By Kathy A. Goolsby
The Dallas Morning News
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GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas — Grand Prairie police are looking for a few good friends.
Last month, the department started a MySpace page as a way to lure in future recruits.
By Friday, 190 MySpace users had signed on to the department's "friends" list. And some of those "friends" had inquired about joining the force.
"We've had a number of people who have contacted me with recruiting questions — one from Michigan and from New York and Washington state," said Officer Wes Filson. "One, an experienced police officer, e-mailed to say he and his wife will come down in the next few weekends to check us out because they're interested in relocating."
Rock music — this week it was Nickelback's "If Everyone Cared" — provides the page's soundtrack. At the top are photos of three police officers who look more as if they're ready for combat duty than street patrol. The images were chosen to reflect the exciting jobs today's young people want, officials said.
The Internet site is just one more tool Grand Prairie has implemented in the last year to remain competitive on the recruitment front. A recently organized recruitment committee, chaired by Officer Filson and made up primarily of younger employees, helped launch an aggressive campaign that includes stepped-up advertising, fast-paced videos, and recruiting trips to colleges and similar venues.
"We're trying to reach out to a lot of people who have never thought about being a police officer," Sgt. Rob Severance said. "A lot of this is about investing in the future because we want to fill positions now, but we also know we'll have to keep hiring in the future."
Grand Prairie's stepped-up recruitment campaign is paying off. All 216 officer positions will be filled when the current group of trainees joins the force, Sgt. Severance said.
But the department also has 10 vacant "overhire" positions that recently were approved by the City Council in anticipation of continued growth in Grand Prairie. And more positions will open up as veterans leave the force, Sgt. Severance said.
"I can't give the number off the top of my head, but a number of officers will be eligible to retire in the near future," he said.
Grand Prairie isn't the only North Texas police force turning to MySpace for potential officers. The city of Mesquite launched its page at the end of 2006, although initially it lacked the bells and whistles found on Grand Prairie's site.
That changed within days of Grand Prairie's Internet launch, sparking a friendly rivalry between the two cities.
"I got fancy because I had mine first, but I saw that Grand Prairie copied us so I decided we needed to update it," said Jenifer Lindsey, a recruiter with the city of Mesquite.
Ms. Lindsey said she receives daily messages from people interested in joining Mesquite's police force. As of last week, the department of more than 200 sworn officers was down to six openings.
The Los Angeles Police Department also has a MySpace recruitment page, and Houston and Miami-Dade started MySpace pages as crime-prevention tools.
Sgt. Erik Palmer, who created the Miami-Dade police site that launched in March, said hearing from potential recruits was an unexpected bonus.
"We've had at least 200 inquiries," Sgt. Palmer said. "A lot of law enforcement agencies are in need of officers, so this is a great venue to get interested applicants to look at your page. It gets people interested in our department."
Daniel Slaughter, 19, sent an inquiry to Grand Prairie's MySpace page last month after deciding he wanted to be a police officer. The Hurst resident said he'll probably apply to Grand Prairie's department when he turns 21, the minimum age for joining.
"The site was pretty interesting with a lot of information on it," Mr. Slaughter said. "It has good statistics, how many calls they receive in a year, the pay, just a lot of good information for someone wanting to be a police officer."
Copyright 2007 The Dallas Morning News
Texas department using Myspace.com to lure recruits