Communications and Law Enforcement

I’ve been meaning to write a post for a long time about my experiences as an intern with a local law enforcement agency. I could write about how I obtained this internship, how I am the first intern in the public information office at this agency, and what I’ve learned in my six weeks there so far. But the most important part in all of it is how my views have been shaped, and how the passion in me has been ignited.

I wrote a blog post in 2011 about my dream job.  The thing about me is that I am pretty indecisive, especially when it comes to a career and what I want to do for the rest of my life. But for some reason, all of the stars are aligning and I found a passion. I want to share some observations about communications and law enforcement.

Please keep in mind that these are my personal opinions and do not reflect the opinions of the law enforcement agency I am interning for. 

Here’s the thing about law enforcement and communications: in general, agencies are behind the times.

Think about it.

Our general society spends how much of their time with their smart phone or on the internet? How do most Americans get their news? If you watch the news on TV, what are the most typical stories about?

The short answer is this: our society has become increasingly dependent on instant gratification and consistent updates about what is going on in the world.

But what if the law enforcement agency becomes their own source of information?

In today’s world, I can find out about a critical incident that has occurred through Facebook, because someone that listens to the police scanner is sharing what they’re hearing. From a marketing standpoint, this is how a police department is a brand. You have an image, and how your image is portrayed, well, that’s your brand.

As part of my internship, I did a ride along with an officer last week. It was an epiphany for me, mostly because it reminded me that it isn’t always butterflies and unicorns but rather police officers deal with things on a daily basis that most of us cannot fathom. My ride along was what the officer called “pretty intense”. Long story short, it involved a chase searching for the suspect. By the time I got home at 10pm from my ride along, I already had someone ask me if I heard about the incident. Sure enough, I open Facebook to see this:

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In a matter of 15 minutes, these people listening to the scanner are relaying the information they’re hearing. Now, I am not saying there is anything wrong with this. What I am saying is, what if the police department owns this information? What if the police department had a way to officially share the information?

Seattle Police Department is doing just that. They recently instituted something called Tweets by Beat.

They are setting the precedence for law enforcement agencies across the country. How?

By sharing information. By being transparent with their community. By connecting with their community.

Connecting with your community

Police departments, in general, are moving towards community policing. This means they are one with the community. They support partnerships with community members and business owners. Instead of being looked at like the “bad guys”, they are there to help you. They are walking the streets of your community, building relationships and in turn, working to reduce crime. They’re being proactive, instead of reactive.

Something as simple as publishing a weekly police blotter, that provides a review of police calls that were responded to, if a citizen chooses sign up for it. Providing a real-time map of crimes in your neighborhood. Encouraging citizens to utilize an anonymous service to share concerns about things you see happening in your neighborhood. Creating an app that allows citizens to share information with you, so you can better serve them.

The bottom line is this: communication is important.

And on top of that, it is a two-way street. If you want the community to communicate with you, you need to communicate with them. As a law enforcement agency, your duty is to protect and serve.

As I complete my internship with this well-respected law enforcement agency and move towards focusing on a career in law enforcement communications, I realize how important it is for agencies to own their message and be authentic.

I have found a passion in observing, studying and talking about this small, but very important, piece of this field. As I continue on my career path, I hope to turn this passion into something that can help law enforcement agencies understand how important it is to communicate.