If there was ever a good time for qualified young workers to be hired as cops, now might be it.
Faced with the daunting requirement of hiring as many as 500 cops over the next five years, the Ottawa Police Service is assigning more officers to find candidates in a highly competitive field for police recruits.
Because one out of every three prospects make it through the application process, the force actually has to find 1,500 people — reflective of this community in gender, race, language and sexual diversity — to consider a career in policing.
The police services board’s human resources committee on Monday learned that the force is assembling a new recruitment team to attract candidates. Three constables and a civilian staffer, in addition to a sergeant, staff sergeant and inspector, will take on the challenge.
“We want to be very clear as far as the challenges but the opportunities that are out there as well,” Chief Charles Bordeleau said after the committee meeting. “We think we have a solid plan moving forward and we want to keep the board informed as to the strategies that we’re using. You’re going to see a lot more of us in the community being present and proactive in identifying and letting people know that policing is a great career and that our doors are open to anyone who wants to apply.”
Bordeleau said police recruitment is competitive among Canadian municipal forces, the OPP and the RCMP. The Ottawa Police Service needs to sell the nation’s capital to potential police candidates; the chief says Ottawa “brings something extra” compared with other cities.
Bordeleau backs a plan to invest more of the force’s own sworn officers into recruitment to find the candidates.
“You’ve got to be out there to attract members of our community,” Bordeleau said. “Just standing by and allowing people to come to us isn’t working. We have to be out there. We have to be present. We have to be proactively talking and building those relationships and helping people through the process and mentoring them.”
The force wants to grow by 30 cops each year. On top of that, it will need to backfill dozens of positions for cops leaving the force through retirements or other reasons. It adds up to an estimate of 400-500 cops being hired over five years.
It will take some creative thinking by the outreach officers to attract potential candidates, especially when other municipal police services are travelling outside of their cities on recruitment missions. The new marketing strategy for Ottawa police includes a cinematic video playing before movies in Cineplex theatres.
The force is also looking into partnerships with the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group and the Ottawa International Airport.
A focus will be on convincing millennials and post-millennial “Generation Z” youths to consider policing careers, forcing Ottawa police to learn about social media trends and reach out to the Snapchatters and Instagrammers of today. Police also have to be mindful of the requirements of what Bordeleau called the “new age recruit,” one who needs regular updates about their application process.
The challenge is compounded by the heavy workload already weighing down the force’s recruitment and selection program.
Debra Frazer, the force’s director general, told the committee there’s a “bottleneck” in the recruit screening process.
“They’re being overwhelmed by the number of files we have,” Frazer said.
There’s a 10-step recruitment and selection process that takes between six and nine months. It includes testing, interviews and physical and psychological assessments. The force is trying to improve the efficiency and reduce the time it takes to hire a cop.
While there’s pressure on Ottawa police to hire hundreds of new cops, Frazer said the force won’t compromise its standards.