The pandemic-inspired Great Resignation has made municipal jobs harder and harder to fill, especially at the Philadelphia Police Department.

City officials responded to this crunch last week when Mayor Jim Kenney asked the city’s Civil Service Commission to waive the requirement that prospective applicants for the police force live in Philadelphia for at least a year before joining the department. The requirement, passed by a 16-1 margin in City Council in 2020, was intended to help increase representation and diversity within the department by prioritizing applications from Philadelphia residents.

What’s happening here echoes a similar challenge faced by departments across the nation. Experts say that calls for police reform and the COVID-19 pandemic are just two factors driving a wave of retirements by officers.

In Philadelphia, the Police Department’s current budget includes funding for 480 vacant officer positions. An Inquirer investigation also found that the department has over 650 officers out on Heart and Lung disability claims, further straining resources. Elected officials, including City Councilmember Cherelle L. Parker, have called for the department to add even more officers so that important community policing efforts aren’t hampered by the need to ensure adequate staffing elsewhere.

» READ MORE: Philadelphia Police lift residency requirement

With that in mind, it is worth questioning whether removing the residency requirement is really the best way to handle the recruiting crisis. While 45% of Philadelphians are Black, Black officers make up only 30% of the police force. About 57% of the city’s police officers are white.

Fixing these disparities is an important and much-needed long-term goal for the city. Despite the increased difficulty of recruiting and retaining Black officers in the wake of the George Floyd protests for racial justice, it is also an achievable goal. We need a more thoughtful and better-resourced recruitment process.

Today, the Police Department recruits the same way that many other employers try to identify strong candidates — by placing ads on online jobs boards and setting up recruiting tables at colleges and universities. This approach may have worked in the past, but it isn’t working now. That’s because becoming a police officer is a much more complicated process than most jobs at the career fair. Officers have to pass a fitness test, undergo a credit check and extensive reviews of their backgrounds and employment histories, and each potential trainee’s psychological state is evaluated.

» READ MORE: In a segregated city, race determines safety | Editorial

Potential applicants often fail to clear the bar. Some applicants have said that disqualifications can often seem arbitrary or informed by racial bias, with the psychological evaluation considered particularly subjective. Critics of the department’s hiring practices note that 70% of applicants are Black, Hispanic, Asian, or identify as some other race, while only 29% of accepted recruits are people of color. With as many as 2,500 potential applicants and academy classes that typically have fewer than 100 cadets, why does the Police Department have an Ivy League rejection rate?

Instead of simply waiving the residency requirement, the department should overhaul the recruitment process. In this economy, virtually no employer can count on a stampede of highly qualified applicants; they need to be proactive about identifying potential recruits. A prescreening process could identify potential issues before an applicant is rejected. Other supports — including financial counseling, fitness training, or other programs — could help applicants succeed.

A forthcoming audit of police recruiting by the City Controller’s Office should help identify other ways to boost recruitment among candidates of color. With the department currently spending a mere $11,000 on recruiting, the city hasn’t even come close to doing as much as it can to find and recruit qualified candidates who live in Philadelphia.

Only then can we build a Police Department that looks like the city it serves.