Police administrators of small law enforcement agencies face great challenges as they seek to provide service with severely limited financial resources. An area often overlooked as having revenue-saving potential is employee retention. There is no doubt that excessive employee turnover financially drains any police agency, regardless of size. But, in a smaller agency, it can be fiscally devastating. One option is for administrators to consider using a well-structured employee development program to manage employee turnover effectively.
When a law enforcement agency experiences high employee turnover, it must then bear the expense of recruiting, testing, hiring, training, and equipping replacement officers. In the smaller police agency, expenses related to employee turnover easily lead to acute problems, such as manpower shortages, which usually must be compensated for with overtime expense. The strain placed on the remaining officers can result in poor morale and a loss of overall effectiveness and safety. As a result, the potential for liability may also increase as officers become more likely to make serious mistakes due to fatigue.
Unfortunately, police administrators have often taken the position that little can be done to prevent employee turnover. And, many administrators of smaller agencies believe that they cannot compete with larger ones that are able to offer better pay with more opportunities for advancement and personal fulfillment. These administrators traditionally accept the fact that their most talented officers will be drawn to larger agencies after a year or two. This, in turn, causes them to possibly reject capable applicants because of their anticipated short tenure with the agency.
In accepting this role as a stepping stone to larger departments, the small agency finds itself with continuing personnel turnover and the related financial burden. Additionally, the level of service can suffer due to the lack of experienced officers, leading to possible problems in public satisfaction with a police agency's mandate to protect and serve.
The traditional solution to this problem is to increase pay and benefits for officers to compete with larger departments. Unfortunately, most smaller communities do not have the necessary financial resources. In addition, even with reasonably competitive pay and benefits, an officer who is not allowed to experience personal and professional growth may begin to look for an agency with greater opportunities.
What motivates employees to do their jobs to the best of their abilities, or in this case, to remain with a particular police department? According to Abraham Maslow, human needs can be plotted on a hierarchy that begins with the most basic needs and progresses to the most complex. This process toward self-actualization progresses according to the following:
• Physiological needs--need for survival, food, shelter;
• Safety needs--need for security and absence of threat;
• Affiliation needs--need for close, affectionate relationships;
• Achievement and esteem--need to achieve goals and self-respect; and,
• Self-actualization--need to develop skills and abilities to the maximum. (1)
In simplest terms, this means reaching one's greatest potential. While police departments tend to view motivation in terms of providing sufficient pay and benefits to attract and retain employees, they often fail to recognize that human needs and motivation do not stop there.
Douglas McGregor evaluated Maslow's hierarchy of needs in terms of employment and introduced the relationship between needs and work to modern management. According to McGregor, Maslow's concepts relate to work as follows:
• Physiological--employee needs to perform the job to retain the position and receive pay;
• Safety--employee needs and desires job security;
• Affiliation--employee needs to achieve acceptance within a work group. This relates to productivity in that an employee's output will generally conform to the group's performance standard as a means of gaining acceptance;
• Achievement/Esteem--employee seeks opportunities to achieve, be recognized and to advance; and,
• Self-actualization--employee is given the opportunity to meet challenges that are personally meaningful. (2)
While the traditional incentives of money and benefits may help to satisfy the lower levels of the hierarchy, they do not promote superior performance or employee retention, nor do they help to satisfy the needs in the upper levels of the hierarchy. These upper levels are the levels that the most highly motivated employees are attempting to achieve, and they are also the levels least likely to be satisfied in agencies with no employee development program.
For smaller agencies the key to resolving excessive employee turnover may be to offer a structured employee development program. While this may not completely solve the problem, it does enhance the employee's tenure in both time and quality of service.
Many police departments tend to view motivation simply in terms of providing sufficient pay and benefits to attract and retain employees. However, in doing this, they often fail to recognize that while money and benefits may satisfy the lower-ranking police officer, they do not promote superior performance or employee retention nor do they satisfy the needs of higher-ranking officers.
