Police hope to up recruiting with cooler marketing

Recruiter says a starting salary of $52,000 just isn't enough nowadays

Posted: Monday, February 27, 2006

ANCHORAGE - Police agencies around Alaska have to work harder to revive falling recruiting numbers than departments in other states, said the head of the Anchorage department's recruiting division.

"To many people in the Lower 48, going to Alaska is like going to Czechoslovakia or Timbuktu," said Sgt. Mike Couturier. He said his department pays starting officers about $52,000 a year. That's competitive with police departments nationwide, but not good enough.

Like other police departments across the nation, they are trying to entice candidates with everything from cutting-edge digital videos and catchy magazine ads and television commercials.

The Juneau Police Department, facing a 10 percent hole in its force, is advertising in the back of Outside magazine and in Alaska Airlines magazine. A half-page color ad will trumpet Southeast Alaska's halibut fishing, bears and other scenic virtues, Acting Chief Greg Browning said.

Browning said most young people are not interested in military-type jobs. Of those who do apply to become a Juneau officer, only 5 percent pass the rigorous background checks and the academy.

The Anchorage Police Department uses a souped-up show truck as part of its outreach arsenal. The black-and-chrome Ford F-150 sports LED emergency lights, blinding strobes and a state-of-the-art sound system.

Its thumping stereo and flashing lights draw swarms of people and potential candidates at public events, Couturier said.

Facing a retiring work force and a growing city, the department needs to hire 75 new officers by 2010.

It recently began advertising on Century 16 movie screens and also created a digital music video of cops in action, which will be sent to dozens of criminal justice schools and U.S. military job centers around the world.

The Alaska State Troopers, with a 47-officer shortage, hired an in-house television producer last year and plunked down $28,000 to blanket the winter Olympics with commercials that went statewide.

One 30-second spot featured uniformed troopers tearing over choppy waves in speedboats and flying Bush planes through mountain passes.

Troopers hired in the early 1980s are retiring and new troopers, after building experience, are often lured away by better benefits and pay.

First-year troopers earn about $42,000 a year, said Maj. Howard Starbard, the agency's second in command. That's $8,000 to $10,000 less than new Juneau and Anchorage police officers.

Last year, the troopers revamped their recruiting Web site, ran television commercials for two weeks in the fall, and won department approval to hire Outside candidates.

As a result, applicants doubled this year to 2,500. And 30 recruits will attend the 18-week academy starting Monday, the biggest class in 13 years, Starbard said.

The troopers will need two more large classes and another year to close their manpower hole, he said. Until then, the department will continue offering loads of overtime, he said.

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