Recruitment: What Business Are We In?

For decades, police recruitment materials looked like ads for vehicle dealers.  We showed everything from motorcycles to jet skis to helicopters.  But we didn’t show what is at its best one of society’s most important and fascinating public professions.

The ads made one wonder: for what line of work are these images recruiting people?  For military service? For the transportation industry?  For Executive Security?

The Massachusetts Major City Chiefs, in Briefing Paper on recruitment and hiring, said this,

“We seek to attract young people who have the combination of character traits and desire to be great cops, as that work is defined throughout this document.  The job is not for anyone who fits a hiring preference or scores a high mark on the civil service test. We need people who can solve complex human problems, take command, extend empathy and sympathy, manage danger, bring order to chaos, and make the most profound decisions an officer of the state can make: whether to take a life and/or liberty.”

To carry out the duties described above we need candidates who have high ideals and who want to be leaders in the community.  They must have some important character traits:

  • Courage: be capable of managing their own fear in order to protect others.
  • Compassion: posses an honest concern for the welfare of people of all walks of life and all backgrounds who will call on the police for help at some point.
  • Discipline: possess the ability to do the right thing in complex situations.

I think we need to do three new things with recruitment.

Define the profession correctly, with images that signify the admirable duties and traits suggested above.

For example, I can go on many web sites and find out how many arrests the Boston PD made in 2012.  Where do I go to find out how many lives those BPD arrests — and multifarious other activities — saved in 2012?  

Target the market. Go to where we might find people who fit the bill.  Why not recruit at Social Work programs? Psychology departments?  Divinity programs?  Among DSS social workers?  Target people in programs that attract and develop compassionate, socially-oriented, courageous professionals.

Go to these places early, to reach high school students and college freshmen.  For example, why can’t the police run a community service fair/competition in the local high school(s) to encourage and attract community-oriented kids to consider a police career? Create materials that speak to young people about the truly important profession that is policing.

An excerpt from today’s Boston Herald.  By the way the applicants are still as large as in the past 20 years.  The number of them has gotten smaller

“BPD: Applicants have ‘dwindled’”

Sunday, March 17, 2013 — Anonymous (not verified)
John Zaremba [2]

Boston cops, faced with a dramatic, bewildering drop in candidates for police jobs, are launching a citywide blitz to boost their recruitment numbers, pushing applications at neighborhood meetings, on social media and even at yesterday’s St. Patrick’s Day parade.

“We’ve been everywhere. We’ve really blanketed the entire city,” said Boston police Deputy Superintendent Lisa Holmes, who is leading the BPD’s recruitment drive. “I don’t know why the numbers have dwindled. I think that’s a question every law-enforcement agency nationwide is trying to answer, because everyone is having the same issue recruiting.”

“…Getting people on the ground, out there talking to people and answering questions about what the job entails is very effective,” BPD recruiting chief Holmes said. “A lot of people have the image of what they see policing to be based on what the media shows and what TV shows. …. For the most part, being a police officer is about helping people in their everyday lives.”

She said the jury’s out on whether “Boston’s Finest,” the Donnie Wahlberg-produced TNT cop show, will attract applicants or repel them. But she said Wahlberg — a huge BPD fan — volunteered to make a recruiting video.

“He really loves the city and he loves the police department. He’s been a really great ally for us,” Holmes said. “The TV show coincides with our recruiting. … I’m sure it has helped people pay a little more attention.”

Boston Herald front page – March 18, 2012



About stephenomeara

My name is Jim Jordan. I have had the privilege of working with the Boston Police Department and hundreds more departments over my nearly 30-year career in police administration and city government. I am now teaching and consulting independently at I have learned the best of what I know from the thousands of smart, dedicated and ethical police personnel and scholars who have guided me along the way. My address is named for the great Reform commissioner of the Boston Police at the turn of the 20th century. Commissioner O'Meara died just a short while before the Strike in 1919. He was replaced by a vicious puppet (of Gov. Coolidge) named Edwin U. Curtis. Had O'Meara lived events may have turned out quite differently.
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