The New York Times

September 17, 2006

New Strategies for Police Recruiters


On a drizzly August evening at Shea Stadium, as fans watched the Mets triumph over the Colorado Rockies, many of them also saw an unusual advertisement. The Dallas Police Department was looking for recruits, and its ad, posted in a men’s room, boasted a $10,000 signing bonus. It may seem a stretch — asking New Yorkers to apply for police jobs in Dallas — but competition among law enforcement agencies is fierce, and departments are casting wider nets and using new recruitment strategies.

In New York City, the number of people applying to take the police exam in the year that ended June 30 was down almost 30 percent from the previous year, said George W. Anderson, the Police Department’s deputy chief of personnel. Not everyone who signs up for the exam takes it, and nearly 42 percent fewer applicants took it in 2006 than in 2005. “Recruitment,” Chief Anderson said, “is a constant challenge.”

Philadelphia, where about 30 officers leave the department each month, has also seen a drop in the number of applicants taking its police exam. In San Diego, the Police Department is 172 positions below budget, said Lt. Ernesto Salgado, who oversees recruitment, and is losing about 17 officers a month. “We are trying various recruitment tactics,” he said. “We just started going to military bases here to give the written test.”

Last fall, after the Detroit Police Department announced layoffs, Denver recruiters went to Detroit to administer the police exam. And those ballpark ads, like the ones at Shea Stadium, resulted in several inquiries to Dallas, but not enough to meet its needs.

“Law enforcement is not the career people are choosing now,” said Sgt. Terry Stovall, who oversees Dallas’s recruitment.

Other recruiters say that since Sept. 11, competition from federal agencies, like the Department of Homeland Security and the F.B.I., has intensified, as has competition from private security companies and among police departments. Big-city departments raid one another, and suburban departments take recruits from cities, offering competitive salaries and a better quality of life. Jeremy Wilson, associate director of the Rand Center on Quality Policing, said the main causes of the understaffing were baby boomer retirements, military call-ups and an inability to raise salaries.

In New York City, a low starting salary — reduced in January to $25,100 from $28,900 — has hurt recruitment, said both Chief Anderson and Patrick Lynch, president of the police officers’ union, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. And the top salary, $59,588, “is not competitive with surrounding jurisdictions,” Mr. Lynch said.

“Police officers look at the whole trajectory of their career,” he said. “They will accept the risks that come with police work because they want to follow their passion into law enforcement. But they also want to be able to put food on the table.”

Even before the starting salary was cut, New York ranked 157th among the nation’s 200 largest cities in police compensation, according to, which monitors police pay and benefits.

Chief Anderson said the department experienced an increase in applications for the examination after 9/11, but the numbers soon retreated to their earlier levels and have declined since. The latest contract, which lowered the starting salary, caused a decline of roughly 30 percent, he said.

Recruiters also face generational challenges. The 18-to-25-year-old job seeker isn’t necessarily willing to work his way up the ladder. Ann Fishman, president of a marketing firm based in New Orleans, Generational Targeted Marketing Corporation, said this group tends to want “almost unrealistically rapid career advancement.”

Lt. Harold Chatman, who directs recruiting for the Denver police, said many recruits leave the police academy early because they think of police work as a job, not a career. “They tell us they didn’t like it as much as they thought they would,” he said. “So they just quit and find something else.” He added: “Some of these recruits don’t realize they will be answering calls for service, many of those civil disputes. They want car chases and shootouts and breaking up big bar fights. But the vast majority of the work is paperwork.”

The result is that departments nationwide are scrambling to attract applicants. Some offer signing bonuses, a bump in salary for law enforcement experience, flexible schedules, or modified hiring requirements. Departments also recruit in places they never have before — at stadiums, beaches, military bases, job fairs — and increasingly turn to professionals for help.

The New York Police Department hired the Bernard Hodes Group, a recruitment advertising agency, to create the Truth Campaign, featuring photographs of officers with quotations that express their feelings about working for the department. “This is the most fictionalized police department in the world, and we wanted to give a realistic picture,” said Nick Burkett, the firm’s regional creative director. The advertisements have been in subway cars and stations, and on billboards and job boards. After the campaign started in 2003, New York had more recruits enter the academy than it had in any class in the previous decade, Mr. Burkett said. Deputy Chief Anderson said that without the ads, the department “would not have the numbers of people applying now that we do have.”

This year, R & R Partners, a Las Vegas marketing firm, developed the Protect the City advertising campaign for the Las Vegas police. The ads resemble 1940’s comic strips, stylized black-and-white images that portray the “heroic status police officers had then,” said Lt. Charles Hank, head of recruitment.

“It is designed to attract a generation being exposed to similar images in the media, like Spider-Man, Superman and the Fantastic Four,” he said.

And the characters have no distinguishable race or age, so “everyone can see themselves as a police officer,” Lieutenant Hank said.

He said the ads, along with the introduction last year of online applications, had been a big factor in a “significant spike” in the number of applicants. Applications in May and June more than doubled from the numbers recorded in those months last year, Lieutenant Hank said, to 2,392 from 1,095.