Furthermore, most people need to be recognized for their efforts and want to do a good job because it helps to satisfy their need to feel worthwhile. However, when obstacles are placed in their way, such as a lack of recognition, inadequate rewards/reinforcement, and a lack of professional and personal growth opportunities, employees become frustrated. Therefore, the key is to structure an educational development program to attract highly motivated applicants and to help employees fulfill needs traditionally overlooked. And, while employees may eventually move into other agencies, the program helps to ensure that during their tenure, officers will be more motivated and want to perform as best they can.
The employee development program can be as extensive as the administrator wishes, but it must incorporate at least the following points:
• Implementation of high professional standards
• A strong reward/reinforcement plan
• An educational incentive plan, and
• A professional development plan.
High Professional Standards
High professional standards are vital to an employee development program simply because anything less would not attract the more highly qualified and more motivated individual. Agencies must reflect a sufficient degree of professionalism for employees to take pride in their jobs. This process begins with a positive and professional recruiting and hiring process aimed at identifying the most qualified applicants.
Further, a professional approach to policing includes the professional appearance of personnel, vehicles, and facilities. In addition, a thorough procedural manual and code of conduct is vital, as is a comprehensive and fair disciplinary system. Training and management procedures must also adhere to the highest professional standards. But, above all, pride and professionalism must be emphasized continually to all personnel.
Reward/Reinforcement System
The second point of the employee development program involves a strong reward/reinforcement system. Too often, management only doles out disciplinary action and neglects to recognize employees who deserve commendation. By implementing a strong reward/reinforcement system, smaller agencies promote the delivery of superior police service and greatly improve departmental morale.
This recognition program can be as simple or as elaborate as the department administrator wishes. For example, commendable acts of a lesser nature can be acknowledged through letters of commendation. For more noteworthy acts, departmental certificates of commendation can be issued. For the most noteworthy acts, police recognition medals or ribbons can be awarded to deserving personnel. Criteria for various police awards can be established on a departmental basis. Additionally, the local media should be notified and the officer publicly praised.
Educational Incentive Plan
The third, and most important, facet of an employee development program is an educational incentive plan. Such a plan allows for the officer's educational development, while making that officer a more productive and effective member of the department. It also naturally attracts applicants who want to pursue higher education. Obviously, the officer who desires personal improvement is highly motivated and a desirable asset to any department. And, by encouraging educational development, an agency can ensure the officer's retention at least until completion of college. Normally, it will take an officer 5 to 8 years to complete a baccalaureate degree program, depending on the course load the officer carries.
An educational incentive plan could also include a pay scale based on education and a tuition reimbursement plan. The incentive pay scale can be adjusted to the needs of the individual department. And, to ensure that the semester hours represent quality work, the department may wish to recognize only those hours that meet a set quality point average. Compared to across-the-board pay raises, an incentive plan can be substantially less expensive.
Under the tuition reimbursement portion of the plan, officers enroll in the course(s) at an accredited institution at their own expense. After successfully completing the course(s), officers who verify completion would be appropriately reimbursed. As with the incentive pay scale, an agency may wish to reimburse only those course(s) completed with a grade of ``C'' or better. Also, limiting the number of reimbursable hours per semester prevents employees from overloading, which could result in decreased proficiency in both academic pursuits and at work.
Work schedules should be structured to allow employees to attend classes. This can be accomplished by rotating shifts in conjunction with local university semesters. While an occasional conflict may arise, they can usually be easily resolved. An educational incentive plan restructures the pay scale and rewards employees for pursuing and achieving educational goals. By implementing such a plan, an agency benefits from better educated, highly motivated, and personally fulfilled employees.
Professional Development
For those employees seeking personal fulfillment from professional ability rather than through formal education, a program for professional development is essential. Too often, employees are not offered sufficient opportunities for professional development and tend to remain in rigidly assigned positions. However, a reasonable system of rotating assignments, patrol enhancement techniques, and training opportunities can be initiated. The number of officers involved at a given time, and the frequency of assignment rotation, can be tailored to a particular department's needs.
Rotating assignments can be as simple as assigning a patrol officer to work in another assignment for a temporary period of time. After completing the temporary duty, the patrol officer will have gained knowledge and practical experience in another police function while experiencing professional growth. Such temporary assignments also allow administrators to evaluate the employee's performance in the temporary position for possible later consideration for permanent assignments.
