Struggling to recruit, police turn to targeted ads


Your favorite social network media platform probably knows more about you than your parents. Our clicks, likes and follows reveal patterns that sophisticated algorithms transform into behavioral profiles revealing our political convictions, our sexualities, our ethnicities, even our health.

Now, police recruiters are using this information to find more applicants online. Recruiters say their jobs became more difficult in 2021, due to the pandemic and nationwide uprisings following the murder of George Floyd. WIRED also spoke to digital advertising companies that work with the police and military for online campaigns to boost recruitment, sometimes relying on the same behavioral profiling tools that platforms use to boost recruitment. user activity.

“Historically, the majority of our recruiting efforts have been in-person prospecting where we actually go to schools or trade shows, or meet with organizations,” says Captain Aaron McCraney, who heads the recruiting and training division. Los Angeles Police Department job. .

McCraney says the LAPD started using digital marketing company Sensis in the months leading up to the pandemic. The initial emphasis was on diversity: the LAPD is struggling to meet its goals of recruiting women, black applicants, and Asian Americans.

This can be a problem for traditional online advertising, as employers, including the police, cannot target ads to racial or ethnic groups, or prevent other groups from seeing the ad. McCraney says the LAPD has traditionally worked with certain social organizations – the NAACP for example – to help reach targeted groups. But the pandemic has brought almost all offline events to an end, meaning McCraney’s team had to find more women and applicants of color without actually targeting women or people of color. He says the ads have helped.

“Traditional recruiting doesn’t work,” says Emma Mae, marketer for PoliceApp, an online recruiting agency that works with more than 700 police departments in the United States. Among other things, PoliceApp creates advertising campaigns and helps applicants through the pipeline. Recently, police departments have come to PoliceApp with interrelated issues: Recruitment is down, while attrition of new hires is on the rise.

This is where behavioral and psychosocial targeting refined by social media platforms comes in. The LAPD is one of many police departments that recruit by targeting ads based on personality, not identity.

Police departments want job postings to look caring and community-focused, says Dallas Thompson, account manager at Sensis. Ads reflect (and hopefully attract) service-oriented, less money-motivated agents who understand biases and have a high tolerance for risk. Sensis crosses survey data with lookalike audiences on social media platforms to identify characteristics that police departments believe make an ideal candidate: respect for authority, awareness of social biases, interest in the service and willingness to compromise social life for their career.

As unexpected as the alliance between ad technology and the police may be, the technology itself is very well suited for organizing users according to their personality. Social media platforms invest huge resources in tracking user behavior (both on-site and off-site) and noting what users respond to. They use this information to infer user interests and personalities, creating the familiar feedback loop that drives millions of people to apps like YouTube and Facebook.

Recruiters design ads that reflect these values ​​and put them online. Wendy Koslicki, assistant professor of criminal justice and criminology at Ball State University, has studied hundreds of hours of police recruiting videos. She says the police are tweaking the ads to display “guardian” images. To get around restrictions on demographic targeting, agencies include women and people of color in their videos, she says.

The videos, she explains, do not focus on guns and rarely show police officers making arrests or driving police cars. Instead, they emphasize community work, with images of officers interacting with minors at community events, patrolling on foot, and giving speeches in classrooms. Koslicki says the videos often include “statements such as’ We are a community driven service ‘or’ We enjoy working with diverse communities, we appreciate that agents live in the communities in which they work. “


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