D.C. police and the National Guard are recruiting members of each other’s departments in an effort to unite security forces in D.C. and give officers a chance to earn extra income.
The program – which began in August – has so far supplied the National Guard with seven officers from the Metropolitan Police Department and MPD with five Guard soldiers. Recruiting officials said this hiring technique gives each department access to recruits that are already qualified, trained and well-versed in the values of each agency – creating a more seamless transition for officers.
MPD spokeswoman Rachel Reid said the department is recruiting National Guard members for sworn-officer positions because many soldiers in the Guard are seeking a second job and the two agencies look for similar applicants. The two jobs both require physical fitness and the ability to perform under “stressful situations,” she said.
“Military personnel are familiar with the rank structure law enforcement operates on,” she said. “Many soldiers are also physically in shape, drug-free and have a clean driving and criminal record.”
The move comes amid a major MPD push to hire more police as a large percentage of the force nears retirement age. MPD is funneling $11.7 million into law enforcement hiring in an effort to hire 360 officers this year.
Reid said MPD currently employs 3,830 sworn members, but the department hopes this recruitment effort will help it grow to 4,000 officers.
“You have to be able to follow orders in very stressful situations.”
Many Guard soldiers are part-time and seeking jobs. Working with MPD gives these soldiers the chance to receive two separate paychecks and retirement packages, free counseling services, housing and education funds, Reid said.
As MPD recruits, National Guard members train for 28 weeks at the Metropolitan Police Academy to learn laws of arrest, search and seizure, criminal law, traffic regulations, human relations, community policing, self-defense, advanced first-aid and ethics.
Army Maj. Kelvin Hart, a recruiter for the D.C. National Guard, said the recruitment program allowed seven MPD officers to join the National Guard, a number the agency hopes to increase to 100 by the end of the fiscal year in September.
“This program is about trying to access each other’s department personnel that fit each other’s needs and objectives – basically, build camaraderie and strengthen the bond between both departments,” he said. “It’s just a natural relationship that should have occurred before now.”
Hart said the program originally started as a means to increase the Guard’s recruitment efforts, but grew into a new program to increase the likelihood of hiring someone with previous experience in security to join the Guard. He added that recruits from MPD face a speedier application process than other applicants because they have already passed extensive background checks.
Hart said the Guard often recruits alone – but occasionally alongside MPD – at information sessions and job fairs.
Having personnel who are knowledgeable about both organizations is helpful when the two forces work in the field together because they know how the other force operates, Hart said. He added that new applicants are much more likely to be successful at either agency if they have previous experience at MPD or in the National Guard.
“Instead of blindly picking from a pool of unknowns, you’re picking from a pool of knowns that should fit all of the requirements you are asking for,” Hart said.
Stephen Bigelow, the vice chairman of the D.C. Police Union, said Guard members usually serve one week a month on reserve duty and two in the summer, leaving time for them to work in MPD. Recruits from the Guard are appealing to MPD because military training teaches them to obey orders, a quality sought after in police officers, he said.
“So much of our population is engaged in behaviors that exclude them from becoming a police officer.”
“You have to be able to follow orders in very stressful situations,” he said. “If somebody is shooting at you and you tell them to duck down, you don’t want somebody who’s going to go ‘well, why?’”
Bigelow added that Guard members are already instilled with police values like punctuality, dependability and meeting tough expectations. He said they are also well-trained in technical equipment, giving them an advantage over other applicants who are not familiar with serving in uniform.
Gregory Gilbertson, a criminal justice professor at Centralia College, said there are no disadvantages to hiring military personnel and that their clean criminal history and prior service –qualifications sometimes lacking in other applicants – make them especially qualified for police work.
“So much of our population is engaged in behaviors that exclude them from becoming a police officer,” he said.
Dani Grace contributed to reporting.