Friday, September 12, 2014

How Police Departments Can Use Their Websites to Build Public Goodwill


Edward Brown, M.S.
Here’s a novel idea. What if police departments could buy public goodwill through their websites? Could controversial police actions become quashed before tempers flared with an engaged online community?

Core Edge Police Pro conducted an independent study that looked at 57% of U.S. police department websites, particularly in large cities including Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami and New York.  This study found that police departments took a “cookie cutter” approach to their website development. In addition to departmental mission statements and organizational charts, each departmental website generally included:

• Chief’s Message

• Crime Tip Hotline

• Report a Crime

• Crime Prevention

• Social Media Buttons

The average police website was effective at providing operational information, but lacked the level of engagement necessary for community buy-in. To gain the trust and goodwill of its communities, police departments could improve its cyber-interaction by using compelling website content and establishing online communities to connect with diverse groups (businesspeople, politicians, activists and residents). Since the social trend towards communication has gone online, it’s paramount that police departments expand the utilitarian value of its websites to further the goal of community oriented policing (COP). 

Since the nature of policing does not always lend itself to the “warm and fuzzy,” a model for police content development can be borrowed from the healthcare industry.  An effective model that connects diverse groups through its website is the Mayo Clinic Connect (http://connect.mayoclinic.org). 

Mayo Clinic Connect do three things that can be implemented on police websites. These initiatives include Discussion Groups, Interactive Blogs and Open House Invitationals. 

Mayo Clinic Connect states on its general discussion group description; This group is for people interested in general health topics. Join the discussion! Post your question, share your story, or just say hello to the rest of the group via the "What would you like to say?" box below. You can also view ongoing discussions by selecting the "Search Discussions" tab or find other helpful links under "Resources."

When a visitor scrolls down to other Mayo Clinic Connect discussion groups, there is a list of medical conditions that have a discussion group of its own, from Arthritis and Joint Conditions to Women’s Health. In this vein, the clinic is bringing people together based on medical conditions shared by a specific group.

Police departments can isolate specific concerns of constituents and create discussion groups on their websites. For example, a burglary investigator could be assigned to lead online discussions with either burglary victims or people who want to take proactive measures against being burglarized. Each section within a police department could have a discussion group. These discussion groups can create alliances that help police personnel take community oriented policing to the web. Particularly, for the Millennial Generation, who believe in collaborative and communal initiatives.

Second, Mayo Clinic Connect has interactive blogs. Blog posts are predominated by nurses who provide instructional advice to patients on healthcare issues. These “How to…” articles allow patients to receive practical and continuous information by practitioners who deal with these concerns every day. Police departments can use their websites to allow police officers to blog post based on their daily experiences and best practices. For those departments that want to go the extra mile, comments by the public should be allowed in its unadulterated form. Public criticisms, based on the lack of knowledge of police operations, should be allowed to be posted with a response by police personnel to all comments. An example would be those individuals who believe that police officers should shoot perpetrators in the leg as a “shooting decision,” would be advised that cops are trained to stop the actions of a perpetrator, not engage in “trick shooting.” Many misconceptions promulgated by TV police shows could be corrected. 

Finally, frequent visitors to police websites may be invited to Police Open Houses. A Police Open House is a special gathering for the most active and engaged website visitors.  This is an opportunity to further engage the public and encourage participants to be evangelists for the police department.  Invitationals are for special invited guests that would only hear about the event from their participation online. This could be described as a form of “Inbound Marketing” for the police department where citizens are drawn in as opposed to “Outbound Marketing” where departments are constantly sending out fliers and alerts imploring citizens to become more active within their communities. With Inbound Marketing, the citizens do the heavy lifting by steering web site communication in the direction of their self-interests.  

The 1980s saw the acceptance of community oriented policing within law enforcement. The 2000s require community oriented policing to expand in ways that reflect a changing social environment. Just as officers are asked to engage effectively within the communities where they work, the same level of engagement has to take place on the World Wide Web. Developing police website initiatives that pierce the inner sanctum of communities allow not only for deeper connections with the public, but more proactive police measures for reducing crime. When police personnel become invited guests in the homes of citizens via a computer, the possibilities for improved police operations are unlimited.

Edward Brown, M.S., is a content developer and researcher for Core Edge Private Label Rights (a subsidiary of Core Edge Image & Charisma Institute, Inc.), which develops web copy and digital products for law enforcement agencies.

He has advanced legal training from the University of Dayton School of Law and a master’s degree from Mercer University in Public Safety Leadership.

Ed is the author of over 30 books including: Police Leadership: The Morale Driven Police Department and The A-Team: How to Be a Top Police Department in Recruiting, Training and Retaining Employees available at Amazon Kindle. 

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