Tag Archives: public trust

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

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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