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Los Angeles Police Department Finds New Ways to Recruit

September 13, 2007 at 6:35 PM EST
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JEFFREY KAYE, NewsHour Correspondent: To attract and hire a thousand new police officers, the city of Los Angeles is spending a million dollars this year on a recruitment blitz.

COMMERCIAL NARRATOR: The city of Los Angeles. When duty calls, the LAPD responds.

JEFFREY KAYE: With baby boomers retiring from police departments in large numbers and with starting salaries often not keeping up with the cost of living, law enforcement agencies across the country are having trouble filling their ranks. And the war hasn’t helped.

The military — usually a good source of law enforcement candidates — is retaining personnel. In addition, since 9/11, federal agencies from the border patrol to the FBI also have ramped up their own hiring, increasing the competition for available and qualified personnel.

KENNETH GARNER, Los Angeles Police Department: It’s a challenge nationwide. Everybody’s talking about recruitment and the recruitment of qualified police officers.

JEFFREY KAYE: Kenneth Garner is a deputy chief of the Los Angeles Police Department.

KENNETH GARNER: Every police department is hiring right now. Never seen that before in my 30 years in law enforcement, where every police department — usually it’s one or the other is hiring, but now everybody is hiring.

JEFFREY KAYE: Although no hard numbers exist, organizations representing law enforcement agencies say most large police departments in the U.S. complain they have shortages of sworn officers. So many are making the hard sell at job fairs and hiring expos.

RECRUITER: Both of you interested in law enforcement?

POTENTIAL POLICE RECRUIT: Oh, yes.

RECRUITER: Excellent.

JEFFREY KAYE: At this one held recently by the San Diego Police Department, potential recruits were shown law enforcement hardware.

RECRUITER: We can certify within five miles an hour high or low to be exact for the court purposes.

JEFFREY KAYE: They got an opportunity to test their reflexes on training simulators.

POTENTIAL POLICE RECRUIT: Get out of here.

POTENTIAL POLICE RECRUIT: Put that knife down, sir.

Seeking out interested candidates

Benjamin Pearson
Potential police recruit
I'm super bored....I've had a number of jobs that have never amounted to anything. And I want a challenge; I want to make a positive contribution to society.

JEFFREY KAYE: Recruiters hope the excitement and esprit de corps of a job in law enforcement would appeal to both those seeking their first job and those thinking about a career change, people such as Benjamin Pearson.

RECRUITER: Hi, Ben. Very nice to meet you.

BENJAMIN PEARSON, Potential Police Recruit: Nice to meet you. I'm bored, to tell you the truth. I'm super bored. And I've had a number of -- never careers, but I've had a number of jobs that have never amounted to anything. And I want a challenge; I want to make a positive contribution to society.

JEFFREY KAYE: In San Diego, the country's sixth-largest city, the police department has more than 200 vacancies. That shortage, says Police Chief Bill Lansdowne, is leaving divisions severely understaffed.

CHIEF BILL LANSDOWNE, San Diego Police Department: We're not providing all the services we used to. We belonged to a lot of task forces with the Drug Enforcement Administration, ICAC, Internet Crimes Against Children. We've had to pull some of our officers out of those task forces and put them back in patrol duty so we can continue to answer the calls.

We're not clearing as many cases as we used to because of the shortages. And our response times our starting to move up a little bit because we're not getting to the calls as quickly as we used to.

Using climate as incentive

Bill Lansdowne
Police Chief, San Diego
This summer, when it's 115 degrees in Arizona, we'll be recruiting there, because our temperature will stay around 82 degrees. This is a great environment to work in and a great police department to be on.

JEFFREY KAYE: When job fairs, videos and billboards aren't enough, Chief Lansdowne acknowledges he's not above poaching qualified officers from faraway departments, even using San Diego's mild climate as a valuable recruiting ally.

CHIEF BILL LANSDOWNE: This winter, we'll be on the East Coast, when there's six feet of snow out there, showing the coast of San Diego and people who will be surfing. This summer, when it's 115 degrees in Arizona, we'll be recruiting there, because our temperature will stay around 82 degrees. This is a great environment to work in and a great police department to be on.

JEFFREY KAYE: More controversially, some police departments are also changing their hiring requirements. In some cases, they're relaxing fitness standards and forgiving recruits past debt problems and minor criminal convictions.

POLICE OFFICER: Don't cross your feet!

JEFFREY KAYE: The LAPD has revised its zero-tolerance policy towards past drug use among recruits. Admitting to having used cocaine or marijuana no longer eliminates candidates.

KENNETH GARNER: You can't use 1950s' standards and apply them today. We're not opening up the floodgates, but we are being realistic in the 21st century and saying that some kids will experiment with drugs. But an experiment is one thing. Being a drug user is another thing.

Training new recruits

Joe Brann
Law enforcement consultant
I have long maintained that it isn't about adding more numbers; it's about how we use those resources effectively and efficiently in the first place.

JEFFREY KAYE: To help borderline candidates pass the department's fitness requirements, the LAPD has also expanded a program that helps harden the bodies of potential officers before they enter the police academy. All these efforts are geared to getting more cops. But will more police officers equal less crime?

JOE BRANN, Law Enforcement Consultant: I have long maintained that it isn't about adding more numbers; it's about how we use those resources effectively and efficiently in the first place.

JEFFREY KAYE: Joseph Brann is a former chief of police, who in the 1990s directed the Clinton administration's Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS program. COPS provided billions of dollars in federal funds to help local law enforcement agencies hire 100,000 new officers.

Now a private consultant, Brann believes local politicians and law enforcement agencies often promise to increase police personnel as a way to score public relations points.

JOE BRANN: If elected officials would ask the question when a police organization is saying we need more resources, they ought to be asking a very specific question: What are we going to get if we provide you with those additional resources? What's the outcome that's going to be achieved here?

And I think if we did that, we would actually recognize what type of resources we need to be seeking. We would also be a lot more careful about just adding bodies for the sake of adding bodies.

"More cops on the streets"

Kenneth Garner
Los Angeles Police Department
The chief has gone on record as saying ... to really police this city the right way, you need between 14,000 and 15,000 officers. And so that's the goal.

JEFFREY KAYE: Instead of putting more bodies in uniform, Brann advocates turning over some policing jobs to civilian employees, making greater use of technology, such as surveillance cameras in public places, and creating better partnerships between the public and police.

But in high-crime neighborhoods, such as L.A.'s Panorama City District, some residents simply want more cops on the streets.

LISA QUINTANA, L.A. Resident (through translator): I'd feel much safer with more police. I'd like to be able to walk down the street feeling secure and not afraid so I can do the things I need to do.

JEFFREY KAYE: Long considered an under-policed city, Los Angeles now has about 9,500 sworn police officers.

KENNETH GARNER: The chief has gone on record as saying, you know, to really police this city the right way, you need between 14,000 and 15,000 officers. And so that's the goal. But, you know, first we have to walk before we run, and that first goal is to get up to 10,000 and have enough officers to really fully deploy.

JEFFREY KAYE: LAPD officials are confident they'll meet their hiring goals. Looking the epitome of spit and polish perfection, a graduating class of police cadets recently stepped smartly onto the LAPD Academy's parade ground. When the ceremony ended, Los Angeles had 63 newly sworn officers on its police force.