Patrol enhancement is another method that can stimulate and develop an officer's abilities. Patrol enhancement is simply allowing an officer to answer the initial call, conduct the investigation, file the charges, obtain the arrest warrant, and arrest the perpetrator without the assistance of another officer. In many agencies, this is often done out of necessity. However, as departments grow, they tend to become more specialized. This lets officers know that they are vital players in the department's mission. While such a program can be tailored to any agency, the key to patrol enhancement is for the administrator to view patrol officers as vital resources.
A final step in an agency's professional development program involves an aggressive use of police training resources. Many times, training opportunities end with the basic academy or the fulfillment of State-mandated minimums. Even so, an agency can offer a variety of opportunities for professional training. If the agency is too small to offer formal inservice training, it can use the resources of regional police academies, technical training centers, and even larger neighboring police departments. While every officer cannot attend every course, the administrator should allow as many officers as possible to participate. Another avenue to encourage officers to augment training on their own time is for an agency to consider paying for meals and providing transportation. What is important is that officers not be discouraged from developing themselves professionally.
In 1986, an employee development program was a major factor in the departmental reorganization of the Mercedes, Texas, Police Department. The department is comprised of 25 officers serving a municipality of approximately 14,000 persons.
The first step of the reorganization was to establish high professional standards throughout the department. Once these standards were established, the department implemented a rewards/reinforcement system to recognize and promote superior performance. As a result, the delivery of police service showed an immediate marked improvement, and public confidence increased.
Patrol enhancement in the form of limited follow-up responsibility in certain offenses, team policing duties, and walking patrol assignments became a part of the program. Officers were extremely receptive to these duties and soon began to suggest that more assignments be added to the patrol enhancement program. The public was also quick to note the officers' increased involvement.
The department then initiated a policy requiring a minimum of 40 hours inservice training per year per officer. In addition, a wide variety of training was offered to police personnel. At the end of 1986, after 7 months of this policy, each officer had achieved an average of 96 hours of training. By the end of 1987, this average increased to 109 hours of training per officer.
Prior to implementing the educational incentive plan, only two officers had any college-level education, only one had an associate's degree in law enforcement from a community college, and one officer was attending college. Within the first year of the program, 6 officers earned college credits, and 10 were actively enrolled in college courses. In addition, recruiting efforts attracted three officers with an average of 2 years' college experience, all of whom indicated that they were attracted to the department because it would allow them to continue their education.
Subsequent recruiting efforts also resulted in applicants who were well-educated, highly motivated, and extremely desirable candidates for employment. In addition, prior to the implementation of the employee development program, the agency's turnover rate was 38 percent. In the 24-month period following the full implementation of the employee development program, the turnover rate decreased to 7 percent. (3) This reduction in the turnover rate resulted in an estimated budgetary savings of at least $53,000.
A properly structured and managed employee development program can be extremely beneficial to both the police department and the police officer. By structuring the program to appeal to highly motivated individuals, providing them with opportunities to satisfy their needs for esteem and self-actualization, and allowing them an opportunity to contribute to the overall mission of the organization, a police department can significantly improve employee job satisfaction. This job satisfaction will translate into improved morale, greater initiative, and a desire to deliver superior service to the community. This program will also significantly reduce employee turnover within the smaller agency which, in turn, saves the department money.
Departments should realize that the initial expense of implementing an employee development program is minimal when compared to the benefits it can offer to both the law enforcement agency and the officer. But, most importantly, as a result of the program, employees experience professional growth and development, and the agency gains better trained and personally satisfied employees.
(1) Abraham H. Maslow, Motivation and Personality (New York: Harper and Row Company, 1954).
(2) Douglas McGregor, The Human Side of Enterprise (New York: Viking Press, Inc., 1971).
(3) An annual turnover rate of 5 to 15 percent is generally considered to be within the acceptable range for a fully developed organization. But, the ideal turnover rate is 7 percent. Roy Clinton McLaren and O.W. Wilson, Police Administration (New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing, 1977).