Attendees of the March McLean District Station Citizens Advisory Committee meeting got a bit of a surprise when they entered the doors of the McLean Governmental Center on the evening of March 21 and were greeted by a phalanx of uniformed Fairfax County Police Department (FCPD) officers. Turns out there was nothing to worry about – and everything to be interested in.
The FCPD was holding a recruiting event on site and it was a “lot of hands on deck” situation, with officers from several specialty units ready to tell it like it really is to potential applicants.
And that’s really important to bringing in the right people, insists recruiter Det. Shawn Carroll.
Carroll addressed the Advisory group at the start of their monthly program.
“We give it to them straight,” said Carroll, noting that applicants often bring unrealistic expectations about the job to the application process.
“It is a great job, with many rewarding moments,” he added, “but they need to know the other side of the work in order to make a good decision about applying.” Carroll had been showing pictures of those cheerier circumstances in a PowerPoint presentation to the audience – community events, police with puppies, officers looking suitably rugged and ready for action. As he spoke, he moved onto the next slide.
“I hope no one here has a weak stomach,” he said, as images of people with injuries and officers working some difficult scenes replaced the kids, dogs, and cheerful smiles. “This is the reality that we need recruits to be aware of.”
In consideration of his audience, Carroll kept it “gruesome-light,” showing only a few, representative photos that the attendees might grimace at, but caused no one to test those potentially weak innards.
CARROLL is one of three full time recruiters who are out on the roads looking to bring the best and the brightest into the FCPD. With a population of about 1.2 million residents in the county, it’s quite a task to find enough men and women to fill these critical roles.
Turn-over can sometimes be high. The fact that FCPD officers are among the best background-checked, best trained, and most respected forces in the country also adds to the need to constantly keep up the recruiting flow. According to Carroll, FCPD officers are often recruited by other jurisdictions themselves.
And then there is the coming addition of the South County station and Animal Shelter. To be located on Lorton Road between Workhouse ad Hoose Roads, the 34,000 square-foot police station and the 23,000 square-foot animal shelter are slated to open for operation in 2022.
Between the application process and the Police Academy and training required before an officer is ready for real action, “it’s not too soon to start looking for staff for South County,” said Carroll.
A key component in the FCPD’s recruitment arsenal is the Mobile Recruitment Unit. In late 2017, the MRU – a fabulously reconditioned and renovated command bus - was unveiled. The MRU was on-site at the McLean event, but the heavy rain kept Advisory Committee members from an in-person tour. Instead, Carroll showed photos of the unit, which looks more like a comfy RV than a police vehicle.
“It’s set up with a waiting area, private interview spaces, even a polygraph can be done right there,” explained Carroll.
The MRU allows the recruiters to go right into the community rather than passively wait for applicants. It also allows them to start the process much more quickly – determining who might be a good fit and getting the requirements for application and possible acceptance underway.
THE RECRUITERS attend and host hiring events up and down the East coast. They set up shop at universities, colleges, military schools and other places where quality candidates might be found. While they will continue their hunt as far and wide as ever, Carroll says 2019 is the year of the “Fairfax First” campaign, “because we have found that the best recruits are right here at home.”
One of the advisory group questioned Carroll several times on a perceived lack of diversity in the department, both in the top slots and in the rank and file.
Carroll and McLean station Commander Captain Alan Hanson both acknowledged that “the department can and will do better” to achieve a profile that better reflects the diversity of the population they serve.
“That’s another reason we are out here,” said Carroll, and why the FCPD is looking for “Ambassadors,” as well as recruits.
Carroll and Hanson say that members of the community can help by learning more about the requirements of the job and spreading the word, particularly in communities that may be less represented or less likely to think they may qualify.
Carroll advises people to check out the information and see before they disqualify themselves.
Persons interested in exploring a career with FCPD – “remember,” reminds Carroll, “there are all kinds of jobs and units” – should visit the county’s website and search “police department” for all the information. The application process can even be initiated online on the site.