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Humor in community policing

Laughter is as important to community policing as the message

Laughter is as important to community policing as the message

Good cops know that humor can sometimes defuse a potentially messy or even violent situation, as well as relieve the stress associated with their jobs. In fact, their “gallows humor” is understood–even shared–by more civilians than cops may think.

Yet the popularity of two police blotters, those in the Unalaska/Dutch Harbor (Alaska) and Tracy (California) Police Departments, underscores how humor can help civilians relate better to police.

Humor from the police side

The Dutch Harbor Fisherman recently interviewed the Unalaska Police Department‘s Sgt. Jennifer Shockley, who compiles and rewrites the blotter. With a writing style that has caught on among readers even outside of Unalaska, Shockley manages a line between the “fun” side of police work—and the work itself. She noted:

In the most basic sense, it’s a PR tool. It lets the public know that we do actually have calls for service, no matter how inane and trivial they might seem, year-round…. The press release lets the public know what kind of crime we have here and, I hope, keeps the public aware that the public safety department is a necessary part of the community.

Shockley’s work, she points out, is often influenced by officers themselves. “Officers that catch that sense of the absurd, and incorporate it in their event narratives, can strongly influence how much or how little humor I in turn put in the press release,” she said.

Humor from the civilian side

In Tracy, California, the approach is slightly different: the Tracy Press compiles the blotter online, then opens it to comment from civilian readers. The readers themselves have put the humorous spin on the logs—not so much poking fun at police, but rather at fellow citizens.

Where the sides meet

Notably, neither agency is involved in active discussion with readers. That’s probably asking too much. But whether lighthearted education is a goal, as in Unalaska, or the agency simply listens to what’s being said about the agency and the community, as should be the case in Tracy, humor should not be overlooked as part of online police presence.

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