The Lab @ DC
Stronger Evidence for a Stronger DC

Can postcards increase police applications and hires?

Can postcards increase police applications and hires?

Project Summary
In 2017, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) set out to recruit more officers without lowering its hiring standards. To this end, we designed postcards drawing on behavioral insights and tested whether receiving any of the designs increased residents’ interest in applying. Residents who received a postcard were not on average more likely to apply than those who didn’t receive one, but some designs of the postcard increased interest more than others. MPD has taken these findings into account as they continue to refine their recruitment strategies.
One variation of the recruitment postcard we tested. (Credit: Metropolitan Police Department)

One variation of the recruitment postcard we tested. (Credit: Metropolitan Police Department)

Why is this issue important in DC?
Mayor Bowser has set a goal of expanding the MPD workforce to 4,000 active officers. MPD will dedicate additional officers to community policing on foot, bike, and Segway. Currently, MPD employs over 3,800 sworn officers. A shortage of officers would result in higher costs due to more overtime and reduced performance due to overworked officers.

What did we do?
Together with MPD, we created four postcards designs, varying the message and the gender of the officer in the image. Half described policing as a challenging career and the other half encouraged the recipient to take the next step in their career (as in the image above).

We randomly assigned 30,000 DC voters aged 18 to 34 to either receive one of the four postcards or not to receive any. To find out if getting one of the postcards helped with recruitment, we examined whether recipients and nonrecipients filled out an interest card, signed up for a test to see if they qualify, and ultimately took that test.

What have we learned?
Out of all the designs, only the one featuring a female officer and the “The MPD is your next step” message (see the image above) led to significantly more residents to fill out an interest card. For the average resident, getting a postcard did not significantly increase the likelihood that they applied to MPD.

Sending a picture of a female officer to a male recipient may have actually reduced the chance they would complete an interest card. The response rate was too low to draw confident conclusions about this relationship, but further research could investigate messages targeted to specific demographics (e.g. sending men postcards with male officer photos to increase similarity).

What comes next?
MPD continues to refine its recruitment process, taking these findings into account. In 2017, MPD redesigned its recruitment website to provide easily accessible information about employment opportunities within the Department.1

What happened behind the scenes?
Cost effectiveness is an important part of deciding whether a new program is worth investing in. We estimated that, if our whole sample of 30,000 residents received the most effective postcard design, then MPD would have received 79 more interest cards. Given the cost of mailing the postcard, MPD would spend $177 for each completed interest card.