Category Archives: Recruitment

How authentic is your recruitment message?

Going through my Google Alerts the other morning, I saw this news article from the Edmonton (Alberta, Canada) Sun: “Tech-savvy cop looks for recruits.” Curious, I went over to Cst. Jonathan Chan’s Twitter page and found:


My kneejerk: does it make sense for a new cop to be recruiting? Well… yes and no.

Recruiting with balance

“Authenticity” is one of the buzzwords of social media, ranking right up there with “transparency.” To be transparent means to show who’s doing the blogging and tweeting, not hiding behind a logo or using a team to do it all for you. To be authentic means you blog and tweet as yourself sharing your experiences.

Cst. Chan is both. He tweets under his own name, and he doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a rookie. In this regard, to have a new cop tweeting as a recruitment tool is not a bad idea. They have the kind of fresh perspective on the job which only a new cop can have.

And it’s not as if Cst. Chan isn’t tweeting about realities like:


I just can’t help thinking that when he tweets about working with child intervention teams, or taking family violence classes, something is missing.

The Baltimore Police Department hits closer with its video, “Cop for a Day.”

From a traffic stop to, yes, a family fight, in just one minute the video manages to do an effective job at showing what police work really involves.

And yet, if most people join the force “to help people”… what’s the most effective way to show helping?

How painful are the painful realities?

Back a few months I was talking to Heather Steele, president of the Innocent Justice Foundation. At one point I asked her something like, “When you’re honest about the kind of work the Internet Crimes Against Children task forces do, doesn’t that put cops off working there?”

Her answer: an emphatic no. “Plenty of cops want to do what they can to get child predators off the streets,” she told me.

It makes sense. Some may apply, believing the bulk of the job is pretending to be a 14-year-old girl in a chatroom, but leave once faced with brutal videos.

Or not. Det. Sgt. Paul Gillespie, of the Toronto Police Service’s Sex Crimes Unit, pulls no punches talking about the soul-crushing realities of child pornography. But he also talks hope. A 2006 ABC News story quoted him as saying:

When we do start to feel sorry for ourselves or start to wonder how can we can look at one more picture, one more movie, we all of a sudden remember, how does it feel to be that innocent child who doesn’t know any better who has no way out?… When times are bad, and times are bad sometimes, you pick it up and have hope for the future,” he said. “We know when we take an offender off the streets or we rescue a child, we’ve ultimately rescued more children and you sleep well at night.

Recruit with honesty

Edmonton police are clear that their Twitter recruitment efforts are just an experiment, but I hope they’ll consider adding to it. I think it doesn’t hurt to have new recruits tweeting, but police agencies shouldn’t be afraid to temper the wide-eyed excitement with the jading of a 10-year veteran—as long as it’s done in such a way as to make new recruits believe they can make a difference.

Prevailing opinion about Gen Y is that it’s uniquely idealistic, believing it can and will make a real difference in the world. But it’s also a cynical generation, needing “proof” of this impact. As one opinion put it, “We’re terrified our lives won’t matter.”

So when it comes to police recruiting on social media, a tweet like Cst. Chan’s “Learning how child intervention teams and police services can effectively work together” is a good start. Stories like Sgt. Gillespie’s round out the picture.

How can your department balance energy with experience to create an irresistible recruitment message?

Image: Arenamontanus via Flickr

Getting help with social media’s day to day

Consider hiring an intern for day-to-day social media tasks

Consider hiring an intern for day-to-day social media tasks

In the last few weeks I’ve explored why more law enforcement officers and agencies are not jumping on board the social media bandwagon; the dangers of official or unofficial officer use; and the importance of a good social media policy, whether or not your agency is officially using social media.

What now?

Social media is overwhelming. The number of sites, the numbers of people, the amount of information. Even administrators who want their agencies involved may be unsure of where to start. This may be why so many departments focus on Facebook and Twitter: they make it easier to manage it all, make interactions one-way.

But agencies need more. As I’ll explain in the next few weeks, Facebook and Twitter don’t make an entire social media program. For one thing, agencies have to be able to hear what’s going on in the community—not just use a new medium to reach out. And they have to know how to build a strategy, not just rely on the latest tools.

Whether you’ve found a good, reputable social media consultant, or are reading the best social media blogs and learning as you go, at some point you are going to have to implement the strategy. When it comes to day-to-day maintenance, because many law enforcement agencies no longer have the personnel to commit to extra duties, what can they do?

Professor Carter F. Smith has an interesting idea: use interns. While this idea has met with criticism in corporate circles, Smith proposes supervised social media outreach. In effect, this would make the intern part of a social media team rather than “in charge” of a program:

Under the guidance of an experienced academic, and directed by the agency itself, interns would:

  • promote the police department using a variety of social media such as Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Yahoo!Groups, etc.
  • maintain the Twitter account with posts reflecting arrest trends, wanted persons, Amber Alerts, and other police information needing immediate public assistance.
  • maintain the department’s Facebook Fan page, to include promoting events and monitoring communications
  • inform the department representative of any problems exposed in the social media domain so the department can determine how to respond appropriately.
  • monitor police-related communications (comments regarding the department or criminal activity in the jurisdiction) may also be included.

