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2024 | SUMMER

Reframing the Police Staffing Challenge

A Systems Approach to Workforce Planning and Managing Workload Demand

Jeremy M. Wilson and Clifford A. Grammich


2024 | SUMMER

Reframing the Police Staffing Challenge

A Systems Approach to Workforce Planning and Managing Workload Demand

Jeremy M. Wilson and Clifford A. Grammich

Over the last several years, law enforcement agencies across the country have experienced a ‘triple threat’ to staffing levels: fewer persons submitting employment applications, increased numbers of officers leaving the field, and a greater number of seasoned officers retiring. Historically, law enforcement agencies have taken a piecemeal approach to staffing positions. These processes included determining the number of officers needed, recruiting, training, and retaining them. The paper’s authors provide an overview of critical components of a staffing a police department. Second, they propose a six-step approach to more effectively conduct workforce planning and satisfy workload.


Critical Components for Staffing Police Agencies

There are essentially 14 elements to staffing a law enforcement agency that can be placed into one of three categories: strategy, workforce context, and operational environment.


Workload – A variety of factors impact an agency’s workload, including the number of calls for service, officers available to respond and time required to respond to the calls for service.

Performance Objectives – Agencies use different approaches to provide police services. For example, some departments may focus on a more citizen engaged approach and require 50 percent of officers time is dedicated to preventive patrol and participating in community policing activities. Others may utilize an approach that focuses on answering calls for service and preparing required documentation.  The metrics to meet these objectives influence the number officers required to serve the community.

Workforce Goals – Since the 1960’s, there has been increasing focus on departments’ staff reflecting the communities they serve. In other instances, agencies have groups of officers with different levels of experience. A variety of other factors influence staffing levels. For example, an economic downturn may force hiring freezes, furloughs, or reduced staffing levels. In other cases, staffing levels may be increased to address community needs or increased in officer resignations. Additionally, agencies are becoming much more segmented with specializations and placing more emphasis on civilianization of some positions.

Workforce Context

Allocation – Essentially, four different staffing techniques have been utilized to project the number of officers an agency may need. These include per capita method, minimum staffing, authorized level, and workload-based.  The per capita method utilizes Federal Bureau of Investigation average number officers per 1000 citizens. Interestingly, the Uniform Crime Reports provided a disclaimer this projection should not be used to determine the number officers needed for a specific community.

Minimum staffing techniques are used to determine the number of officers needed on a shift. By calculating the ‘shift relief factor’, the department can identify the number of officers that are needed to staff the agency at established levels 24 hours a day.

Authorized levels rely upon the funding budgeted to staff the department. This technique has no link to workload demands.

Workload-based approaches are typically utilized for determining patrol staffing projections. In many cases the workload projections use averages that will not compensate for increases/decreases in calls for service or other factors that impact response (i.e. increased traffic congestion).

Deployment – This factor determines officers’ assignments by shift, zones, as well as their posting within the agency such as patrol, detectives, and administration.

Recruitment and Selection – Over the last few years, agencies have been forced to place greater emphasis on recruiting officers. It takes an agency a year to hire and train an officer and two weeks for them to leave. To address this, departments have used a variety of techniques to attract candidates, such as higher salaries, hiring bonuses, referral bonuses, and faster on-boarding.

Retention – The focus on retaining incumbent officers has not matched the emphasis on hiring and training new officers. One of the primary reasons for turnover, the organizational culture, is it is more difficult to address organizational culture issues. The authors suggested agencies should consider using realistic job previews for candidates, increase employee engagement, and create a more inclusive culture.

Training – Greater interest is being focused on training. Despite this, some research finds the quantity and quality of training is lacking. Some forms of training use less effective learning techniques, such as lecture as compared with discussions and scenario-based training. In other cases, the class material is outdated, and the trainees are mistreated by the instructors.

