Law enforcement agencies around Kansas are using some new tools in their increasingly difficult challenge of recruiting new officers.
Chief among them is the video camera.
In recent weeks and months, the Hutchinson Police Department and the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office have rolled out commercials or longer videos targeting potential recruits.
The Topeka Police Department produced a new recruiting video that began playing at two movie theaters in town last weekend.
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The Wichita Police Department has gone a step further, following a recruit class through the training academy with a video camera and posting weekly clips showing what and how they’re doing.
“What better way to show people, show our community, what happens at the academy than to follow a group of recruit officers” through the training, Officer Paul Cruz said.
It has come to resemble a weekly reality show, with viewers getting to know recruits.
“The video shows what recruit officers experience,” Cruz said. “We try to get deeper into what they felt: Was it a challenge? What did they learn?”
The new approaches are being tried, officials say, because the challenge to recruit new officers persists.
The difficulties voiced by Kansas law enforcement leaders a couple of years ago – lower starting pay than a number of other professions, night and weekend shifts, dealing regularly with a negative view of law enforcement – remain significant obstacles, said Ed Pavey, director of the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center.
“Most other law enforcement agencies are experiencing the same struggles,” Hutchinson Police Lt. John Taylor said in an e-mail response to questions.
Hutchinson police released a seven-minute video late last year laying out the type of officers they are hoping to recruit. They also have shorter videos addressing various aspects of what it takes to be in law enforcement.
“We have received positive feedback on the video, and several of our applicants have commented that our department’s videos gave them more interest in our department,” Taylor said.
An Old West flavor
The Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office reached back into history while crafting a recruiting commercial, shooting scenes at Wichita’s Old Cowtown Museum.
The commercial targets potential detention deputies, who work in the jail.
“That’s where our numbers are low,” said Lt. Brad Hoch, training commander for the sheriff’s office.
There are about 40 openings in staffing for the Sedgwick County Jail, and the shortages have become chronic. In one respect, Hoch said, the sheriff’s office can only blame itself for that.
“We’re one of the few sheriff’s offices that offer formalized training to their detention personnel,” he said. “Once we get them through the academy, they become hot commodities. You have other agencies that will hire these people.”
Once we get them through the academy, they become hot commodities.
Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Lt. Brad Hoch
There’s also a segment of new detention deputies who realize the job simply isn’t for them.
“It’s a different environment,” Hoch said of working in a jail. “When you’re in that detention facility, it’s a 24/7 operation. There’s shift work that’s involved.
“You just really don’t know how you’re going to react once you get yourself into that. … ‘Is this something I can go to work at every day?’ ”
Eleven deputies graduated from the detention training academy this month.
More commercials are planned featuring other segments of the sheriff’s office, Hoch said. Each will tap into the Old West to some degree.
“There’s a plethora of recruiting videos out there,” he said. Having a western theme “is a way to grab people’s attention, do something different.”
“We’re all in the same predicament. We’re having a hard time finding qualified people to fill some of these positions.”
The Wichita Police Department’s weekly videos from the training academy have emphasized minority and female officers.
“There is a huge need and push for having the police department as a whole represent or reflect the community that it serves,” Cruz said. “Which is why some of these videos highlight the perspective from the female recruit officer – how she felt before and after the training.”
The department needs more female and minority officers, Cruz said, particularly Asian and Hispanic officers. Efforts to focus on those demographics in recruiting are starting to yield results: Of the 16 cadets in the current academy class, four are women, three are African-Americans and three are Hispanic. All three Hispanics are bilingual, Cruz said.
This is one of the most diverse groups that we’ve ever had.
Wichita Police Officer Paul Cruz
“This is one of the most diverse groups that we’ve ever had,” he said.
One of the cadets is 45 and represents another point of emphasis for the department: pitching the police force as a second career.
Wichita police have also created a mentorship program for potential candidates, Cruz said. Officers walk potential recruits through the process, answer questions and sometimes simply listen.
“This is such a unique career field … it requires having those relationships,” he said.
Local law enforcement officials are planning another recruiting campaign when the new academy building opens next year on the campus of Wichita State University.
“That’s huge for us,” Cruz said of the academy, which is slated to open in the first quarter of 2018. “It’s going to be great. People are going to get state of the art for everything.”