The numbers are stark: new police recruits are down an average of 32% nationwide, with some departments experiencing as high as a 60% decline in applications since 2012, according to 2018 research by the Police Executives Research Forum (PERF). As police departments wrestle with a staff shortage, many have turned to marketing with fun, friendly videos that show the lighter side of policing while showcasing some of their departments’ talented officers. Enter Deputy John Estrada, a five-year veteran of the Bexar County Sherriff’s Office in San Antonio, Texas in the recruiting video that is nearing a million views on YouTube.
In the short video, Deputy Estrada displays his dance moves in front of a BCSO cruiser as Blanco Brown’s “The Git Up” plays. BCSO tagged the video with #gitupchallenge and #BCSOrecruiting, hoping to capture the attention of would-be new officers. In the summer of 2019, Blanco Brown’s #gitupchallenge swept the nation, with users on TikTok, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram compiling several “best of” reels. Estrada even had some stiff competition from his fellow officers, with several partaking in the challenge and some even exceeding Estrada’s views by a few million.
ISO New Blood
Over the years, many police precincts have altered their recruitment requirements to change with the times. For example, visible tattoos, once forbidden in many departments, have gained wider acceptance as more and more otherwise qualified applicants were benched based on this cosmetic characteristic. Recreational drug use is another area where PDs have had to reframe their stipulations, given that one in four teenagers has tried marijuana at some point, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Recent legalization efforts in the U.S. have led some to call for decriminalizing THC use altogether. In short, as Police Chief Magazine reports, younger job-seekers “tend to exhibit some changing attitudes toward what is considered socially acceptable in terms of police officer suitability; for example, 28.6 percent of millennials reported that those with a felony arrest record could still make a good law enforcement officer.”
In spite of changing their policies to align with changing social norms, agencies have had to get creative in order to stand out from competing precincts. The Enfield, Connecticut PD created a tongue-in-cheek video that featured “bait them with donuts” and a “Cop or Not” swipe-right app as their best options. Another Texas precinct went all-in with a series of Star Wars-themed videos in which an Officer Hayes mistakes “wookie” (aka Chewbacca) for “rookie.”
Whether these alternative recruitment efforts have made a dent in the law enforcement officer shortfall, it’s too soon to tell. However, marketing firms have found themselves partnering with precincts to help get the word out. (The Silent Partner Marketing of Manchester, CT was behind the Enfield effort.) Other marketing and public relations firms have shifted their focus entirely to police recruitment efforts, as with Epic Recruiting of San Francisco. Their blog post on creative recruiting strategies underscores what most recruiters have known for decades: current employees are the best advertisement for future employees.
As for Deputy Estrada, he’s enjoying his viral fame as the resident “dancing deputy,” though deep cuts on the BCSO recruiting Facebook page prove he has other talents as well: lip-synching to the Grease soundtrack and working a heavy bag. Some of his admirers left comments, like Debra Schoolcraft-Harris, of appreciation: “I think that all this video accomplished was to have a lot of women come to your town and commit to crimes???” and Jo Ange noted, “i’m going to go rob a target just so he can arrest me ?”
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