academy, field training — if they’re new and don’t have the same skills. So rather than putting all that out, we want to sort of ‘buy’ someone’s experience. They can go through a shorter academy training. They just have to learn how we do it here; it might be different from where they were before. We want more seasoned veteran officers. We still want new hires, but also lateral. Some like the thought of a change from, say, snow and seasonal changes. Our weather here is pretty much the same year-round, so they can come out and experience a different climate and so on.”
There are no grant funds for this new way to build staff. Thomas explained, “For this specifically, it’s not part of any grant fund. It’s just steps our city has taken, realizing they need to invest more to get what we need. But there are other grants that have allowed us to hire more officers. Everyone has benefited from those. Those are called the More Cops Grant and Even More Cops Grant. Yes, really!”
Headlines from the last few years have hurt the perception of some police forces. Thomas said, “Yes. Almost everyone experienced some blowback and less interest in joining us. So we did have a drop, but now we are seeing an increase. Nationwide, we saw a culture change. Luckily, out here, we didn’t have the same view as some of the other cities. Our community has supported us, because of the support we had built with them prior to all of that. We did see some, but not like the big cities. We are very diverse here, with people from all over. The 2022 Census showed these statistics: White population, 42%; Black population, 22%; Hispanic or Latino population, 42%; and Asian population, 6%. And a couple of interesting descriptions: Two or more cultures in each person, 13%, (and) White alone 24%.”
Thomas sees this hiring practice as just the latest in ways we need to move forward. “With anything at all, as cultures change, or society changes, law enforcement has to adapt. We’re always being looked at to provide the best service. We had some thinking of ‘that’s the way it’s always been or the way we’ve always done it,’ with no need to change, but that’s wrong. You do have to change. Training now has things like high-tech fake cities and towns. I have a virtual reality class later today, and that’s the kind of thing that will be incorporated into training. We really focus on de-escalation, about the best way to handle every situation for the best outcome. That’s required training, too, for every officer in this state.”
New York City police forces have used lateral hiring, too. A representative from New York’s Deputy Commission Public Information (DCPI) said, “It’s just like any other department when it comes to hiring, so yes, there is some lateral hiring here. The NYPD regularly monitors attrition and plans accordingly to address the loss of officers who retire or leave the department for a variety of reasons. While recent events outside of the department continue to present challenges to recruitment efforts, we continue to focus on the positive results that happen when someone joins this organization. For this year to date, we have hired more than 1,400 individuals in addition to the approximately 2,000 individuals we hired in 2022.”
In September 2022, the mayor of Detroit, Mich., Mike Duggan, announced a similar agreement to the North Las Vegas bonuses. Starting pay would immediately increase upon completion of the academy training, and there would be annual increases as well. The hope was that officer retention, rather than reduction, would result. In the month prior to this, Duggan said that the city lost 72 officers, with almost two-thirds of those being lost to other police departments.
And Chicago, Ill., also got on board with lateral hiring. Its process got the approval of the Fraternal Order of Police, which meant the Chicago Police Department could expedite lateral hiring, with certain criteria in place, such as the requirement to be under the age of 40.
In all these cities, and many others, lateral hiring seems to be here to stay.