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NEW: Fairfax County police ups ad spending to bolster recruitment

Fairfax County police cruiser during traffic stop (via FCPD/Facebook)

(Updated at 5 p.m.) The Fairfax County Police Department has turned to advertising to help address vacancies.

The department has signed a contract with Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Epic Recruiting to deliver digital marketing services and materials. Operational expenses for police recruiting have already more than quadrupled this budget year.

“We continue to look for the best candidates to serve Fairfax County,” the FCPD said in a statement. “If you or anyone you know is interested in learning about all our department has to offer, please visit www.joinfcpd.org or contact a recruiter today at FCPDRecruit@fairfaxcounty.gov.”

According to county staff, the FCPD’s recruitment-related operating expenses were in the low $40,000s for fiscal years 2019 and 2020, rose to nearly $66,000 in FY 2021, and have exceeded $272,000 for the current fiscal year 2022, which ends on June 30.

Details of the contract were released after this story published through a public-records request, showing that the $200,000 contract includes $65,000 for a 12-month online recruiting campaign, $65,000 for video and photography work, $35,000 for a recruitment website, and more.

As of April 13, the department had 151 vacancies and 1,333 sworn officers. It said its recruiters continue to host and participate in hiring events throughout the county and are adapting and developing new and innovative ways to reach applicants.

The FCPD initially declined to comment on the contract, saying it’s not complete so there aren’t any measurable results at this point.

Epic Recruiting Chief Creative Officer Alex Johnston said his company has been working with FCPD for about a month, finding compelling stories about Fairfax County police to showcase in digital advertising. The business is slated to start filming for ads in coming weeks, though it might take two months before they launch.

According to Johnston, the Tracy Police Department in California, near Sacramento, eliminated an 18% vacancy rate in four months after Epic ran an ad campaign, noting that it was coupled with other city-led efforts, such as a $1,000 referral bonus.

“These progressive agencies are the ones that are getting ahead of this,” Johnston said of police vacancies.

The FCPD’s recruitment levels have fluctuated over the past half-decade, from a high of 73 new sworn officers in 2019 to a low of 59 in 2020. The department is projected to add 60 sworn officers this year, down from 95 in 2021, and 71 in 2023, county staff told Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity.

“Until we fix the compensation issues and are competitive in compensation, we’re going to continue to struggle,” said Herrity, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors’ lone Republican member. “You can recruit all you want. You’re not going to retain them if you don’t compensate them.”

He said he doesn’t necessarily disagree with the recruiting strategy, saying the county has to be more creative, but the spending sounded a little bit high to him.

With a pre-markup meeting set for today (Friday) at 3 p.m., the board plans to set aside $6.1 million for a step increase for qualified uniformed public safety workers, including police, the sheriff’s office, and firefighters who were hired on or before June 30, 2021, according to a budget document.

He previously proposed 10% raises for various police officers and said he thinks there needs to be more spent than the $6.1 million currently on the table.

Meanwhile, total personnel costs related to recruitment have climbed from nearly $365,000 in fiscal year 2021 to almost $581,000 this year, as of March 31. The FCPD is on track to reach $735,000 at the end of this fiscal year and plans to spend over $758,000 in the upcoming budget year, which starts on July 1.

Photo via FCPD/Facebook

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