Meet HPD’s new recruiter, Sgt. Tess Hughes

single-meta-cal July 24, 2017

The police sergeant is in a T-Rex costume. Another two dozen or so officers maniacally dart in front of the camera, like some bad Monty Python skit.

In only a matter of a few days, the video had 70,000 views. A follow-up, in which the T-Rex is going through physical training, has nearly that many views. Many, of course, are simply curious videophiles. Some may be – so goes the hope – young people interested in law enforcement.

That the Huntsville Police Department is doing something a little more light-hearted than usual demonstrates how serious it is about bringing aboard the best and brightest young officers.

“Help Wanted” ads in a newspaper are no longer the avenue to recruit employees. This generation of future cops, steeped in social media and looking for things interesting and intriguing, are being strategically targeted by HPD.

The tactic “is not what I envisioned for recruiting,” HPD Chief Mark McMurray admits, but he knows it’s important to “put a different face on the Huntsville Police Department.”

There is a numbers game at play. As McMurray says, “The labor pool is shrinking and we expect it to shrink over the next five years.”

Ten years ago, there would typically be 1,500-plus applicants for the roughly 30 spots in an Academy class. This past year, there were 500. HPD would like a deeper pool, with broader diversity, from which to choose its cadets.

Enter the aforementioned police sergeant in the T-Rex costume and the new initiative to create clever videos that grab attention and help humanize the department.

Missing the irony in her statement, Sgt. Tess Hughes says, “Huntsville has been stuck in the Stone Age in recruitment. This is the final push to put us where we should be. … People should know we’re a large city and we’re highly appealing. Before, people don’t necessarily think, ‘I want to be a police officer in Huntsville, Alabama,’ but our hope is that these videos will make them think of us.”

Hughes is a 10-year veteran of the force. She is a second-shift supervisor at the West Precinct who has volunteered to oversee the recruitment process.  Some 27 officers have joined her team, pitching in with their video cameos, their own video work, and in an outreach program that will increase HPD visibility on college campuses, at job fairs and public events. If there’s a law-enforcement course being taught at a college somewhere nearby, an HPD representative will make an appearance.

Hughes was the perfect choice to lead the effort, with a bright, quirky personality coupled with the professionalism of a veteran cop.

“As police officers, we don’t want to come off as unprofessional with these funny videos,” she says. “But it is very important to show we have a human side. We want serious candidates, but they also have to be able to laugh at times. If you can laugh at this and the (more serious) tactical videos, you’re perfect. We want to get our name out and let people know this is a great place to work.”

It was cops on video that brought her into the profession.

“I blame it on my father (Anthony Hughes) for letting me watch too many Bruce Willis movies as a child,” she says. “I didn’t know anybody in law enforcement, but it’s all I ever wanted to do.”

Hughes, a native of Fayetteville, Tenn., is the mother of a 2 ½-year-old daughter. She’s also the best swimmer in the Huntsville Police Department. Hughes competed as a 15-year-old in the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials in 2000 as an 800-meter freestyler and earned a scholarship to Michigan State University. She continued to compete after graduation; she’s won three gold and two silvers in the 2013 World Police Games in Ireland and two silvers at the 2015 games in Fairfax, Nova Scotia.

And as for that T-Rex costume…

“I’ve had that thing for a year. I bought it for a family reunion for fun. I bought it to scare my whole family. I was thinking at the time, ‘This was the worst $100 I ever spent. Now,” she says, “I think it’s definitely the best $100 I ever spent.”

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