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By Courtney Levin, Police1 BrandFocus Staff
Hardly a day goes by without a news story related to the difficulties police agencies are facing when recruiting new officers. Some departments are loosening their policies in an effort to attract more candidates while others are offering large signing bonuses to those willing to join their continuously shrinking ranks.
While some of these strategies might work on a short-term basis, few address the significant changes that have recently occurred in the overall recruitment landscape. Today’s candidates are looking for different things compared to would-be officers of decades past, making it essential that agencies gain a deeper understanding of who exactly is looking to join the force.
Some agencies, however, have gotten it right and are finding their recruitment strategies have paid off handsomely. One such department is the DC Metropolitan Police Department, which serves communities within the District of Columbia.
In recent years, MPD has shifted its recruitment focus away from highly tactical advertisements in favor of highlighting the human side of policing. It has developed a set of marketing techniques that have proven successful and can be implemented by agencies of any size across the country.
Here are seven strategies your agency should consider as ways to evolve your recruitment plan.
1. KNOW YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE
It’s fair to say those seeking a career in law enforcement probably share similar personality traits and work ethics. Yet today’s recruits are different from those in the past, and it’s critical that agencies fully understand who potential applicants are.
“Before you start any marketing plan, you need to know who your target audience is and then learn more about them to see which ways you can best market and appeal to them,” said Carly Royden, marketing specialist at MPD.
For many agencies, millennials and Gen Z are the largest groups of individuals who are applying to work in law enforcement. While many group them together, these candidates have differing values and motivations in the workplace.
Royden explains that millennials tend to be job hoppers, moving from organization to organization until they find the place where they feel they can make a difference. Gen Z, on the other hand, exhibits patterns of changing roles within the same organization as they work their way up the career ladder. In essence, millennials crave purpose and the ability to make an impact in their work, whereas Gen Z is more likely to crave financial stability and career growth.
Departments that recognize their recruitment efforts should target both of these groups, based on each group’s preferences, will be better positioned to promote their agency in the most attractive light.
2. EMPHASIZE YOUR COMMUNITY
The public’s trust in law enforcement has declined significantly in recent years. While it’s crucial for agencies to continuously work to repair their community relationships, Royden suggests weaving those efforts into the recruitment landscape as well.
“Your agency should showcase community involvement and how your agency is making an effort to build and improve public trust,” she said.
Photos and videos from community engagement events can be used in a department’s recruitment video or shared on social media. Demonstrating that your agency understands those in your community and actively engages with them will also go a long way toward attracting applicants.
“Community policing is a pillar of the Metropolitan Police Department, and we want to show that in every recruitment campaign,” said Chief Robert J. Contee III. “We are looking for individuals who want to go the extra mile for our communities and who want to make a positive impact in the lives of others.”
3. DEMONSTRATE DIVERSITY
At one point in time, we’ve all researched an organization during a job hunt and tried to picture ourselves working there. Law enforcement is no different, as potential candidates are looking for the department where they will best fit in.
“Approximately 65% of MPD members identify as minorities and over 23% of the force are women,” said MPD’s director of strategic engagement, Lt. Patrick Loftus. “It is extremely important that our advertising reflects the diversity of our agency.”
“People want to see themselves in your marketing materials,” said Royden. “Showcasing women who are able to start as an officer but then rise through the ranks is so important.”
If your department has a broad mix of officers who vary in age, don’t be afraid to talk about it. Maybe your officers represent a range of cultural backgrounds or ethnicities. Whatever makes your agency diverse should be celebrated when it comes to recruitment efforts.
4. FOCUS ON COMPASSION
Recruitment efforts in recent years have heavily emphasized the tactical side of policing and focused on the hard skills of the job. Many agencies are now shifting that strategy to present law enforcement in a more compassionate light.
Marketing videos like the latest from MPD below show the human side of officers while highlighting the empathetic and collaborative aspects of daily duties.
Royden suggests departments show potential candidates that there’s an opportunity to make a true difference by becoming a police officer. Sharing officer stories, announcing achievement awards and recounting instances where lives were saved can all appeal to both millennials and Gen Z applicants.
“This can be an altruistic job and focusing on your officers is the best way to show that compassion and empathy,” said Royden. “There are many impactful stories that officers face every day, and more people need to see that in this career, you can truly make that difference.”
5. OUTLINE FUTURE OPPORTUNITIES
Many officers enter law enforcement with the desire to move up the ranks over time. However, Gen Z applicants are particularly focused on their potential career growth within a department. Rather than simply market the open positions available within your agency, take time to emphasize what may lie ahead.
“Gen Z wants to see how they can grow within a specific agency,” said Royden. “Illustrate that officers can become detectives or join a specialized unit after just three years on patrol and these opportunities can provide the financial stability and career growth Gen Z applicants are looking for.”
Career advancement, of course, comes with more than just a new title and duties. Some agencies may find it helpful to outline an officer’s salary potential as well when talking about future opportunities.
6. EMBRACE YOUR UNIQUENESS
Any officer who has worked at more than one agency will tell you no two departments are alike. Instead of marketing your agency as just another place to become an officer, Royden suggests highlighting what makes your department different from the potential dozen other agencies an applicant is likely exploring.
Candidates are doing research online, she says, and are looking at agency websites and recruiting websites to try to decipher what makes one agency stand apart from another.
Whether your marketing material shows the people in your community or a particular feature of your town, including the unique aspects of your agency is important. With so many short-staffed agencies nationwide, candidates can afford the luxury of being particular when searching for a law enforcement role, so make sure your department stands out from the rest.
7. CAPITALIZE ON TECHNOLOGY
Just about every job seeker today uses the internet to explore career opportunities, so the more your department can solidify an online presence, the better. Some agencies, like MPD, direct candidates to a specific recruiting website that’s tailored to potential applicants. In addition to being better able to craft your recruitment messaging on a dedicated site, agencies can use tools like Google Analytics to measure its performance and see where applicants are coming from.
Separate social media channels dedicated to recruiting are also a smart idea, says Royden. When coupled with a recruitment website, a Facebook, Instagram or Twitter presence can help attract motivated candidates.
“People are doing their research,” she said. “They want to know what their life is going to be like at your agency. It matters how you represent yourself online and how you represent your agency through marketing.”
Visit The Metropolitan Police Department for more information.
Read next: 6 ways one of the largest PDs in the nation is taking on the recruiting challenge – and winning