Ads for Georgia police dept. appearing in South Florida

Pushing the state lines to find the best recruits

LAKE WORTH, Fla. - Finding a job can be hard enough.

As it turns out, sometimes it can be hard for the job to find you.

Police agencies like the Gwinnett County Police Department in Georgia experienced trouble over the years getting recruits and now the department is reaching into South Florida to find the best officers for the job.

The only catch: Gwinnett County is part of metro Atlanta, over 600 miles away.

"We used to never advertise at all," said Sgt. Jake smith with Gwinnett County Police Department. "Ten years ago, we had enough applicants just coming in naturally. Just people who wanted police jobs." 

If you're driving down I-95 in Lake Worth, you'll see one of many tools the department is using to find recruits beyond the state lines: Electronic billboards advertising a special hiring event the police department is hosting in Fort Lauderdale.

"Times have changed for whatever reason and now we have to go recruit them and find them ourselves," said Sgt. Smith.

Sgt. Jake smith said they were getting fewer and fewer applicants to choose from over the years. His department was able to obtain some extra funding for research and discovered where they're getting the most applicants -- New York state and South Florida.

"Surprisingly, South Florida where we have no presence whatsoever," said Sgt. Smith, who added that they've done hiring events in New York over the past two years, but absolutely none in South Florida.

In talking to newly hired officers from South Florida, Sgt. Smith said he learned that people were spreading the world about Gwinnett through word of mouth.

"The things they brought up were cost of living. And several of them already had family up here to begin with or friends that have moved to this area," he said.

Gwinnett County is also one of the fastest growing counties in the country.

With the interest from South Florida, the Gwinnett County PD decided to invest in the area and host a hiring event in Fort Lauderdale March 3 and March 4. 

"It's very low risk for them, they won't have to spend money on plane tickets or bus tickets, they won't have to drive up here or rent hotels," said Sgt. Smith. “They will not have to set foot in Georgia at all until we actually extend them a final job offer.”

The hope is to fill 115 open positions and it's a similar tactic they've used in New York.

“We were raveling to northern New York to do a lot of our recruiting over the past two years. So this year, we had a little more money and we wanted to try some new areas," said Sgt. Smith.

There are four billboards posted throughout South Florida advertising the hiring event. There will also be radio advertisements airing closer to the date.

The West Palm Beach Police Department said they've also noticed similar issues like Gwinnett.

"I think the qualified application pool has gone down," said Sgt. Deanna Rideau, who works in staff services, hiring and recruitment. "Changing times, social media, law enforcement in the news." 

Sgt. Rideau tells me West Palm Beach's recruitment scope sticks mainly to Florida's East Coast but they're not planning to go beyond that yet.

"Last year, we had 17 recruiting events that we went to, all the way south to Miami and all the way north of Jacksonville," she said.

Sgt. Rideau said staffing levels at WPBPD are good. They have a dozen openings still ready to fill, following 39 retirements in the fall. She noticed that many of the applicants tend to be local.

“They have some family ties or connections to the WPB area. Obviously location and weather is a good pull point," she said.

Gwinnett Police can't say yet whether it's working since they just started this new strategy in the past couple of years, but Sgt. Smith adds with advancements in social media and the changing times, it could be the future of recruitment.

"Of course don't want to generate any ill will or seem like we're poaching officers," he said.

As for local departments, most tend to recruit regionally by hosting hiring events, utilizing social media or visiting local colleges.

Delray Beach PD said they posted a simple recruiting video with a patrol car on Facebook and it received 13,000 views.

Here's a breakdown of a few openings at police departments across the area:

Port St. Lucie PD: 1
Martin County Sheriff's Office: 20
Fort Pierce PD: 12
West Palm PD: 12
Delray Beach PD: 1

None of the departments we spoke to are reporting serious under-staffing at the moment. Starting salaries range from about $31,000 all the way up to $52,000 depending on degrees and training experience.

If you are interested in applying for a police job, please call that particular department for details on the application process.

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