The Baltimore Police Department wants to recruit officers to “Be a Part of the Greatest Comeback Story in America.”
Police Commissioner Michael Harrison and Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young announced a new $200,000 marketing campaign Monday that they hope will help fill the department’s ranks, particularly with more women, minorities and city residents.
“It’s no secret that we need more police officers on the street to help make Baltimore a safer city and to reduce the burden on our existing officers,” Harrison said at a news conference. Starting salaries for new officers are $53,512, but the total pay can increase drastically with the department’s liberal use of overtime.
Increasing the number of candidates, the agency hopes, will translate to more sworn officers to replenish depleted patrol units. Harrison also said a top request among existing officers is for the city to hire more officers.
So far this year, the department has hired 95 new officers but has lost 100, according to police spokesman Matt Jablow.
“Every day the department sends out too few officers on patrol, and we have too many officers working overtime,” Young said.
He said the $200,000 spent on the campaign is well worth the cost to attract high-quality candidates. Harrison said similarly sized agencies have spent similar amounts on recruitment campaigns. New Orleans, where Harrison previously served as the superintendent of police, spent $300,000 on a recruitment campaign, he said.
In a follow-up email, Jablow said “The Greatest Comeback Story in America” referred to “the rebuilding and restructuring of the department, and the effort to repair our relationship with the community.” The department has been plagued by corruption, including federal convictions of officers accused of trafficking drugs, theft and shaking down citizens and dealers.
The police union has repeatedly expressed concerns about the shortage of officers working patrol units, who are largely responsible for responding to 911 calls.
Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 President Sgt. Mike Mancuso said last month that the department has 500 fewer officers than it needs, forcing officers to work overtime.
Harrison did not say Monday exactly how many officers he thinks the department needs to hire.
Harrison said he hopes to free up officers by using new technology. The department is years behind in terms of equipment and systems, relying on paper reports to fill out overtime slips and perform other basic actions, according to Harrison and monitors overseeing the department.
“Right now, with the very kind of archaic paper environment, it’s kind of hard to say. Nobody can really say,” how many officers are necessary, he said.
Harrison also plans to use civilians to handle clerical roles, freeing up more uniformed officers to work patrol. That allows them to focus on crime “hot spots” and community engagement.
The marketing campaign will be conducted by idfive marketing, a Baltimore-based firm that was chosen from among 12 that submitted bids to the city.
Idfive Associate Vice President Matt McDermott said the campaign was created using hundreds of hours of interviews and focus groups with community members and police officers. The digital marketing initiative will allow the agency to track and measure response to the campaign, which includes a 60-second commercial, interviews with officers, sponsored content and posts across social media networks.
“A lot of research went into this,” Harrison said. “This is data driven, not how we think it should be.”
Among those interviewed on the new recruitment site, bpdrecruit.org, is Miriam Summers, a retired career counselor from the Community College of Baltimore County. The recruiting website said Baltimore is where Summers “comes home each day.”
But she lives in Baltimore County, not the city, Summers said Monday. She said she owns a rental rowhome in the Rosemont neighborhood in West Baltimore and was asked to participate in the campaign after going on a series of ride-alongs with city police officers.
Her quote on the recruitment website said police officers once showed compassion to her son when he was battling an illness. In an interview with The Baltimore Sun, she said she agreed to participate in the campaign in an effort to help the department recruit quality officers.
“There are other things I think they can do in terms of compassion,” she said. “Treat that community like it’s your home.”
But, during her rides on patrol with officers, she said, she found they are just normal people who are asked to complete often difficult and thankless tasks.
“I think residents tend to forget that,” she said.