Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Million Dollar Recruiting

What's wrong with this picture?

This is Max Sklower. He was the general manager of KOAT TV for a number of years in the mid to late ’70s and into the ’80s. He was a great supporter of law enforcement and the Albuquerque Police Department, in particular. Sklower is holding a CrimeStopper’s award given to him for KOAT TV’s efforts supporting and televising the “CrimeStopper’s crime of the week” campaign.

In 1977, I was transferred to the Police Athletic League. My assignment was to get me within the operational chain of command with the community relations unit. I had proven myself useful in public relations and the powers that be thought I could serve a dual role. The arrangement ultimately proved disastrous. However, upon arriving at PAL, I was asked to develop a name recognition campaign. Within a half-hour, I had talked to Sklower and worked out a symbiotic plan to aid APD and KOAT. At the time, KOAT was airing re-runs of the old Jack Webb production of “Adam-12,” at 6:30, immediately after the evening news. I proposed a ten-second spot leading into the program, touting PAL. Sklower agreed and a taping session was set up. By the end of the week the promotional spot was airing. “Serving the youth of the community; the Albuquerque Police Athletic League, brings you Adam-12, next on KOAT TV,” I said, as seen below.

KOAT ran the series for another six years and before every show, the promo ran. It didn’t cost a penny. Years later, I had more than one rookie approach me and say, “you were the Adam-12 guy, you got me interested in police work, now I am one.”

I later designed other recruiting campaigns that were deemed successful, including one directed at minorities and females. It featured newly promoted Sgt. Karen Wilson, Meliton “Dickey” Otero and Bill Middleton.

Recently, the department embarked on a campaign based on the “runaway bride” incident of a couple of years ago. Public Information Officer Trish Hoffman had become the face of APD during the press coverage of the Atlanta, Ga. woman who abruptly left home days before her scheduled wedding and several days later emerged in Albuquerque.

Hoffman, along with other male officers, escorted the woman, who was covered with a multi-colored blanket, through a gauntlet of still and video photographers at the Sunport, where she caught a plane home. The story took on a tabloid crazed feeding frenzy and circus atmosphere. Hoffman became a media star in her own right, including a comedy sketch featuring a caricature of Hoffman on NBC’s Saturday Night Live.

The electronic billboard recruiting campaign gained national attention after Albuquerque Journal’s cop-beat reporter, T.J. Wilham, broke the story. CNN and hundreds of other news outlets picked up the story. However, the project was not without its detractors and it has drawn some criticism.

A marketing and advertising lecturer, at the University of New Mexico’s Anderson School of Management, John Benavidez, praised and criticized the billboard in a follow-up story by Wilham.

"Whoever came up with this, (billboard idea) it is the best decision they ever made, and they should get a pay raise," said Benavidez. He then suggested that APD was wasting taxpayer money in buying space on 10 billboards.

Benavidez complained that there were problems with the billboards claiming they were not well presented and confusing. He pointed out the absence of the area code with the phone number. “The department is leaving itself open to criticism from the mental health community,” he told the Journal.

The City Council is being presented a budgetary proposal requesting more than $1 million to provide for increased recruiting bonuses, and extra money for officers eligible to retire who are willing to work longer.

So what's wrong with this picture?

I’ve used this picture before. It was taken 10 years ago, during Mayor Martin Chávez’ first term. He was trying to get a quarter cent “Public Safety Tax” approved by voters. The union had objected to having the tax associated with police, fire and corrections. Our feeling was, public safety is such a fundamental governmental activity, that it didn’t need a special tax designation. If a budgetary adjustment was needed for public safety, then other parts of the City should suffer first. The sequestering of a quarter cent for public safety was perceived as a scam to lock down money. Then, where there was excess, it could be used for pet projects of the mayor and council. Our argument was the public safety, along with water and sewage, were first, last and always budgetary priorities.

When the union’s public relations campaign got some traction and the press started giving us ink, the mayor and then Chief Joe Polisar and his Deputy Chief, Tim Bourgoine, ordered all uniformed police officers to attend a “City-wide briefing.” Such briefings were held periodically, but this one had a political theme. Chávez was trying to convince officers to support and encourage those they know to vote for the tax.

What is important are the numbers written on the board by Polisar. They show the fiscal year, the authorized strength and the actual number of officers on the payroll for the preceding years and the numbers projected into the future.

Let’s take it one more step. The discrepancies between the authorized strength and actual number:
89 – 771 – 756 - down 15

90 – 821 – 804 - down 17

91 – 827 – 768 - down 59

92 – 800 – 767 - down 33

93 – 784 – 779 - down 5

94 – 825 – 796 - down 29

95 – 900 – 830 – down 70

96 – 928 – when the picture was taken.

97 – 1003 – projected

98 – 1078 – projected

02 – 905 – 930 – down 25

07 – 1000 – 998 – down 2, but it includes 18 part timers.

At the time, 1996, Polisar said that according to FBI standards based on population ratio, Albuquerque should have had about 1,200 to 1,300 officers.

The department managed to get above the 1,000 officers level only once and then only briefly. A recruit class graduated, pushing the number above 1,000 and then a number of senior officers retired dropping the count below the “magic number.”

Now Chávez and Chief of Police Ray Schultz propose a scheme to spend over $1 million to retain senior officers.

They may not legally do so! The city has entered into an exclusive collective bargaining contract with the police officers’ union covering wages, hours and working conditions.

What that means is, that the city must bargain with the union over paying any member of the union more than the existing contract allows.

Recruiting has always been a problem at APD. At one time it was, by far, the highest paid agency in the state and was the place to work. Not so anymore; other agencies are offering more pay to join their departments and are touting a better package than APD can.

The ‘Run Away Bride” campaign is one of the better recruiting efforts that APD has come up with in years.

As for the complaints lodged by the marketing guru from UNM’s Anderson school, he’s simply out of touch. The fact that the campaign got worldwide press coverage because of the association with the ‘Run Away Bride” story, did not result in large numbers of interested applicants. He, better than anyone, should know that if advertising works at all, it is the result of a concentrated repetition of the message over a sustained period of time. The percentage of interested applicants who actually make it through the rigorous screening and testing process is usually less than a handful per hundred. Anyone who is offended by the humor displayed in the ad would never make it as a police officer. Though police must be sensitive to the plight of those they serve, they are going to see a lot of things that make the skittish bride pale in comparison.

The point Benavidez makes about the mental health community possibly complaining is, in the street vernacular of cops, “10-40,” the police code for: a mental case, or “crazy.” It also presupposes that the run away bride suffered from some form of mental instability when she decided to abandon her plans to get married without telling anyone. Based on her actions, her fiancé panicked, called police and whipped up a media frenzy. The press disregarded the hundreds of other adult missing persons reports filed that week to seize upon a young, white, attractive woman who exercised her free will to take a walk and deemed her crazy. It wasn’t bad enough that she chose not to go through with a wedding her story exploded in all the nooks and crannies of tabloid and mainstream media. She likely wasn’t nuts, but was driven to act out as surely as she arrived in Albuquerque by Greyhound bus.

Officer Hoffman exemplified the care and compassion of APD. There were no local charges pressed against the woman, even though she told a story of kidnapping and rape that she backed off of almost immediately.

There is a back-story; Hoffman came to Albuquerque and joined APD after leaving another state to avoid a former boyfriend turned stalker.

The simplicity of the billboards speak for themselves. The widespread press reaction was unexpected. The lack of an area code was not anticipated and because the billboards are local, unnecessary.

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