Miguel Pineda said he decided to become a North Las Vegas police officer out of a desire to help others.

“Helping the community,” Pineda, 27, said Jan. 6 after graduating from the Southern Desert Regional Police Academy. “From changing a tire to helping someone out after they’ve been robbed. Whatever the case may be. As long as I can help, if I can be of assistance, I’m going to be there to help.”

Pineda previously worked as a Nevada corrections officer, making him an attractive recruit to employers. He decided to pursue a career as an officer in North Las Vegas after talking to friends and officers about the city’s police force.

This word-of-mouth approach to recruiting remains an effective way to hire new officers, local police said. But these days, in an era of COVID-19 restrictions, increasing officer retirements across the nation and pushes for changes in policing, the business of recruiting has new urgency.

North Las Vegas, Henderson and Las Vegas police have online recruiting tools to attract applicants from across the country. All three departments are also pursuing what are known as lateral transfers of officers currently working for other police agencies, slightly shortening the time it takes to hire experienced officers.

”Our current recruiting efforts have become more technology-based as opposed to face-to-face efforts due to the COVID pandemic,” said North Las Vegas recruitment officer Daniel Nardi, adding that recruiting websites and “our official social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram” have proven especially valuable.

Increase in retirements

In June, the Police Executive Research Forum published a report about police staffing trends. The report involved a survey of 194 police departments. It showed that during a 12-month span from 2020 to 2021, there was a 45 percent increase in police retirements. Agencies are filling only about 93 percent of their authorized positions, the survey showed, although the overall reduction in hiring dropped by a much more modest 5 percent.

Forum Executive Director Chuck Wexler said cities across the country are now in an increasingly competitive battle to hire more officers because of those retirements.

“I’ve spoken to mayors of a number of cities, and this is what keeps them up at night,” Wexler said. “Who are going to be the cops of the future? It is a huge issue. At the very moment your workforce is being compressed, homicides in many cities are significantly increasing.”

Metropolitan Police Department Lt. Richard Meyers said recruiting efforts differ slightly from year to year, depending on budget and attrition numbers. Metro is scheduled to have police and correction academies each quarter in 2022. The agency is expecting roughly 130 recruits to participate in each of the first two quarters.

Metro will have a lateral police academy for the first time in several years in the summer, allowing officers from other cities to join the department after undergoing local training. Officers who participate in lateral training don’t go through traditional police academies for new recruits and have more classroom teaching, shortening the time it takes to hire them.

Targeting out-of-state recruits

In the fall, billboards with “Las Vegas Supports First Responders Join Our Force” appeared in major cities across the U.S., including in New York City, Chicago, Seattle, Austin, Texas, and Portland, Oregon. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Foundation paid for the billboards, which directed people to Metro’s recruiting website, protectthecity.com.

“The police department has identified the need to hire more officers, and we are here to support those efforts,” foundation Executive Director Tom Kovach said of the billboards.

Meyers said recruiting out of state is nothing new for Metro and other departments. Up to 10 percent of Las Vegas police academy participants currently come from California, and Metro recently held officer testing there.

Even the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Meyers points out, has recruited applicants in Southern Nevada by placing a billboard along Interstate 15.

Social media is key

Sam Blonder is CEO and co-owner of Epic Recruiting in Scottsdale, Arizona. The company helps police departments with branding, crafting websites, videos and content for social media.

“Most of the departments we work with, their past experience is sending a pair of officers to a job fair or down to the community college to give a presentation,” Blonder said. “Unfortunately, that type of recruiting isn’t producing the types of numbers they need to handle attrition and retirement.”

He said successful recruitment involves departments creating a brand that demonstrates a friendly work environment, great benefits and a profession that helps others. A critical component of recruiting, he said, is to create as large of an applicant pool as possible.

“If you have 5,000 people apply, and 70 percent wash out, you are in good shape,” Blonder said.

“If you have 500 people apply, and 70 percent wash out, you are in trouble.”

Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Henderson police all have social media campaigns targeting recruits. Metro has created an LVMPD Recruiting Facebook page that hosted a live virtual recruiting event Jan. 4. During the broadcast, Meyers and officer Michelle Funes told potential recruits about jobs available for officers, dispatchers and data and intelligence analysts.

That livestream on Facebook received more than 10,000 views.

Contact Glenn Puit by email at [email protected]. Follow @GlennatRJ on Twitter.