Washington, D.C., police recruiter Phil Honoré is like college football and basketball coaches scrambling to sign the same blue-chip prospects, the Washington Post reports. “Today’s applicant, they want to be courted,” said Honoré, who formerly was a uniformed officer for both the District and the Department of Defense. “They want to know, ‘Does [the police department] want me?’ ” The answer is a resounding yes. However, for various reasons, including perceived dangers of the job, the prying eyes of roaming citizen-videographers, a younger generation less enamored with public service, and the sour “Ferguson effect,” police work has lost some luster.
The talent pool is thinner, vacancies harder to fill. In the spring Dallas canceled two police academy classes for lack of interest. Chicago was forced to lower its minimum age for rookie officers from 25 to 18. Philadelphia dumped a college-credits requirement. In the capital city, where the dynamic has been complicated by a retirement bubble, the police department’s head count shrank to 3,786 in December, the lowest in at least a decade. Ben Haiman until recently oversaw police training and recruiting for the D.C. police. He says that last year, 41 percent of new officers hired by D.C. police were black, 38.9 percent white, 14.4 percent Hispanic, 5.4 percent Asian and 0.36 percent Native American. Sixty-three percent had a bachelor’s or master’s degree. But applications declined some 26 percent from 2013 to 2014 and dipped another 28 percent from 2014 to 2015. The days of waiting for new blood to walk through the door are over. The D.C. police department has developed what’s arguably the most high-tech recruiting operation of any large city. Ninety percent of applicants make initial contact via smartphone or tablet. The department is active on Twitter and Facebook yet still employs some old-fashioned tactics. What could be lower-tech than a rear-window decal? Virtually every vehicle in the fleet (even the chief’s) has one that reads, “Join us. DCpolicejobs.dc.gov.” In this harsh recruiting climate any idea short of kidnapping merits consideration.