RICHMOND, Ky. (FOX 56) — It seems so many professions are suffering from a shortage of workers, including law enforcement. To turn it around, recruiters face a tough challenge to bring young people into a career that can be thankless and dangerous.
“There is a recruiting issue, but there’s also a retention issue,” Dr. Derek Paulsen told FOX 56.
Paulsen is the dean of Eastern Kentucky University’s College of Justice and Safety. All across Kentucky from state police, Lexington, and in EKU’s home city of Richmond, departments have publicly posted about the need for more officers.
“If you talk to officers who’ve been on about 15 years, most of them will talk about stories of there’d be a thousand applicants for 40 positions in an agency such as Lexington. Now it’s started to change,” Paulsen said.
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Paulsen has spent two decades of his career at EKU and said the recruitment and retention issues slowly began 7 years ago, but then got amplified by the first responder need of the pandemic.
“The hours- you work nights, weekends, holidays, if there’s a weather disaster, you’re out there rather than at home with your family, if there’s some other kind of a major incident. So, it really kind of highlighted some of those issues,” he said.
Paulsen said that now there’s a lot more career competition with jobs that have better salaries. Pay is also causing big and small police departments to compete with each other and even federal agencies. And community support isn’t as universal as it used to be, for example twice last month Louisville’s police memorial was vandalized.
That is definitely changed. And they feel like they’re- a lot of times the comments they tell me is it can be coming from community members, but it can also come from the perception of council members and others and that just sort of weighs on them. And it does take a toll on retention of officers,” Paulsen said.
So why do this job?
“I’d say it definitely takes a special type of person to go to work every day in this field,” EKU Senior Jenna Riel said.
Matthew Hallock, an EKU graduate who is planning on starting a career in policing said for him the inspiration started at a young age.
“It just kind of started out when I was a kid. I just kind of wanted to serve the community, help people that I grew up around, and just kind of give back to the community that made me who I am,” he said.
Both said they’re approaching their fields with an open mind and have had some eye-opening experiences with the reality of the whole career field.
“I took a child abuse investigations class this past semester, and it really made me want to question whether or not I wanted to go into this field,” Riel said.
Their advice to prospective future law enforcement professionals is to be a good communicator.
“Just being able to deal with all sorts of different walks of life and being able to talk about any issues that you have personally after potentially going through a traumatic incident,” Hallock said.
Hallock said he’s planning to attend police academy following graduate school by 2025. Riel has plans for law school to become an attorney. Paulsen said while there’s no easy answer to recruiting more people into the field that telling the reality of the job — the good — the bad — and all the variety it offers, will help.