Sometimes, police work IS community relations

enforcing the lawI had to smile when I read the opening line of this blog post by cop blogger Beat and Release: “I am so tired of hearing about how we have to build ‘community trust’ I think I’m going to puke.”

Because that’s what we social-media proponents all say, isn’t it? Be online, build trust with the community online.

B&R brings up a good point about the people who trust police vs. those who don’t:

The part of the community that trusts law enforcement is the ninety percent that rarely, if ever, uses our services. Of the remaining ten percent, five percent of those are good people that live in crappy areas, but won’t be seen talking to the police because it would put them at risk of retaliation. Earning the trust of the remaining five percent is not something I assign a high priority to and seriously doubt the goal can be achieved.

His is a point of view shared by at least one officer in every agency, if not even some at the administrative level.

Trust-building comes as a result of relationship-building. You can’t have conversations with people who want only transactional relationships, and you can’t build trust with people who want neither to trust nor to be trusted.

Lots of people in lots of communities are happy when the local police department joins Twitter and Facebook, because it shows the department’s willingness to meet with the community in its “hanging out” spots online.

But for many people, presence doesn’t automatically mean trust. In some cases, it means quite the opposite, both on and offline. Officers who know this will have a hard time using or evangelizing the department’s social media efforts—and these officers shouldn’t be ignored.

Instead, use their street knowledge to inform your communications efforts among the entire population. Good community relations doesn’t target specific groups one at a time, but starts with the agency’s mission and values, integrating them into a broader strategy with a clear, consistent message and strong listening capabilities across all community members.

Part of that strategy? Patrol officers who understand that sometimes listening means hearing only the silence of people too afraid to talk, and messaging means simply enforcing the law.

Understand this, and maybe they won’t pass off community relations as “just another feel-good tactic”… they’ll be able to implement it according to the needs of those they serve.

Image: Lorri37 via Flickr

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