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6 ways one of the largest PDs in the nation is taking on the recruiting challenge – and winning

Metropolitan PD is moving the needle on recruitment thanks to a few strategies your agency can adopt


Sponsored by The Metropolitan Police Department

By Laura Neitzel, Police1 BrandFocus Staff

The Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C. is one of the oldest police departments in the nation. Founded by President Abraham Lincoln in 1861 to safeguard the nation’s capital, today its over 3,500 officers respond to calls throughout the District of Columbia and work alongside Capitol Police and other federal law enforcement agencies.

A new class of graduates from Metro PD's Academy reflect the diversity of the community.
A new class of graduates from Metro PD's Academy reflect the diversity of the community. (Metro PD)

Like most other law enforcement agencies in the nation, MPD is facing difficulty in recruiting and hiring the number of quality officers it needs.  Academy classes start monthly, and it has an ambitious goal of hiring 25 recruits every month.  While 65% of MPD’s officers come from diverse racial backgrounds, it is looking to further diversify the force and, in particular, reach a goal of 30% female officers by 2030.

Through a well-thought-out marketing and recruitment strategy, MPD has widened its net to reach a larger pool of applicants without muddling its message. Here are six efforts that are paying off that your agency can learn from, as well.

1.    Widen the net

In an industry needing to attract new career seekers to its ranks, MPD is looking outside traditional channels to fill its ranks.

While MPD certainly attracts applicants who have always dreamed of being a police officer, the department is also reaching out to individuals who didn’t study criminal justice or haven’t considered a career in law enforcement. People with diverse backgrounds and academic fields of study often add a valuable range of different perspectives and bring qualities and skills – like empathy, conflict resolution and communication skills – that make a police officer more effective.

2.   Know your audience

The No. 1 rule of effective communication is to know your audience. But when you cast a wide net, it can be challenging to hone a message that resonates with more than one audience at a time.

Before crafting its messaging, MPD marketing specialist Carly Ferreira conducted in-depth research on two generational cohorts MPD seeks to reach in its recruiting efforts: millennials (born from 1981 to 1995) and Generation Z (born between 1996 and 2012).

Members of these two generations approach life goals from distinctly different perspectives born out of the political, economic and social factors that defined their formative years.

For millennials like Ferreira, the defining event was 9/11.

“I was in second grade when 9/11 happened. We saw the whole world change before our eyes,” she said. “We think that kind of instilled in us the drive to find meaning in our day-to-day and work. That's why for millennials we highlight that you can make an impact through this career. You can make a difference every day.”

For members of Gen Z – who have most recently entered the workforce – the momentous event was the financial crisis of 2008. As children, many saw their parents lose jobs and experience financial stress at home. Consequently, members of Gen Z tend to be more cautious with risk-taking and seek stability once they settle into a career.

Millennials like working with a team, so Ferreira recommends showing the camaraderie that officers can have with one another and the teamwork they execute every day on the job. When targeting Generation Z, Ferreira suggests creating messaging around financial stability in a law enforcement career and growth opportunities at your department.

MPD’s Chief of Police, Robert J. Contee, said, “A career as a police officer can truly be an enriching one. No two days are the same, and every day you come to work is a chance to make a difference in someone’s life. MPD is looking for those change-makers to join our force and help change the future of policing.”

3.   Dedicate a website (or microsite) to recruiting

Ferreira highly recommends that, if possible, agencies have their own separate recruiting website or microsite within the department’s main page. Having a separate website allows agencies to track where applicants are coming from, how they heard about the agency and what pages they visit, helping inform agencies where they are gaining traction in their recruiting efforts. 

MPD has a dedicated website for recruiting that speaks to both its target generations by including content that is both inspiring and informational.

The website speaks transparently about MPD’s mission, culture and the standard of excellence and dedication required to be an MPD officer. It also describes ways to join MPD, required qualifications, the application process, starting salary, benefits, opportunities for promotion and the training and equipment that MPD provides to its officers.

Importantly, the website also lists factors that automatically disqualify applicants from consideration.

“On our website, we let applicants know up front what the process looks like, because it can be daunting,” said Ferreira. “Letting them know exactly what they need to do helps streamline the process.”

4.   Narrow the field quickly

Another way MPD streamlines the hiring process is by hosting “Prospect Days” to quickly weed out unqualified applicants and cut the hiring time for qualified recruits.

Prospect Day – held every other Friday at MPD’s police academy – allows each applicant to complete multiple steps of the application process in person in a single day. After submitting their preparation packet upon arrival, the applicant:

  • Is fingerprinted as part of MPD’s criminal history check to determine eligibility.
  • Meets with a background investigator for a preliminary review of their background.
  • Has the option to take a written exam (or they can take it later at home).
  • Has the option to sign up for future medical appointments.
  • Takes a physical ability test to determine their ability to perform essential physical tasks.

Requiring all applicants to participate in a Prospect Day helps MPD quickly get to know the candidates and decide which ones will be good fits for the department. It also avoids unnecessarily prolonging the process with paperwork, exams and multiple meetings.

As a result of Prospect Day and other recruiting efforts, MPD’s time to hire currently averages 42 days.

5.   Show life beyond the badge

While not every law enforcement agency has the luxury of a marketing department or marketing budget –  or in-person events like Prospect Day – almost all have a social media page and officers with smartphones. Ferreira recommends using these tools to create and post videos that can boost recruiting efforts.

Some of the most effective videos for social media are those that provide glimpses of “a day in the life” of officers in various roles, from patrol officer to detective to K-9. Other effective videos showcase officer good deeds and interactions in the community, giving prospects an idea of the department’s culture as well as officers’ personalities beyond the badge.

MPD recently created a recruiting video that contains elements that appeal to both millennials’ desire for a meaningful career and Gen Z’s desire for a secure career path.  MDP is using the video in a social media campaign and on local television in D.C., as well as in New York City, which has been a fertile ground for MPD recruiting.

Watch MPD’s new recruiting video:

 

6.   Tell your unique story

MPD’s recruiting video not only shows variety in the job, it includes shots of D.C. landmarks that make MPD’s jurisdiction special. Ferreira advises other departments to show what makes their department unique.

“Even if you're a small department, your officers have stories to tell,” said Ferreira. “They have impactful moments that they can share or their experiences in the department growing their career. Your officers are your best asset, and that organic content can generate some buzz for your recruiting efforts.”

Visit Metropolitan Police Department’s recruiting site at joinmpd.dc.gov to learn more.

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