Police Recruiting: Who are they attracting?

This is a live link to Houston Police Department Recruiting: hpdcareer.com

On last week’s show, there was a lot of discussion on police and a police department’s relationship with the community it serves. There was also some discussion of the kinds of recruits police departments are attracting. Callers concluded that the primary pool of police recruits may come from ex-military personnel. At first blush, this would seem a perfect skillset fit; ex-military people are typically tough, disciplined, know how to take and give orders, and are trained in enforcing compliance.

This might lead one to conclude that military training and experience is the perfect precursor to a police career.

But is it?

Since I live in Houston, the Houston PD recruiting site is the first place I looked, but this should not be construed as a desire to single out the HPD. I suspect that their approach is typical.

Caveat: I have never been in the military.

But it seems to me that one of the primary goals of military training is to condition new recruits in such a way that using lethal force is second nature, and to use lethal force, almost literally, without a second thought. On the battle field, a second thought can get you killed.

In business, it’s a truism that it’s easier to train a new behavior in, than to train it out. This philosophy is a reason that companies often prefer to hire and promote from within. You hire from outside when you want to change a company culture, or the skillset of the new hire is so great that you are willing to risk a company culture clash in exchange for the skills brought to the company by the new hire.

Here is where we get to a key question: Once a person has had the killer in them unleashed for military purposes, how do you re-leash it for civilian purposes? Police need to be willing to use lethal force, but how emotionally hard should they find it to do so?

Military vets are an important and often underutilized labor pool, but one of the challenges is always how to translate those military skills and experiences into civilian employment? For a law enforcement job, how do you translate that physical and weapons training into safe and effective community policing, for both the police and the community?

It seems to me, and it seemed to many of my callers, that personality screening becomes different, and even more important, when police forces are looking to hire ex-military.

A case in point: There are nine tabs on the web site for a career in the Houston Police Department. (You may visit the NYPD recruiting site for an interesting contrast.) Below are the pictures associated with each tab page and the page heading:

Houston Police Department Badge

“Requirements”

Houston Police Department - SRG

“Duties”

Houston Police Department - Opportunities

“Opportunities”

Houston Police Department

“Benefits”

Houston Police Department Badge

“Academy”

Run with Your Recruiter

“Events”

Houston Police Department

“Contact”

HPD SWAT

“FAQs”

“Officer Joe Bolton”: Every New York City kid’s idea of a neighborhood cop in the 1960s.

From just my own perspective, I find it surprising and just a bit troubling that there is no image of a “Joe The Cop” on those pages; a police officer interacting with kids, riding in a car, greeting residents, or sharing a cup of coffee at a diner counter with someone who lives in the neighborhood.

My impression of the visual recruiting message is that it attracts the adrenaline junkies among the ex-military. There is hardly an image on the site that couldn’t have been used for recruiting into the US Army at least as easily as the HPD.

Maybe re-establishing the image of “Officer Joe” in the practice of recruiting AND policing wouldn’t be a bad place to start in rebuilding civilian America’s relationship with the police … and vice versa.

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