WINSTON- SALEM, NC – Billboards and television ads are used to get a message across, encourage shopping a particular brand or visiting a specific place. Now, police departments are using the mediums for the sole purpose of recruiting new officers.

Winston-Salem Police (WSPD) released three television ads focusing on recruiting. Fourteen 30-second spots will air during the first three days of ACC tournament coverage, airing on WFMY. One ad focuses on recruiting 911 dispatches. The other two, featuring a lieutenant and a sergeant, will focus on recruiting officers.

Officer recruitment is down across the nation, from Atlanta to Alabama and yes, North Carolina.

“Some things that we used to do 10 years ago is not always as effective now,” said WSPD Sergeant Rhoneek Readus. “Where our academy classes would begin with about 30, 35 students, now we are seeing a steady trend of about 20 students.”

WSPD is short 50 officers or nearly 10 percent of their department and they could lose 17 more in 2017, due to officers retiring.

Similarly, the Burlington Police Department is short 6 percent of their department. BPD is down 8 officers and could lose 4 more in 2017 because of retirements.

However, BPD saw luck in 2016, hiring 24 new officers. Recently, an advertisement on a billboard in the city, helped bring in new people wanting to join the department. In addition, the department will host an ‘open house” for recruits on April 1st.*

It’s not the first time either department has used alternative ways to get people in the door. WSPD took a trip to New York in 2016 to seek students with criminal justice degrees who were stalled from getting a job with the NYPD thanks to a hiring freeze.

“They were taking civil service exams and then sitting on a waiting list for years to become an officer,” said Readus.

A majority of 2016 recruits came from the New York area. Another trip to New York is planned for the fall. Readus said it’s not just patrol officers they hope to hire. He hopes possible recruits look at other areas in law enforcement.

“We have forensics, we have records, we have communications, we have telecommunications,” he explained.

So, there’s plenty of work and plenty of incentive, especially after the WSPD increased their starting salaries in 2016. But, why are the numbers of officer recruits dwindling?

Besides retirements, switching agencies and people qutting law enforcement altogether, Readus explained, “Negative images have definitely hurt us. Some of the officer involved shootings, the protests, that’s certainly hurt law enforcement because it’s turning away people from the profession.”

Readus said he’s seen the biggest decline in law enforcement interest from black males. A 21- year veteran, Readus often tells recruits the best way to find a solution and help the community is from the inside.

“From my military days, if there was something I didn’t like then I want to change it from within so I wanted to join that unit. I wanted to be a part of that so I could see what the problem is. Because you can do more from within than you can from without.”

The Police Department is spending just over $10,000 for the campaign. Readus said they also use their digital footprint on social media to help recruit new officers.

*Burlington Police Department’s Open House will be held on April 1st from 10am to 2pm at 267 W. Front Street.