Case study: Researching community in Arcadia, Calif.

Arcadia police reach their public via unofficial blogSgt. Tom Le Veque has been a believer in social media since he started using it to reach out to the public during contract negotiations. Administration has been a bit slower to adopt, however, so Le Veque went for middle ground: a blog run by the Arcadia Police Officers’ Association.

Sgt. Le Veque’s introduction on our “About You” page led to a more in-depth discussion between us. What he’s doing may be a valuable alternative for agencies that want to “test” social media before they commit to an official presence online, and he has other good insights too.

How the APOA blog started

Le Veque says:

A couple of years ago, we were in the middle of some fairly tense [contract] negotiations. I started following not only the print media, but also constantly querying the topic on the Internet.  I stumbled across a fairly active news/political blog that was in our area and started following items of interest.  That in turn led to looking into police blogs and local departments that were active on the net.  In the Los Angeles area, sad to say, I found little to choose from at the time.

Feeling the need to further our Association’s position publicly, we used letters to the editor, blog entries, commented on news articles (Topix), a billboard, posted a video on YouTube, and launched the APOA website.

When the dust settled I felt that there was a need to promote not only our Association, but also our department in the community.  Feeling that social media was an up and coming outlet, I drafted a proposal for an official APD blog and began to work on helping to improve our presence on our PD website.

The blog idea was shot down [due to the] feeling that there was no need for the department to devote time to the project.  However, a manager commented that the PD had no control on whether or not the POA started a blog… that sparked the idea of the APOA Info Blog.

The takeaways

A couple of things stand out to me about Le Veque’s efforts. First, he started by listening. It makes no sense to join a conversation you know nothing about. Even if you know your side, no one will respond positively if you’re only talking about your side. Real negotiations start with listening, even to the critics.

Then, even after the contract negotiations were settled, Le Veque kept going. Good marketers who are integrating social media into business initiatives realize that there is no such thing as a “campaign” as in advertising; they know the “conversation” is ongoing. Also, even though the department administrators felt they had no need for a blog, Le Veque knew the community had a need.

Going further, I learned that Le Veque had done significant research before starting his blog. For one thing, he notes a wide range of both police blogs and responses to them:

In looking into the ‘police blog’ idea, it seemed that most of the blogs had few to no comments. There were exceptions, but to me they were explainable.  LAPD had many comments, but most seemed to come from within, from their own personnel.  A couple of smaller towns in the Midwest had comments on their PD blogs, but the appearance was that everyone in the area knew each other….

I did find that when a department offered question and answer type entries, like that of Sacramento PD, there seemed to be some genuine interaction between the community and the PD.

Different forms of success

Blog comments, in quantity if not quality, do not define its success. Comments are only one form of feedback; there are other forms of feedback both direct and indirect. As Le Veque says:

Comments on the site have been minimal and after looking at other PD blogs we did not expect an overwhelming amount of traffic.

We have had good feedback and believe that it serves as an excellent form of community outreach and communication. Our feedback has been mainly through word of mouth, a few phone calls, and direct email via our feedback link on the POA website.

More importantly, Le Veque’s continued research involves number-crunching:

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