Palo Alto police seek recruits willing to change careers

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It takes a certain kind of person to work in public safety. But Palo Alto thinks it can appeal to a special group of people willing to switch careers. ((Photo by Palo Alto Police Department))

It takes a certain kind of person to work in public safety.

A police recruit in Palo Alto makes $98,000 the first year. That's $65,000 lower than the city's median income.

But Palo Alto thinks it can appeal to a special group of people willing to switch careers.

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Every law enforcement agency in Santa Clara County is hiring. So they're competing for recruits and competing with private companies.

"Our uniforms present us as a united front," the narrator says in a police recruitment video Palo Alto created last year, showing how even a small department of 79 sworn officers has a wide range of specialties.

But with 13 openings to fill and intense competition for recruits among other agencies, Palo Alto's latest recruitment video has taken a new approach.

"I used to be a mechanic. Now I'm a Palo Alto police officer," says an officer in a new recruitment video released Tuesday. The video showcases 10 officers who switched to law enforcement from other careers, even at substantial pay cuts.

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"From my last day at the law firm to my first day as a police recruit at the academy, I think I took a 50 percent pay cut," said Lt. James Reifschneider. He was an attorney specializing in intellectual property litigation.

"We have a lot of officers that had lucrative careers before they became police officers, and they bring that life experience with them and that different perspective with them to the job," said Reifschneider.

Showcasing role models who have switched careers could have an impact on recruitment, underscoring the lure of public service.

Agent Mario Estrada used to be a welder. Fellow officers were sales executives, nurses and school teachers.

Officers doing lip sync videos are appearing all over social media. While they're not intended to be recruiting tools, like the Palo Alto approach, they cast officers in a different light.

"It really does humanize police officers and shows, hey, we're just like you," said Janine De La Vega, public affairs manager at Palo Alto Police. "We sit in a car. We sing to the radio. We have fun, too."

It's too early to know if this new approach will work. However, Palo Alto and surrounding cities still have a challenge that's insurmountable -- the high cost of living.

Only 5 percent of its officers live in town.

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