Recruiters for the New York City Police Department hand out coffee mugs on college campuses. In Los Angeles County, police offer baseball jerseys with the words "Join Our Team."
Some recruiters say they even plan to hit the road to entice volunteers.
Squeezed by the retirement of baby boomers and competition from higher-paying private employers and federal law enforcement, police around the country are aggressively recruiting job candidates.
"We're not able to find as many qualified applicants as we've had in the past," lamented Montgomery County Sheriff David Vore, who is advertising statewide in Ohio for 12 deputies and eight corrections officers. "I can't explain it. It just doesn't appear people want to come into law enforcement like they did."
Police recruiters in Oakland, Calif., plan to buy a mobile home within six months so they can travel to out-of-state military bases and colleges to administer tests.
"We're going to drive, fly and do whatever it takes," said Sgt. Jon Madarang, recruiting supervisor for Oakland, which needs to hire 62 officers.
Even movies offer no escape. Recruiting ads designed to look like movie previews are showing in theaters.
"Everybody's getting into branding their police department to separate it from their competitors," said Jason Abend of the National Law Enforcement Recruiters Association.
Police agencies traditionally advertised in newspapers and on radio or waited for recruits to come to them after hearing about openings by word of mouth.
Some police departments are flush with qualified candidates. Abend said that though there may be a shortage of applicants in some areas, the overall pool nationally is not shrinking. However, he said, there is increased competition for that pool.
Federal law enforcement and military agencies have been in a hiring frenzy since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, attracting recruits to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Abend said.
"The FBI is vacuuming up people," he added.
Many veteran police officers are taking private-sector jobs or snapping up better-paying jobs at other police departments, touching off recruiting wars.
"I laugh every time I see Roy McGill, the police chief of Germantown," said Chris C. Krug, police chief in nearby Miami Township, near Dayton. "I say, 'You're not going to hit me, are you? Because I've stolen about four people from your department.' "
Despite the change in recruiting methods, the message remains pretty much the same: Police work offers job security and a way to serve the community.
Vore has spent $8,000 for newspaper ads in Dayton, Columbus and Cleveland. The campaign, which began five months ago, has attracted 20 officers from Cleveland-area police agencies -- more than 150 miles away -- who are interested in jobs.
The Los Angeles Police Department hired a public relations firm that produced three movie trailers, fictionalized accounts of a day in the life of two patrol officers. The officers are seen capturing a robbery suspect, arriving on the scene where a gunman takes a woman hostage, and helping find a young kidnap victim.
"We wanted people to look at it and probably think it's a new movie coming out," said recruiter Gavin Stieglitz. "We figured a lot of people are going to the movies, and this was a way to reach out to a big, wide audience."
The trailers are being shown at theaters in five Southern California counties.
Other large police departments have taken more conventional approaches to boost recruiting.
New York has dropped the $35 fee for taking a written examination and allows recruits to apply online. Next year, Chicago will offer its exam four times annually instead of once a year.
The police department in Clearwater, Fla., has begun offering a paid day off for any officer who recommends a recruit who is hired and makes it through one year's probation.
It also plans to drop a requirement that all recruits have college degrees, allowing them to substitute at least three years of active-duty military service or at least two years' experience with a certified police agency.
"We're not lowering our standards. It just makes a bigger pool," Sgt. Terry Teunis said. "The pool just isn't as sufficient as it used to be."