The Strategic Trooper: Enhancing Recruitment Through Trust, Transparency, and Transformation of Law Enforcement’s Image in the Digital Age

– Executive Summary

Law enforcement’s landscape and representation have evolved dramatically, driven by shifts in media depictions and public perception.[1] This evolution, fueled by the rise of digital media and platforms like television, movies, and the internet, has significantly impacted the perception of American law enforcement.[2] Law enforcement agencies have recognized the power of social media in recruitment strategies.[3] Ensuring campaigns garner a capable and efficient workforce that can serve and protect communities is paramount. While social media can favorably depict law enforcement through community outreach, educational campaigns, and public safety tips, it has also amplified negative representations.[4] Such tragedies as the George Floyd case and the Ferguson, Missouri, situation are stark examples of instances when law enforcement was portrayed negatively in mainstream and social media.[5] The public’s interpretation of these portrayals, whether true or false, shapes perceptions and attitudes toward law enforcement.

The immediacy and reach of social media have expanded recruitment resources for law enforcement agencies, yet such tools pose challenges from their duality of impact.[6] This thesis explores the effects of social media publicity, the societal conception of law enforcement, and the challenges that arise in police recruitment efforts. The “strategic trooper,” equipped with a comprehensive understanding of the agency’s mission and message, acknowledges the significance of media exposure in influencing public perceptions of the criminal justice system, especially when viewed through the lens of cultivation theory.[7] To maintain a transparent and balanced perspective and foster positive community relations, officers must comprehend the exposure of negative images on social media while being mindful of the agency’s mission and values, ensuring that their actions align with the agency’s message.

The core research question underpinning this thesis is as follows: How can the rebranding of police on social media increase positive public perception to enhance law enforcement recruitment? Through a comprehensive analysis of police portrayals on social media, strategic communication rebranding techniques, and the cultivation of a positive public image, this thesis provides potential solutions to build a positive narrative that makes law enforcement a more attractive career option for potential recruits. In addition, this thesis analyzes the world of law enforcement, scrutinizing three critical facets: the media’s portrayal of the police, significant recruitment challenges, and the need for effective branding and rebranding strategies to manage public perception. These elements, inextricably intertwined, are key to decoding the complex landscape of law enforcement and the recruitment hurdles it faces. The depiction of police in the media—whether positive or negative—has far-reaching implications for recruitment efforts.[8] Therefore, these nuanced portrayals help to explain the influence on public perception, societal attitudes toward law enforcement, and the subsequent effects on attracting potential recruits.

Furthermore, this thesis unravels the pressing recruitment issues in the law enforcement field. By highlighting these challenges, it sheds light on the current realities of the profession and the barriers that deter potential recruits, thereby exploring viable strategies to overcome these obstacles.[9] Branding and rebranding strategies constitute a vital component of managing the public image of law enforcement.[10] These strategies are pivotal in conveying the mission, values, and essence of police work, often serving as potential recruits’ first point of interaction. By adeptly managing their brand, law enforcement agencies can effectively navigate public perceptions, counter misconceptions, and shape their image in a way that boosts their appeal to potential recruits.[11]

Through a comparative case study, this thesis analyzes the international landscape and approaches taken by law enforcement agencies in Canada, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand regarding their image management on social media and recruitment strategies.[12] These countries were selected due to their significant progress in leveraging social media to enhance public engagement, promote their services, and recruit new officers, despite grappling with similar issues. Through the examination of these international examples, the intention was to extract insights and practices that could be applicable and beneficial for law enforcement agencies in the United States. By exploring how these agencies have successfully managed their public image and recruitment in an era of heightened scrutiny and media attention, it was possible to glean valuable strategies that could inform the rebranding of American law enforcement agencies on social media. Implementing such strategies might boost their recruitment efforts and enhance their relationship with the communities they serve.[13]

Toward the end of this thesis, the focus shifts to the strategic trooper concept in law enforcement and its implications for image management and recruitment efforts. At the heart of this concept is the idea that officers know their agency’s strategic goals, that they have been trained and empowered to make decisions that align with these goals, and that this understanding is deeply integrated into the agency’s policies and procedures.[14] Constant evaluation and adaptation of the concept to suit evolving contexts are also crucial. By implementing the strategic trooper concept, law enforcement agencies may significantly enhance their operational efficiency and reputation, and by empowering individual officers to make decisions that contribute to achieving strategic goals, agencies can foster increased public trust, accountability, and legitimacy.[15] This empowerment, in turn, positively affects their image, making them more appealing to potential recruits.

Strategic image management plays a crucial role in this process and hinges on three fundamental principles: trust, transparency, and transformation. Trust is the cornerstone of image management.[16] Building and maintaining public trust is integral to a successful law enforcement agency, influencing public perceptions and the ability to serve communities effectively.[17] Transparency, the second principle, significantly influences public perception.[18] Law enforcement agencies that uphold transparency in their operations foster a sense of trust and openness with the public, which is critical in shaping a positive agency image.[19] The third principle, transformation, is a key pathway to changing police culture.[20] Law enforcement agencies can cultivate a positive culture by implementing transformative policies that promote fairness, respect, and integrity, improving their public image and attractiveness as a potential career choice.[21]

These concepts culminate in the strategic implementation of online recruitment efforts. These efforts should reflect the actual practices and values of the agency, reinforcing the positive image and trust built through the application of the strategic trooper concept and strategic image management principles. This congruence ensures that recruits are attracted to an authentic portrayal of the agency, laying the foundation for a successful and trusted law enforcement service.[22]


[1] Ebonie Cunningham Stringer and Jennifer Murphy, “Major Decisions and Career Attractiveness among Criminal Justice Students,” Journal of Criminal Justice Education 31, no. 4 (2020): 523–41, https://doi.org/10.1080/10511253.2020.1814829.

