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Philly police recruitment up 42% following $1M advertising campaign

Following assessment, recruits must pass a criminal history check as well as physical fitness and reading assessments, which have had certain challenges


Tom Gralish/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS

By Sarah Roebuck

PHILADELPHIA — An emerging advertising initiative focused on attracting potential Philadelphia police recruits appears to be paying off, WHYY reports.

The advertisements are strategically designed to address the need for staffing numerous open positions within the department.

Michael Zaccagni, the City Director of Human Resources, noted that the recent allocation of funds from the city council has led to a 42% increase in recruitment compared to the two preceding recruitment phases.

“What we saw when we asked people where did you hear this from, the police website still comes up number one, but we saw an increase in SEPTA, billboard and Facebook,” Zaccagni told WHYY.

The campaign’s success can be credited to its extended timeline, a strengthened novel digital approach, and a significant historic investment in recruitment efforts, the City of Philadelphia said. The city council allocated $1 million toward recruitment activities in the final period of the 2022-2023 fiscal year, marking the council’s inaugural financial commitment to a police recruitment campaign.

Display advertisements were optimized for mobile and computer displays, and strategically placed on websites and apps frequented by the target audience, resulting in the highest impression count (indicating the frequency of ad views). Social media platforms, specifically YouTube, TikTok, and Facebook, generated a substantial number of “apply now” clicks.

“Philadelphia is experiencing the same challenges as most police departments across the country struggling to fill their ranks,” City Council President Darrell L. Clarke (5th District) said in a statement. “We know the shortage of police officers can affect public safety. The Philadelphia Police Department’s previous budget didn’t allow them to invest advertising dollars in new digital strategies, so we in Council wanted to support and get behind their recruitment efforts. We’re glad the campaign resulted in a significant jump in applications, and we hope, more recruits entering the Police Academy.”

The recruitment effort is just the initial stage of a multi-phase approach aimed at transforming candidates into sworn officers. Following assessment, recruits must pass a criminal history check as well as physical fitness and reading assessments, which have presented certain challenges.

The physical fitness segment of the evaluation can be rapidly instructed, but Zaccagni said that an individual’s criminal history, in most instances, remains a lasting record, regardless of whether it happened a decade ago. The reading test is also an area in which the city is working with state authorities, as there is a limitation of employing only one test. The city is actively trying to incorporate supplementary tests into the evaluation process.

“We have incredible officers but there are not enough of them given we are the fourth largest police department in the country,” Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw in a statement. “As the department continues its commitments to crime prevention and reduction, community engagement and inclusion, and organizational excellence, we hope to attract high-quality candidates who will join us and help meet our goals.”