Police forces all over the world continue to strive to protect the public, prevent crime and keep the peace, yet according to a recent survey carried out by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) on the state of the US policing workforce, they are largely understaffed. There are fewer officers, less candidates applying for policing jobs and the challenge will only grow in scope as increasing numbers of officers are eligible to retire in the coming years. Compared with five years ago, the percentage of retirement-eligible full-time sworn personnel has decreased 30 percent.
A transformed landscape calls for creative measures. It starts with building an adaptive workforce that is more flexible, digitally enabled and has a mix of new skills and strategies. Right now, 78 percent of public safety employees we surveyed across six countries said it is difficult to recruit new personnel into their organization and 72 percent believe it difficult to reskill employees to perform new tasks.
Adapting for the future
To meet challenges that are increasing in scale and scope, we envision the future workforce will have three primary components:
- The nucleus comprises senior leadership that manages and predicts workforce needs.
- The core is the dedicated workforce delivering core operational policing services.
- The ecosystem includes private and public partnerships as well as the public engaging in preventative activities.
Let’s talk more about the ecosystem. This is a critical part of the adaptive workforce in policing as it allows forces to flex and evolve as needed—whether it’s finding short-term specialists (e.g. cyber security or social media experts) to help solve a specific challenge or expanding the number of officers on the street during peak times. Staff augmentation allows police agencies to save money, bring in the exact expertise it needs and manage surge capacity.
The good news is there are many viable partners who can help. Many police agencies already work with partners. Those relationships can be expanded, or some organizations may consider forming non-traditional connections with the private and public sectors, retirees and higher education organizations.
Private industry – The private sector brings skills sets that may not currently reside within law enforcement. By teaming with others such as banks; police agencies can be better equipped to tackle financial crime. Or international charities might help with understanding cross-border issues.
Public sector – The police workforce can work with other public agencies—such as health and mental health services—to collaborate on matters such as officer wellness. Public service agencies can also share talent with each other. Our research found that 56 percent of police professionals expect greater sharing of resources and skills between agencies in future, with 85 percent of those saying they feel positive about the change.
Reserve officers – To best utilize resources, police agencies should strongly consider bringing reserve officers off the bench. Many are eager and available to help as part-time specialists, and they bring expertise that may be scare given the waning numbers of new hires, and rising numbers of retirees.
Academia – Through apprenticeship and other training programs with academic institutions, police agencies can be part of developing the next generation of talent that brings the skills needed for the future workforce.
To continue supporting the mission, police agencies must think differently about how to have the right people to do the right job in the future. There is a robust ecosystem surrounding every public safety agency. If leaders are willing to tap into those resources, they can free up officers to do front-line work, reduce costs and be better positioned to handle the fluctuating needs of an evolving workforce.