[2] Kimberly Collica-Cox and Gennifer Furst, “It’s Not the CSI Effect: Criminal Justice Students’ Choice of Major and Career Goals,” International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology 63, no. 11 (2019): 2069–99, https://doi.org/10.1177/0306624X19834414.

[3] Mary K. Pratt, Patrick Thibodeau, and Emma Snider, “Social Media Recruitment,” Tech Target, accessed October 4, 2022, https://www.techtarget.com/searchhrsoftware/definition/social-recruiting.

[4] Stephan G. Grimmelikhuijsen and Albert J. Meijer, “Does Twitter Increase Perceived Police Legitimacy?,” Public Administration Review 75, no. 4 (2015): 599, http://www.jstor.org/stable/24757820.

[5] David R. White and Joseph Ferrandino, “Criminal Justice Students’ Perceptions amid George Floyd’s Death and COVID-19,” Journal of Criminal Justice Education 33, no. 1 (2022): 58–75, https://doi.org/10.‌1080/‌10511253.2021.1949026.

[6] David B. King, Norm O’Rourke, and Anita DeLongis, “Social Media Recruitment and Online Data Collection: A Beginner’s Guide and Best Practices for Accessing Low-Prevalence and Hard-to-Reach Populations,” Psychologie Canadienne [Canadian Psychology] 55, no. 4 (November 2014): 247, https://doi.org/10.1037/a0038087.

[7] George Gerbner, “Cultural Indicators: The Case of Violence in Television Drama,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 388, no. 1 (March 1970): 69–81, https://doi.org/10.‌1177/000271627038800108.

[8] Jaeyong Choi, “Asymmetry in Media Effects on Perceptions of Police: An Analysis Using a Within-Subjects Design Experiment,” Police Practice & Research 22, no. 1 (2021): 567, https://doi.org/10.1080/‌15614263.2020.1749624.

[9] Shane Burleigh, “Reimagining the Recruitment and Hiring of Police Officers during Tumultuous Times,” Certified Public Manager Applied Research 2, no. 1 (2021): 1–8, https://scholarworks.‌sfasu.edu/‌cpmar/vol2/iss1/4.

[10] Jacob Lawson, Recruitment and Retention of Police Officers in These Challenging Times: Is It Different Now? (Little Rock, AR: Criminal Justice Institute, 2021), 8, https://www.cji.edu/wp-content/‌uploads/2021/07/Recruitment-and-Retention-of-Police-Officers-in-These-Challenging.pdf.

[11] Julia Hill, Darrel W. Stephens, and Anthony Guglielmi, Branding for Police Agencies (Washington, DC: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, 2023), 2, https://portal.cops.usdoj.gov/‌resource‌center/Home.aspx?item=cops-r1126.

[12] Hannah Hagemann and Lynsey Jeffery, “George Floyd Reverberates Globally: Thousands Protest in Germany, U.K., New Zealand,” NPR, May 31, 2020, https://www.npr.org/2020/05/31/866428272/george-floyd-reverberates-globally-thousands-protest-in-germany-u-k-canada.

[13] Kevin P. Morison, Hiring for the 21st Century Law Enforcement Officer: Challenges, Opportunities, and Strategies for Success (Washington, DC: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, 2017), https://portal.cops.usdoj.gov/resourcecenter/ric/Publications/cops-w0831-pub.pdf.

[14] Charles C. Krulak, “The Strategic Corporal: Leadership in the Three Block War,” Marine Corps Gazette 83, no. 1 (January 1999): 21, ProQuest.

[15] Teague A. Pastel, “Marine Corps Leadership: Empowering or Limiting the Strategic Corporal?” (master’s thesis, Marine Corps University, 2008), https://apps.dtic.mil/sti/citations/ADA490868.

[16] Hill, Stephens, and Guglielmi, Branding for Police Agencies.

[17] Hill, Stephens, and Guglielmi, Branding for Police Agencies; Astrid Dirikx and Jan Van den Bulck, “Media Use and the Process-Based Model for Police Cooperation: An Integrative Approach towards Explaining Adolescents’ Intentions to Cooperate with the Police,” British Journal of Criminology 54, no. 2 (2014): 344–65, https://doi.org/10.1093/bjc/azt063.

[18] Judy Pal et al., Strategic Communications for Law Enforcement Executives (Washington, DC: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, 2023), https://portal.cops.usdoj.gov/resourcecenter/‌Home.aspx?‌item=cops-r1126.

[19] David Brown, “Do Your Officers Have a Voice?,” Training Network, January 18, 2023, https://calibrepress.com/2023/01/do-your-officers-have-a-voice/.

[20] Hill, Stephens, and Guglielmi, Branding for Police Agencies.

[21] Hill, Stephens, and Guglielmi.

[22] Hill, Stephens, and Guglielmi.

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