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How to Recruit Police Officers

How to Recruit Police Officers

State Police Traffic Stop on a Highway. Police Cruiser with Flashing Lights.

A new, innovative, proven mobile and digital marketing strategy to recruit new police officers and cadets for your police force.

The Police Shortage in America

While the job market bounced back after declining employment from COVID, the shortage of police officers in the United States only got worse. In fact, according to The Marshall Report, the number of Americans employed in law enforcement decreased by 4% from 2020 to 2022. That’s a total of 18,000 jobs lost. 

Cities such as Tulsa, Oklahoma, a city with a violent crime rate that is twice the national average, are struggling with 160 vacant policing jobs. Austin, Texas is another city that has been especially hard hit with resignations from police officers. Austin saw a decline of 352 officers in 2020 and 2021 combined. That’s 22% of its total police force! Baltimore lost over 300 police officers in 2022 alone!

Many police chiefs blame the highly publicized killing of George Floyd as a major contributor to the shortage of those wanting to become police officers. Protests and a growing public distrust of the local police force have made the job of law enforcement to be significantly less appealing, especially to younger adults. In general, Millennials and Gen Z’ers are more likely to prioritize work-life balance than older generations. Police work, unfortunately, means that officers will likely need to work mandatory overtime, overnight shifts, and work on holidays – a lifestyle that young adults increasingly are hoping to avoid.

Policing has always been a dangerous job, but recently it’s become more dangerous indeed. According to a September 2022 study conducted by the National Fraternal Order of Police, the number of police officers shot on duty is up 6% from this time just two years ago.

As an alternative to law enforcement, the private sector has become an attractive alternative. In addition to being less dangerous and providing greater flexibility, private jobs have no salary caps to earning potential. Some police officers have grown online side hustles to the point where they earn more on them than on their police work. When COVID flourished, many officers opted to stay home and work on their online businesses instead of spending all day out in public during a pandemic. 

The Path to a New Police Officer Applicant

The key to finding new police officers through our targeting process is to identify the candidates that are most likely to be interested in becoming part of the police force, then send them to a simple registration page, and feed them immediately into a database for your police recruiter to contact.

You want your marketing message to use aspirational imagery. In other words, the responsive candidate will see the image and think “that could be me.” 

If you accomplish this, the click or tap through will lead to a simple landing page on social media or as part of Purplegator’s exclusive Mobile Acquire landing page technology. Keep the form fill simple and don’t ask for too much information at this point. All you really need is contact information. Remember, it’s not easy to fill out a long form on a mobile device and most of your candidates, especially the younger ones, will be interacting via mobile.

Once the applicant has submitted his or her interest, your human resources contact will get an immediate message. It is imperative that the HR person follow up immediately, as the prospective cadet or officer may be considering other options at that time as well. 

Recruiting Passive Candidates for Your Police Force

You’ve tried advertising on Indeed and Zip Recruiter, but it’s not generating the applicants you need to fill your vacant police officer positions. That’s likely because if a candidate is interested in police work, finding a job is not very difficult today. So, why would they be actively searching for jobs on the online employment sites? 

Our many years of experience in recruitment has shown that recruiting passive candidates is a far better strategy than engaging with people actively seeking jobs. According to a study conducted by a human resources director at a major trucking company, those truck drivers recruited via our strategy led to better performing employees who stayed with the organization 2.3 times longer than those recruited through other means. 

Relevance Raises Response: Targeting Police Officers Online

You could purchase traditional advertising such as billboards and radio ads, but only a small percentage of those who saw or heard your ad would be interested in joining your police force. Mobile and digital marketing changes all that thanks to the enormous amount of demographic and interest targeting information that we have on those most likely to be interested in law enforcement careers.

Purplegator provides several strategies for putting your mobile and digital message in front of those candidates who are most likely to engage with your recruitment advertisement and then fill out a preliminary screening application. Let’s take a look at some of those targeting strategies.

Targeting Known Police Officers

In 2019, Facebook faced legal action from groups citing bias in its advertising targeting tactics that enabled employers to use age and other factors in determining whom it would serve ads to. This caused Facebook (and its Instagram platform) to eliminate nearly all of the targeting tactics that used its demographic data for employment ads. 

Since Facebook was one of the most effective internet advertising platforms for recruitment, we had to find another way to put employment ads in the feeds of those most likely to be interested in job opportunities such as police officers. By partnering with third party data companies such as Nielsen and Lotame, Purplegator is able to find specific job titles such as “law enforcement officer” and then match those individuals to their mobile IDs.

