City officials want to hire a marketing firm to help attract “millennial, local, minority, female, and ‘ideal’ candidates” to fill 90 officer vacancies in the Baltimore Police Department.
“The BPD has an opportunity to recruit the next generation of ideal patrol officers for 21st century policing in Baltimore, and it aims to attract diverse, local talent through a targeted digital social media marketing campaign,” the request for proposals says.
The city’s Department of Finance and Bureau of Procurement is seeking bids from firms by Aug. 15.
According to the request, the campaign aims to increase the number of “qualified and ideal applicants monthly.” Ideal candidates include city residents, minorities, women and those with law enforcement backgrounds. It says filling the vacancies will help reduce the number of mandatory overtime hours that officers are required to work.
Greg Tucker, a spokesman for Mayor Catherine E. Pugh, said the marketing campaign is just a part of the mayor’s broader goal of attracting and retaining more officers.
“The mayor has put recruiting the next generation of officers at the forefront of her agenda,” which includes getting officers to live in the community and focus on constitutional, community-based policing, Tucker said.
The pitch comes as the department begins to rebuild its reputation within the community, which has suffered amid high crime rates, scandals — such as the recent convictions of eight officers with the corrupt Gun Trace Task Force — and a U.S. Justice Department determination that officers regularly engaged in unconstitutional policing practices.
Officials said more applicants also will help alleviate police overtime, which has been a perennial problem in Baltimore, where the department has spent millions more than what has been budgeted. The department spent $47.2 million on overtime in the fiscal year that ended June 30, even though only $16 million was budgeted.
City finance officials typically use excess tax revenue to pay for police overtime that surpasses the city’s budget.
The marketing campaign might address staffing and hiring concerns outlined in the city’s police consent decree with the Justice Department. The consent decree requires the Police Department to implement a wide range of reforms. The decree’s first-year plan requires the Police Department to complete a staffing study by September.
The plan requires “an analysis that candidly addresses its staffing needs and lays the groundwork for a staffing plan that will provide for sufficient personnel to meet the requirements of the consent decree,” according to recent filings by the independent monitoring team that is helping the department implement reforms.
The department will use the study to develop a new staffing plan due in late November.
In recent years, the Police Department has seen more than 100 officers leave each year. Data received previously by The Baltimore Sun showed that between 2002 and 2017, there was an overall net loss of 811 officers, with 3,832 departures and 3,021 hires. Last year the department saw a net gain for the first time, coming out four officers ahead.
The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, the union that represents city police officers, has long called for the department to ramp up its recruitment and retention efforts.
Last September, Pugh asked a Bloomberg-funded “Innovation Team” to figure out how to recruit more police officers and retain them. The team has begun a number of initiatives, city officials said, such as launching a Police Department cadet apprenticeship to encourage young people to consider a career in law enforcement and receive training early. The team also is piloting a free fitness boot camp to help candidates prepare for the physical agility test.
The innovation team also created an online application process in June. While the department had received an average 19 applications a week, soon after the launch of the online process, the department received a spike of 89 applications.
In addition to seeking local and minority candidates, the city is looking for ways to improve community relations and provide realistic ideas about the work.
“The relationship between community members and law enforcement officers locally and nationally is strained due to past experiences,” the request for proposals said.
The department, it said, is working to focus on “technology to combat crime, and community policing practices to build trusting relationships with those they serve.”
Proposals for the marketing campaign also must build “a realistic perception of an officer’s responsibilities.”
“Previous marketing materials have included ‘action movie themes’ like helicopters and SWAT that don’t provide an accurate view of a patrol officer’s responsibilities,” the request said. “Life as a patrol officer in Baltimore can be challenging and stressful, but it can also be highly impactful when it comes to helping people.”
The cost of hiring a marketing firm wasn’t immediately clear. Tucker said the city is asking vendors to include a budget with their proposals.