Many of the Dallas Police Department’s well-documented hiring woes have been chalked up to the city’s pension mess and the promise of better pay luring officers to Fort Worth and nearby suburbs. On Monday, speaking to the City Council’s public safety committee, Police Chief Renee Hall named another culprit, one being blamed for the death of everything from Applebee’s to homeownership.
“We (work) nights, weekends, and holidays, and those are some of the things that are not necessarily attractive to the millennials, who want all days off and to be the chief in six months,” Hall said.
Hall was exaggerating for laughs, although young people may smart at the generational broad brush, especially one that mocks reasonable expectations of fair pay, a meaningful work-life balance, and the opportunity for advancement. Cracking overplayed jokes about young snowflakes’ supposed taste for avocado toast and entitlement won’t help with millennial recruitment.
Regardless, Hall touched on a problem facing police across the country, as many departments struggle to recruit candidates from a generation with evolving views on police work. (Dallas Fire-Rescue Chief David Coatney said he was facing similar difficulties.) Hall has a strategy to get new recruits, one that does not involve better pay for officers. That’s been covered elsewhere, but it involves a program focused on local high school students, incentives for officers themselves to recruit, and reconsidering how the department treats candidates’ admissions of past transgressions, from youthful drug use to low-level criminal offenses. For example, that joint you smoked behind the auditorium in high school may not immediately disqualify you from a job with the Dallas Police Department.
The department’s also looking at relatively hassle-free ways to improve morale and boost recruitment, like modifying the dress code. On Nov. 3, Hall quietly instated an interim policy that allows uniformed police officers to grow facial hair. DPD sent over the specific language:
“All officers are advised General Order # 804.02 (a) 8 & 9 related to grooming standards, specifically facial hair/beards, for uniformed members shall be immediately relaxed. A groomed and maintained mustache, goatee or beard is authorized. Beards must be worn with a mustache. Facial hair must not be longer than a quarter (1/4) inch in length. No portion of the beard may be exceptionally longer than the rest.”
Hall has also approved the use of outer vest carriers, which in the Dallas summer provide a cooler alternative to the closer-to-the-chest wear. Another request Hall said she has heard from officers, which has not yet been turned into policy, is that they be allowed to wear baseball caps.
Easy enough. It follows the lead of other departments, including in Detroit, where Dallas found Hall last year. It doesn’t cost anything. It could boost morale and retention in a small but significant way. And an officer with a well-maintained beard can look as dignified and sharp as a clean-shaven cop.
It’s not better pay or a guarantee of rewarding work, but it’s something.