WSPD Recruitment At An All-Time High

The Backdrop

Thankfully, the Coronavirus outbreak is largely now in the rearview mirror, but many organizations still feel the sting of those dark days during the height of COVID-19 when “doing whatever it takes to keep the doors open” was the mantra. Creativity and grit shone through at every turn as businesses across the country sought alternative ways to link consumers to goods and services, and people developed myriad ways to stay connected. Many companies implemented a work remotely status for their employees, but for those deemed “essential workers,” like the Winston-Salem Police Department, conducting business from home was not an option. Law enforcement, especially front-line responding, is one of the most physically and mentally taxing occupations on a “routine” day. Add in a sudden disruption to the community, pandemic challenges and necessary alterations in protocols, and the stress level rises exponentially. While law enforcement officers are highly trained to launch into catastrophic emergencies with great skill, the confluence of managing a global pandemic, a tightening labor market and heightened frustration with the policing profession (e.g. questionable police shootings and excessive force complaints) proved to be too much for many over the past few years. Between 2020-2022, the Winston-Salem Police Department, which serves the 5th largest city in the state, lost 171 officers to resignation or retirement – the highest consecutive three-year total to date. It is a well-known fact that law enforcement agencies across the US face a historic crisis in recruiting qualified potential candidates. It is time to seek new ways to recruit eligible candidates!

Innovation and Social Media 

Enter Annie Sims, the newly hired Public Information Officer of the Winston-Salem Police Department. Sims began her career in law enforcement in 2020 at the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office and made the move to the WSPD in September 2023. She was hired for one purpose…to recruit diverse, qualified and community-oriented individuals using social media platforms. Having grown up in the age of the internet, like other millennials (1981-1996) and Gen Zers (1997-2012), Sims is tech savvy and values social media. Studies demonstrate that traditional recruitment methods like online job postings and career fairs are ineffective with this younger sector of the population who routinely turn to search engines and social media when actively looking for work. A recent Harris Poll reported that 85% of job seekers ages 18-43 use social media to research information about potential employers and 48% apply for positions online. In this increasingly saturated social media climate, Annie and her team work tirelessly to attract potential applicants by keeping fresh content about the WSPD accessible and providing prompt feedback to online inquiries. As Sims shared, “Social media content is very dependent on what happens in our city, and with things changing rapidly across any given day, it is important to keep WSPD current events in front of potential recruits, as well as engage with their comments in a timely manner. I spend a lot of time after hours every night on social media responding to comments – the interpersonal communication is key, and it is worth it.”

WSPD Recruitment Success

There has been a lot of recruitment success lately, and Sims credits the revamped, engaging website and separate social media platforms dedicated to recruiting (YouTube, Twitter, Facebook – photos/videos and Insta/reels) for the growth in pre-hire recruits. As soon as the new website launched, Sims reported, “We shot up in applications, and as we started pushing more and more on social media, we saw immediate, phenomenal growth in followers – 1,800+% growth in Facebook and more than 1,300% growth in Instagram in the past six months.” Unlike other generations, millennials and post millennials are doing their research to better understand the organization they are interested in and know what life will be like working there before they apply for a position. Additionally, they are looking for different things compared to pre-recruits of decades past. The nation’s largest groups of individuals applying for work in law enforcement are millennials and Gen Z. Sims has her finger on the pulse of these would-be officers and understands there are differing values and motivations that drive each group’s employment decisions. For example, millennials tend to move from organization to organization until they find the place where they feel they can make the most difference – craving purpose and an ability to be a change agent. Gen Z tend to change roles within the same organization and work their way up the proverbial career ladder – craving career growth and financial stability. Sims effectively utilizes this knowledge of her online audience to build a marketing plan and make informed decisions about social media content. The overarching goal is to build trust and confidence in the policing profession, promote a fuller understanding of the critical role law enforcement plays in our city and present clearly the multi-phase selection and hiring process in hopes of attracting highly qualified people to join the Winston-Salem Police Department.

Changing the Narrative

For the first time since 2020, the department is trending toward full gain with no loss in sworn officers, and the upcoming recruitment class in October is projected to have another 30 sworn officers. Although Sims is at the helm of this robust recruitment initiative, she is quick to give credit to the six officers who provide continued support and social media content, including one full-time team member, sworn Corporal Christopher Luper, (Digital Content Creator & Design Specialist) who has worked on the force for 20 years. Speaking with Annie, it is clear she views recruiting as a truly collaborative endeavor, and WSPD Chief William H Penn Jr. is quick to second that and give credit to her team’s skillful use of social media for the recent uptick in recruitment. Social media posts and marketing material showing the human side of policing is crucial – highlighting the empathetic and collaborative aspects of daily duties; sharing short biographies of sworn officers and professional staff members in the WSPD; recounting situations in the community where lives were saved; and displaying present law enforcement in a more compassionate light in general has great appeal to millennials, Gen Z and every other generation! Additionally, Sims noted that impactful narratives, photos and videos allow potential candidates to “see themselves” in a career with the WSPD. Sims beamed when she shared the top two reasons given by the younger pre-hire recruits that resurfaced again and again during interviews when she asked, “Why?”: 1. To protect and serve the community and support people in many different ways; and 2. To make a true difference by giving back to the community and helping people who are having their worst day. 

Use a career in law enforcement to change the narrative and be the difference you want to see.” ~ Annie Sims, Public Information Officer, WSPD

If you or someone you know is interested in a career with the Winston-Salem Police Department, check out the recruiting website or call/text 336.602.4914 to speak with a recruiter. For continual updates on police happenings in the city, follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @cityofwspolice. 


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