Productivity – A variety of factors impact this variable. Officers working in communities that have strained relationships with citizens have less support with resolving criminal incidents. In other instances, officers are transferred from specialty assignments (i.e. detectives) to patrol to cover for staff shortages. Negative events involving police officers occurring in some areas of the country has led to officers engaging in fewer proactive activities.

Leadership – No factor has more impact on an organization than its leadership. The department leaders must “manage and balance a complex array of external and internal force impacting the quality of an agency’s workforce”.

Culture – The organizational culture is established by department leadership and impacts its sense of purpose, development opportunities, and individual growth. Those agencies that are slow to address a poor organizational culture will likely experience increased employee attrition.

Resources – Agencies’ ability to attract and retain officers is often dependent upon the resources made available to them. At the same time, leaders should continually explore alternative approaches to make better use of the available resources.

Non-Sworn Staff – Agencies must explore alternative use of civilian staff. Some of the areas utilized have been crime scene technicians, evidence room managers, investigating minor automobile collisions, and diversion to other service providers (i.e. mental health service providers).

Organizational Learning – To become a high performing organization, agencies must create an ability to continuously learn and implement evolving practice. This will require agencies to find new approaches to problem identification and solving.

Smiling black female police officer talking to her colleagues

Six-Step Approach to Workforce Planning and Meeting Workload Demand

  1. Determining Efficient Allocation Level – A workload analysis can provide a comprehensive and accurate determination of the number of officers needed and the times they should work.
  2. Establish Workforce Goals – These goals should typically include creating a workforce that is representative of the community they serve as well as developing the requisite skills. This may require specialized training, language skills, oral and written communications skills. In addition, future planning should address the seniority and assignment of staff and its impact on operations.
  3. Assess Existing Circumstances – The goal of this category is to identify where the department is now and where it needs to be in the future. Using these findings determines where the agency is and strategies they need to initiate to attain future staffing needs.
  4. Implement Strategy – Organizational leaders must strategically maximize the use of their staffing, funding, and partnerships.
  5. Monitor and Assess Performance – Agencies must engage in organizational learning. This requires practical routine reviews of individual, unit, and organization activities to determine their progress and areas to improve.


Planning for Common Scenarios

When an Agency is Understaffed – First, the agency must use the appropriate strategies to determine if they are at an appropriate staffing level.  Second, determine why the department is understaffed. Is the problem being facilitated because of increased turnover? Why are staff leaving? What techniques can the department use to enhance efficiencies with the staff they have? Are there alternative approaches to enhance efficiencies?

When an Agency is Not Understaffed but ‘Feels’ It Is – The workload analysis indicates the department has sufficient staffing but cannot satisfy calls for service and proactive initiatives. Are officers’ assignments impacting the workload? Failure to address these issues will place greater burden on officers providing direct services to the community. This will likely lead to less engagement and higher attrition.

When an Agency is Not Meeting Workforce Goals – Department leaders must continuously strive to develop officers’ knowledges, skills, and abilities to better address the community’s needs. In some cases, it may need to focus on retaining staff with these traits and abilities. In other instances, the agency can employ recruiting strategies to identify and attract those with these needed skills and abilities.

In closing, the authors offer a comprehensive strategy to continuously evaluate the agencies current and future needs. They note “Our central lesson in this analysis is that it is not just the number officers that matter: what they do and how they do it also matters.” To manage the workload requires  an approach “that balances strategy, staff, and process.”

Jeremy M. Wilson and Clifford A. Grammich, Reframing the Police Staffing Challenge: A Systems Approach to Workforce Planning and Managing Workload Demand, Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice, Vol. 18, pp. 1 – 12, (2024),

Clifford A Grammich

Jeremy M. Wilson 

Jeremy M Wilson

Clifford A. Grammich

Natalie Sellers

Natalie Sellars

Natalie Sellars has served as a Senior Law Enforcement Risk Consultant with Local Government Risk Management Services (LGRMS) for the past 10 years.  She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice from Augusta State University and a Master of Arts in Criminal Justice from Troy University. Previously she served as a parole officer, academy instructor, and Assistant Chief with the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles.