Phoenix PD’s ‘Before the Badge’ video series profiles officers’ diverse employment histories

These stories offer the community a perspective they might not have considered: the men and women in uniform are relatable with prior careers just like them


By Stephanie Barnes

The Phoenix (Arizona) Police Department recently introduced a video series that profiles some of our officers' employment histories before joining our organization.

From a middle school teacher to a professional hockey player to a certified public accountant, our police department in the country’s fifth-largest city boasts a diverse group of officers.

The series is designed to humanize the badge, highlighting the men and women who make up the Phoenix Police Department. These stories offer the community a perspective on their city’s police officers that they might not have previously considered: the men and women in uniform are relatable with prior careers just like them. The opportunity to connect with our community on different platforms gives us common ground, which in turn brings more interactions on social media.

The series kicks off with Detective Erika Johnson who is one of the department’s Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) officers. Our CIT officers voluntarily opt to receive 40 extra hours of behavioral health training and are sent on calls for mental health issues. This position fits well with her other career as a licensed therapist.

“It’s really helpful in almost every situation,” Det. Johnson said of her practice as a licensed therapist. “From a traffic stop to a really high-intensity scene where people are in crisis, or there are multiple family members involved, it is extremely beneficial in just kind of wrapping it all together, because it’s basically learning how to talk to someone.”

Allowing Det. Johnson to tell her story and provide personal insight into why she chose to help those who are experiencing a mental crisis bolsters our message that we are here for the community and we care.

There is also a story about Commander Ed DeCastro who started as a bilingual math and science teacher at a local middle school. Now, he leads the department’s Violent Crimes Bureau.

“I wanted to be a teacher because I wanted to help the community, I wanted to help kids,” Commander DeCastro explained. “My thought process was, ‘well [police work] is just a different way to help the community.’”

An overwhelming theme in each “Before the Badge” video is the idea that diverse backgrounds make for a strong team. Each person brings different experiences and skillsets with them because of what they did before they were an officer. These videos connect all of us as parents, brothers, or sisters who happen to wear a uniform.

A recruiting tool

The series is serving as a recruiting tool, too. These videos, shared on the city’s Newsroom and the department’s social platforms, show prospective officers that there are many routes one can take to becoming an officer.

One of the more unique stories in the series is that of Sergeant Troy Hillman who currently heads up the department’s cold case squad. Before the badge, he was a certified public accountant with PricewaterhouseCoopers.

“I wanted to use my problem-solving, analytical skills to chase bad guys,” Sgt. Hillman said of his career switch. “And also, kind of give back to the community and just help people.”

Improving officer morale

We also found that the series has had an impact on the morale of our officers. There is something special about seeing someone speak about the passion they bring to the career, and how much they enjoy working with others in the department. The recognition and support from their peers and sharing information about someone you may see walking down the hallway has been immeasurable. The videos are first shared internally in our department’s newsletter to all sworn and civilian staff.

The job of a police officer can be disheartening when much of the conversation on social media is negative toward the profession. These videos, however, have generated fresh conversation around the career, highlighting the people wearing the badge, their path to the job and the skills they have learned along the way.

Find creative ways to showcase officers

Positively impacting our officers and our community at the same time is why these videos have seen so much success. We would encourage other law enforcement agencies to find creative ways to bring attention to their officers. 

The videos are shot, written, voiced and edited by a reporter in the department’s Public Affairs Bureau. The videos run between two and three minutes and feature an interview with the officer, a video of them working in their current job and photos of them in their career before the badge.

Officers featured in this series are primarily chosen by word of mouth. As the stories get shared internally, officers reach out to our reporter and pitch stories of fellow officers who they believe should be profiled. The amount of pride that is felt from those officers is why this project is important. This word of mouth has allowed the talent pool to continue to grow. Attention is given to profiling officers of all ranks. To date, the series has included a patrol officer, a community action officer, a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) detective, a cold case sergeant, a public standards lieutenant and a violent crimes commander.

We are now regularly asked when the next "Before the Badge" video is being shared. New videos go out every other Sunday on our Phoenix Police Department’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Nextdoor. You can find all videos in the series on YouTube. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do.

NEXT: How Shop with a Cop humanizes the badge


About the author

Stephanie Barnes is a multi-media specialist for the Phoenix Police Department.

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