Tag Archives: media

Worth 1000 words

Photoset collections can round out descriptions of your day-to-day work

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.

Newsworthy events

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

Social media doesn’t bring a changing of the guard

Image: <a href=The Munhall (Pennsylvania) News Watch posted this Pittsburgh Tribune Review article recently:

While police departments elsewhere turn to Web sites such as Twitter and Facebook, some local chiefs are sticking to automated phone messages as the best way to get fast alerts to many people at once.

“If you want something right away, a Web site isn’t fast enough,” said Ross police Sgt. William Barrett. “Manpower and media are quicker.” Pittsburgh police have used an Internet-based alert system for two years and many departments post information about crimes on municipal Web sites. But officials say phone systems remain most effective.

Ross police are installing a reverse 911 system, an automated system that can make hundreds of calls in a few minutes.

Missing from the article were examples of other agencies that had either made a total switch to Internet-based services, or were using both.

People aren’t just on the phone… or online

A key to social media is that it reaches people where they are. Lots of people are on Facebook and Twitter, and that’s why so many companies and government agencies are there, too. But as marketers point out, Internet marketing isn’t about the tools. It’s always, always about the people.

I commented to the MNW blog: “Doesn’t reverse 911 only work for landlines? I think it is advisable for agencies to use both phone and services like Nixle (which can be pushed to Twitter) – some people have only cell phones and no land lines, and others may prefer text or email alerts (say, a working parent who would want to know what’s going on in their child’s school neighborhood).”

Note that I think both services should be used. I had an eyeopening moment this week when I read in an email from the Mountain View (California) Police Department‘s PIO, Liz Wylie: “[W]e have over 1000 followers on Twitter, but over 75000 people living in this city and a HUGE number who work here (especially given Google’s headquarters is here). [Thus] Twitter is really reaching only a few people within our community and we can not dedicate vast resources to such a specialized tool that only reaches a small segment of our target population.”

Know your community

Clearly, social media tools are not the end-all be-all of community outreach, even as the media hype them. “Reaching the people where they are” doesn’t just include Web-savvy youth; it also includes their elderly grandparents, people with physical disabilities who live independently, poor people, and others whose phone or computer usage is limited—for whatever reason.

This blog post points out that it is very difficult to measure the extent to which social media tools “should” be used, and ultimately is used in conjunction with other traditional means of communication anyway.

So yes, if it will bring value to your public, and you have the resources for it, use reverse 911; it clearly works. So do Nixle, Citizen Observer, Facebook, and Twitter. Make the messages consistent—and use these multiple means to get information out to the largest group of people possible.

Image: nicholassmale via Flickr

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Branding police work via social media

Image: <a href=“Branding” is one of those corporate buzzwords that threatens to be overused, if it isn’t already. Yet the concept–to create a set of words and images that inspire positive reactions in people–couldn’t be more important to law enforcement.

How does police work get branded? Usually, through the media. The TV show COPS is a brand, as are the CSI and Law & Order franchises. Because they influence public perceptions of law enforcement (the “CSI Effect,” anyone?), they all contribute to the larger “brand” of police work.

Local media, the newspapers and TV news affiliates that cover your community, also figure into the branding equation for better or worse. Cops complain about this kind of branding a lot, how reporters encourage “armchair quarterbacking” over incidents for which they show little understanding.

But the news media can also brand police work the right way. Witness the photography of FrederickNewsPost.com’s photojournalists, who covered the funeral of Officer Richard Mark Bremer, killed in a motor vehicle accident on October 23, 2008. Their slideshow, accompanied to great effect by Chief Kim Dine’s eulogy, shows a different side to police work–one the public doesn’t often see.

Overall, however, traditional media influence over police work’s “brand” is too hit or miss to trust. The good news is that these days, it doesn’t take much to compete with them. You needn’t hire a public relations agency as the Atlanta Police Department recently did to brand itself for recruiting purposes. And pay no attention to the talk flying around the Internet about “personal branding,” as if people could package themselves neatly into a human Coca-Cola or McDonald’s–and inspire the same customer loyalty.

A variety of tools, many of them free, exist to help businesses and public agencies present the best image they can to their customers or constituents. The catch-all term for those tools, social media, refers to the evolving means of Web-based communication.

Social media use is meant to create and further relationships between people. Especially as the economy spirals steadily downward, smart sales people realize that the best way to move product is to build trust, give customers a reason to buy. In law enforcement, you’re not selling a product–but you do want the public to trust you. How else will you get those tips on your Crime Stoppers hotline, or get voters to approve a bond issue for a new police department?

A police department’s use of social media doesn’t have to be fancy, but it does have to be authentic. It has to come from a person in the department, whether officer or administrator. Perhaps most importantly, it demands a reassessment of current policy. The not-unfounded fear is that officer blogs or MySpace pages or YouTube videos could lead to the kind of PR disaster that got a Eustis (Fla.) police officer fired for misconduct committed off-duty.

But managed correctly, most officers can and will do right by their police departments: create honest dialogue with the people they serve, use that dialogue to build toward a stronger and more unified community-policing ethic, and ultimately brand their job the way everyone wants to see it: cops who care.

Image: robstephaustralia via Flickr

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