Sgt. 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.
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:
We have tracked visitor numbers [via Google Analytics] and are pleased with the results. After the start up the blog, unlike WordPress, the host Blogger did not have a counter for visits. I was curious as to how many hits the POA blog was getting so I opted for associating the Google Analytics program with the site.
I found it interesting but also somewhat confusing. The numbers are fairly straightforward, but it seemed that the site is geared for more of a marketing type blog. I know that we have recurring visitors from the community, our politicians and the local media. Comments to officers in the field, phone calls to the Watch Commander, and even a little feedback from Administration has confirmed that information.
Defining blog success
Keeping an open mind with regard to comments was key, as was Le Veque’s attitude that “if we impact anyone with our information than it is a success.” But there’s more to it than that, he says:
I believe that a great deal of how well the blog will do depends on many, many factors. Just a few in my opinion are:
- Population, location and demographics (who and where are you serving)
- Department buy-in and support
- Publicity both in local media and the parent organization (city, county, other departments)
- Is it down to earth or too “official” [Le Veque brings up the point that many blogs are little more than press release pages.]
I don’t know if you can be politically correct when it comes to talking about the who and where. I think that a police department that serves an average middle class area may have an easier time interacting socially, either on-line or in person, than a department that serves a high income area. Departments that serve more depressed areas probably depend on how well they interact now and what kind of community partnerships are established.
If the community does not like or trust the cops, they are not going to interact, in a positive way, on-line. Bottom line is that in any project, you have to overcome the ‘us vs. them’ or the idea that law enforcement
is a ‘necessary evil.’
Le Veque acknowledges that until more smaller police departments in California catch on to social media use, “Our management is likely to remain distant. Officially, the blog is not supported, however, there have been a handful of times that even the boss has asked for a topic to be posted.”
So, just as Le Veque researches the community to meet its needs, he continues to research the agency’s needs, working to help administration warm to the idea, including adding a “just ask” button on the blog page (a la Sacramento PD), starting a Twitter account, and proposing a Facebook page.
Where can you start listening to your community?