Images in police work typically bring to mind two things: crime-scene photos, and mugshots. The first are not releasable to the public. (Or at least, they should not be.) The second are, but by now they’re run-of-the-mill, Joe the Cop’s blog treatments notwithstanding.
So how are images useful for social law enforcement? Take a look at paramedic/trainer Greg Friese’s blog entry about how he’s using photosharing site Flickr.
His example, a set of photos of exit signs, may seem unremarkable. But notice what Greg uses them for: lessons about fire inspections. What might law enforcement do with shared and uploaded photos?
Public service/safety announcements
An agency might choose to run a weekly or monthly PSA topic. Connected to a series of blogs or podcasts, topics might include home security, vehicle theft prevention, child safety, or even things like vehicle stop safety.
What kinds of photosets might you expect to see connected to these topics? If the blog or podcast is about the why and how of safety, the photosets should serve as an illustration of what’s being discussed. For instance:
- Home security: shrubs around doorways and windows, both neatly trimmed and not. Gates and garages left open or unlocked.
- Vehicle theft prevention: expensive items like iPods and GPS devices left on seats. Unlocked doors. Vehicles left running (in winter or summer).
- Child safety: correctly and incorrectly installed car seats. School zone safety (traffic, pedestrian, and other elements). Among preteens and teens, signs of drug use.
- Vehicle stop safety: a staged scene showing each element of a traffic stop (vehicle positioning, driver behavior, etc.) done both correctly and incorrectly. Take into account variables such as having to stop on a narrow two-lane road, multiple passengers, etc.
Whether you ask permission to take these pictures, or take them using abandoned property, your own property, or impounded property, good pictures can often be included in a press release to local media, who will appreciate the additional content.
”Day in the life” sets
The TV show COPS highlights only some police work in some cities. Publics in your community might enjoy seeing more of your officers’ activities on duty—not the staged photos you see in newspapers, but candid snapshots:
- Officers running radar in a part of town that gets frequent complaints. (Post dates and times.)
- Partners might snap photos of each other working on a report or interacting with the public (within reason and with permission).
- Roll call. Refresher training, jokes (again, within reason), or discussion of crime trends could all be of interest.
- Officers interacting with one another or performing some routine function like radar calibration or portable radio inspections.
Don’t be afraid to get silly, as the Kenosha (Wisconsin) Police Department did in its Christmas video. As great pranksters as cops can be, photos of practical jokes could go a long way toward humanizing professional officers (one last time, within reason).
So can cliches. One morning when I was an Explorer, my officer and I pulled into the local Dunkin’ Donuts… making our cruiser the fifth in line. People joke about cops and donuts anyway; that kind of Kodak moment creates a laugh, and wouldn’t do any more damage than the people already talking about seeing it to their friends and coworkers.
Snowstorm of the century? Press conference on a high-profile case? Building a new police station or getting new cruisers or other equipment? Police perspective can add extra context. The kind of photo like the one posted on Inspector Gadget’s blog can be snapped just quickly before an officer dives in to help, and images taken of the faces of reporters who are listening to a chief talk are just different enough counterpoint.
Meanwhile, stage by stage photos of the new stationhouse, or shots of new cruisers arriving or new equipment being tested out, can show both officers’ pride in their milestones and what they do to keep the public safe.
As Joe recently pointed out, many things about police work probably shouldn’t see the light of day. Privacy needs to be taken into account, as must potential critics’ (not that you didn’t have those before).
But even officers who take pictures of corpses at crime scenes show a degree of creativity that can’t be ignored. Channel this in the right direction, and your own images can be as powerful as citizens’ in showing your side of police work.
What kinds of images can your officers, detectives and supervisors share about their work in the community?
Image: fdecomite via Flickr