After creating the database of known police officers, we find those individuals online and target them on their mobile devices and their desktop computers both at home and at work. The message includes a better opportunity with your police force such as a signing bonus, better working conditions, lifestyle improvement, or other incentive.

Other Job Titles Likely to Become Police Officers

While targeting known active police officers makes sense, it’s equally important to attempt to get others interested in a career in law enforcement to consider your police department. Based on the market research and the results that Purplegator has obtained, we have seen significant increases in applicants by targeting some related job titles.

Here is a partial list of the job titles that we target to attract new police officer applicants.

  • Military vets
  • Security guards
  • Game wardens
  • Animal control
  • Bailiff
  • Border control
  • Homeland security
  • TSA
  • Correctional officer
  • Customs
  • Jailer
  • Sky marshall
  • Warden
  • Youth program coordinator
  • Personal trainer
  • Firefighter
  • Probation officer


Targeting College Students to Become Cadets

College graduates, or those students who may not have finished college, are a great source of potential cadets for your police force. We’ve found the most success in targeting community colleges and associate degree graduates as opposed to four year degree programs, but both make sense.

Of course, not every student is equally interested, or qualified, to become a police officer. That’s why we target specific college majors that are more likely to be interested in law enforcement. Of course, criminal justice and forensics grads are an obvious choice, but there are others that are majors that are more likely to desire to become police officers. 

Here is a partial list of college students and the majors that we recommend targeting:

  • Criminal Justice
  • Forensics
  • Criminology
  • Public Safety
  • Political Science
  • Public Administration
  • Pre-Law
  • Sociology
  • Psychology
  • Computer Science

What Geographic Areas Should We Target?

Geolocation is an important part of targeting police officers who are most likely to make the jump to your police department. Of course, the most effective areas to target would be those that are geographically close to yours. These are candidates that may leave for a signing bonus, better pay, improved hours, or because they are dissatisfied with their current work environment. They may also prefer to leave a city location for a less stressful suburban police job.

We have also seen success in luring officers from colder northern climates to warmer southern states. So, if you’re in a southern location of the United States, this might be a strategy to test. 

Finally, we recommend targeting police officers in inner cities where the crime rate is high and stress levels are correspondingly greater. These officers may prefer to work in another location which does not present as much danger and where the police force is not so short handed.

Finding Police Officers via Geo Conquesting

Chances are your mobile phone is providing its location information to some third party data apps on your phone. If you have a weather app, or a navigation app on your smartphone, knowing where you are is very important to the effectiveness of such an app. After all, you don’t care what the weather is like in another city, you probably only care what it’s like where you are. 

Because your geolocation is likely being tracked and recorded, a savvy marketing agency can take advantage of that available information to help you market your police department. Purplegator can do a “lookback” and find mobile and digital devices that were at a specific address location for up to six months in the past or we can find mobile devices that are at a certain address in real-time. We call real-time device detection “micro-proximity.”

Perhaps you want to find devices that have been at the police stations of other police departments. Or, you want to target delegates at The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) annual trade show. Maybe, you would like to target the community college campus near you. 

Through geo conquesting, we can find devices that have been at a location that is important to you. Then, we can send them advertisements via social media or place your message in apps or on websites on their mobile devices or on their computers. 

Video is a Great Engagement Tool

If a picture is worth a thousand words, how much is a video worth? Your advertisement will always be more effective if there’s a video in it. 

A video is sight, sound, motion and emotion. Use it to your advantage. If you are near the beach, show the candidate what off time might look like. If you are in a college town, show the sports and entertainment that is available to the officer and the excellent public schools that are nearby for the younger family members.

Most importantly, a video enables you to show the excitement of working on your police force. Nobody becomes a police officer for the drudgery of the three hours of paperwork that an officer does every day. Rather, show them the marine unit, forensics, drones, crime center, and that their partner may be man’s best friend in the K-9 department. 

About the Author

Bob Bentz is the president of Purplegator and has been actively involved in mobile and digital recruitment for over ten years. He is the author of “Relevance Raises Response: How to Engage and Acquire with Mobile Marketing (Second Edition – 2023).” Bob is also an adjunct professor at West Virginia University where he teaches the graduate level course in (what else?) mobile marketing. While Bob has no plans to join a police force, he is happy to help you find those who will. 

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