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