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Good Cop, Bad Cop: Police Recruiting Videos Go Viral

State and local government budgets are being squeezed, but many police departments are still hiring. Even bankrupt Stockton, CA, is accepting applications.

This as the FBI reports violent crime has continued to fall for five straight years, though declines are slowing. I thank the good Lord every day there are men and women in this country willing to put their lives on the line to keep me from harm. This is not a job I would ever want to do, nor would I do it well. Where to find such people?

Recruiting, it turns out, can be a very funny business. Two cities have taken very different approaches to attracting police applicants. Their videos went viral this weekend.

The first is from Decatur, Georgia, displaying a Mayberry-style approach to policing, where officers are your friends.

"We're a very empathetic police department," says Decatur Police Chief Mike Booker. "We try our very hardest to put ourselves in other people's shoes, and it tends to make you look at things from all sides if you do that." Gee, I thought you were supposed to prevent and solve crimes. "Everyone acknowledges you," says one Decatur officer who believes officers are now more likeable.

It’s like they want to be firefighters or something.

Meantime, being liked is apparently the last thing they’re looking for at the Newport Beach Police Department in sunny, wealthy Orange County, California.

Newport may be across the country from Decatur, but its recruiting video is from another planet. "Do you have what it takes?" says the graphic on screen as we follow recruits going through the academy, plus there’s lots of guns being fired, bad guys being taken down, all to a driving beat and cool editing. In other words, if you plan to come to Newport Beach to go shopping at Fashion Island, don't shoplift or we'll crack your head open.

Georgia may be the land of peaches, but California is Afghanistan.

Which approach is better? Which image would you rather portray as a police force — friendly or bad-a**? "I wonder if the differences in attitude here reflect real differences in the quality of police service," asks Mark Frauenfelder on BoingBoing.

I decided to look at the FBI crime statistics.

Newport Beach has about five times the population of Decatur, 85,000 compared to 19,000, but both cities had zero murders in 2011. Decatur had one rape, Newport Beach had three. They had almost the same number of robberies. The biggest difference was in larceny-thefts —1,584 cases in Newport versus 421 in Decatur — but that works out to one crime per 54 residents in Newport, one per 45 residents in Decatur. In other words, more thefts in Newport, but fewer per capita.

Bottom line, their crime rates are pretty similar, with an edge to the OC, but their recruiting messages couldn’t be more different. Why? Maybe it has something to do with each city’s "end user". Decatur, where the per capita income is $39,000, has the motto, "A city of homes, schools and places of worship". It's close to Atlanta, more diverse, with a high home ownership rate and a higher education level than Atlanta.

In Newport Beach, per capita income is $89,000, among the highest in the country. Median home prices top $1 million. Maybe when you have more to lose financially, you don't want police officers who are friendly. You’re paying top dollar for cops who scare off bad guys, crack down on truants, arrest drunks on the 4th of July. In fact, Newport Beach doesn't have a nickname. It doesn't need one. It's Newport Beach. Jaywalk here at your peril. In fact, just keep driving to San Diego, ok?

Questions? Comments? Funny Stories? Email funnybusiness@cnbc.com

  • Based in Los Angeles, Jane Wells is a CNBC business news reporter and also writes the Funny Business blog for CNBC.com.

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