Albuquerque Police Use 'Runaway Bride' Billboard for Recruitment Campaign

The "Runaway Bride" has returned — in a strange new way.

The Albuquerque Police Department is using a new recruitment technique that features APD spokeswoman Trish Hoffman unveiling a woman wearing running shoes and a wedding gown.

"Running away from your current job? Call APD Recruiting at 343-5020," the slogan reads.

The image is a spoof of Jennifer Wilbanks, the Georgia bride who on April 26, 2005, ran away from home right before her 600-guest wedding. The search for Wilbanks spanned several states and police jurisdictions and ended after she took a bus to Albuquerque.

It was there that she called her jilted fiancée, John Mason, from a pay phone and told him of the abduction allegations. She also called 911. She eventually admitting she'd fled on her own because of cold feet and other psychological problems.

Once authorities realized Wilbanks' story was made up, it was Hoffman who led her through a media frenzy at the Albuquerque International Sunport while she covered her head with a blanket.

Videos and photos of the incident had made Hoffman one of the most recognizable faces on the Albuquerque police force.

“It’s at an important time, which is the two-year anniversary of the incident,” Michael Castro, captain of the Administrative Bureau, told about why the billboard is being erected now.

“The digital billboards are new in the last six months ... they are upbeat, new and gather the attention of the community.”

The ad will appear on 10 different billboards and will be featured for 8 seconds per minute.

According to Castro, 290,000 people will drive past the billboards during any 24-hour span.

Castro said Hoffman is a local hero and that her face will be easily recognizable.

“The community loves hearing about her in print or television. She enjoys some type of celebrity around here," he said.

But Hoffman told The Albuquerque Journal: "I am sure I am going to get some harassment."

The Albuquerque Police Department considers itself to be very progressive, Castro said, noting that 15 percent of the force is made up of women — one of the highest percentages among police ranks in the country.

“We try to not limit ourselves to a traditional view of white male officers. We like to think outside the box,” Castro said.

The ads will be up for one month and will cost $16,000. The department has been desperate to get its force up to 1,100 members by the end of the year. It is currently just short of 1,000 members.

"The runaway bride is one of those stories that people across the national still talk about," APD Chief Ray Schultz told The Albuquerque Journal. "We hope we can capitalize off of that."

Wilbanks' story is also going to be featured as a "rock opera" at the Red Clay Theatre in Duluth, Ga. — her hometown — beginning this October, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in January.

Although Mason initially stood by her, the couple has since ended their relationship and in September 2006, Wilbanks sued him for $500,000 and household belongings she said were hers. She accused Mason of selling their story to a media company and then using the money to buy a house.

Mason countersued, but in December, they dropped their lawsuits.