Similar to businesses and nonprofits, the Lakeland Police Department has turned a pandemic-based hiring need into a previously unforeseen opportunity to recruit personnel from outside Florida.
For the LPD, that’s a pipeline from the largest police force in the country, the New York City Police Department. Lakeland hired two NYPD officers in 2020 and has brought on a dozen more former Big Apple officers in 2021. LPD Assistant Police Chief Hans Lehman notes recruiting in law enforcement has quickly morphed from what was mostly a local process to states now poaching from other states. He recently read, for example, that Alaska State Troopers are recruiting officers from Washington state.
The ex-NYPD officers make up about 5% of the overall LPD force, 254 officers. The moves made headlines in November, too, when Gov. Ron DeSantis pledged to give any law enforcement officers a $5,000 bonus to relocate to Florida — a salvo in the vaccine mandate battle. DeSantis spoke at a news conference in Lakeland touting the move.
But the LPD had been working on an NYC recruitment plan long before DeSantis’ announcement. In early 2020, seeing the shortage in local recruits, the LPD took out help wanted ads in some police circles in the New York area. The thinking was the standard Florida sell: ditch the rat race, crowds and high taxes for a sunny Florida — in a family-friendly town halfway between beaches and Orlando. “We weren’t getting enough good local applicants to apply,” Lehman says. He adds that an accredited out-of-state officer can be street-ready in Lakeland faster, usually by three to six months, and at a lower cost than hiring someone and putting them through the police academy.
In the spring, LPD Lieutenant Mike Lewis made a recruiting trip to New York City to pitch Lakeland in person. “We felt like we needed to provide more information than we can do in a flyer,” Lewis says.
Another selling point Lewis emphasized with the NYPD crew was spot-on for any business or entity that wants to recruit and retain top people in a resignation-heavy environment: a strong culture. At the LPD, Lewis says, an officer can easily speak with a supervisor three rungs up the chain of command, unlike the NYPD, where “white-shirt” bosses are isolated from officers. “We have a real family feel here,” Lewis says. “Here, the chief of police will see you in the hallway and say hello.”