Fit the intern to your agency

Smith’s plan follows the formula many law enforcement agencies have begun to follow, but a wide variety of possibilities exists according to an agency’s needs—including the need not to be directly involved in social media just yet.

Some of the most important takeaways from this particular article:

(Social) Media Research: Which social media platforms are your main media contacts using? Are they blogging? Using Twitter? Do they want to be contacted through any of these by your company? This is a long term project, but might be really helpful to some of your colleagues who are apt to “pitch first and ask questions later.”

(For police departments, “main media contacts” doesn’t just mean reporters—it means the community, too. If you’re concerned that only a percentage of your citizens are using Twitter, find out what else they might be using.)

RSS building: I’ve said before that an RSS feed is one of the most important tools for any communications professional. If you’ve never taken the time to set up an RSS reader to monitor social media activity around your brand, your client or your industry, this is an awesome task for an intern. Once it’s set up, though, you have to use it! Here’s a good place to start.

Blog monitoring: There are hundreds of millions of blogs, and probably hundreds that reference your brand or industry. So how do you choose which ones to follow? I’ve written about this before, but perhaps your intern can conduct some research and report back about the most important blogs in your niche.

These two items have to do with “listening” to what is being said about the agency online. The foundation to social media success, it means the ability to communicate with citizens about what concerns them the most—not what you only think are their biggest concerns.

Social media doesn’t have to be overwhelming, and neither does finding someone to help you implement it. It also doesn’t have to be costly or add too much to someone’s workload. If you can find the right intern from the right college, putting an intern on a department’s social media team makes sense—for the intern, the college, the agency, and ultimately, the community too.

Image: NIOSH via Flickr

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What Gen Y means to law enforcement

Image credit: NCinDC via Flickr

Image credit: NCinDC via Flickr

I got to thinking about this last night as I wrote a comment on this post. What does Generation Y really mean to law enforcement?

It was already on my mind as I recently finished an article on police recruiting and retention in this economy. (Shameless self-promotion: it will be out in the March/April issue of Police & Security News.)

Two of my sources had brought up Gen Y and their unique needs, suggesting that Gen Y’ers really don’t need all that much to be happy on the job. They’ve been portrayed as selfish and needy (isn’t every generation of young people?) but in reality, because they seek a better quality of work-life balance than they saw their parents get, it won’t take much to get—or keep—them. Think flexible work days instead of lucrative signing bonuses. Or the ability to install XM satellite radio in their take-home cars.

Not their parents’ social change

So what does this have to do with PR? Again, Gen Y really doesn’t demand much. As I wrote last night: “They are asking for information. They want to understand. They want to fix what’s wrong. They seek collaboration with authority to do it. That’s a striking counterpoint to their parents, the boomers, who protested against authority in all forms.”

Think about that. These kids were raised to seek input, to look up to authority rather than to tear it down. I think this makes it less likely that this generation will continue to repeat their parents’ and grandparents’ mistakes when it comes to police-community relations. Sure, some will: those trapped in the endless rut of groupthink bred in many neighborhoods (and no, I’m not just talking about inner cities; I see just as much of it out here in the sticks).

Go with their flow

What law enforcement needs to target with both public relations and recruitment, then, are the Gen Y’ers who want to be part of something better. Recruit them with intangible benefits rather than the salary-and-benefits packages their parents expected. Retain them by allowing them to use social media to reach out to their civilian peers, to take community policing to the Internet.

Sure, it means establishing strict policies on exactly what kind of information can be released, and it also means carefully guiding officers (with discipline as a last resort) as they blog or tweet or comment on MySpace and Facebook. There’s another blog entry or two right there.

But bear in mind that many corporations, which have at least as much of a reason to want to withhold information as police departments, are more and more allowing their employees to build relationships online. They understand that human connections, when people believe they are valued and trusted, make sales.

What “building relationships” could mean

How does this translate to public agencies? Maybe it’s as simple as cutting the police department some slack in cases like the BART shooting, when information cannot be immediately released during an active investigation. Imagine officers jumping online in the moments after the incident, not necessarily to talk, but simply to listen as their peers react—essentially providing a kind of critical incident “debriefing” to those who have just seen a horrifying video, who seek reassurance that they can still trust their police?

No, social media is not a cure-all. Some problems will never be solved, online or off. But I do think police departments have a unique opportunity to connect with civilians in ways they never have before. Social media tools are free and easily available. The question is not why should you–it’s what do you have to lose?

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