What’s the best time to plant a tree?
– 30 years ago.
What’s the next best time to plant a tree?
In general, law enforcement has made for horrible horticulturalists. We’ve not tilled the soil of community engagement as a practice. Now we wonder why no one understands us.
When an incident like Ferguson erupts, the pundits hurry to fend off allegations from a civilian population incessantly asking for answers. I’ve had so many tell how they’ve unfriended people on social media streams because of the content post-grand jury decision.
When a public service organization adopts a “No Comment” paradigm over the course of a few centuries, is it any wonder why questions and misinformation arises during societal flash points. While operational confidentiality is vital to an agency’s mission, the majority of daily operations and information processed by law enforcement fail to meet the level of classified materials.
Social media allows public agencies an opportunity to manage their own message. If an agency fails or refuses to engage in the often free mediums available for informing people, then they should expect to face the accusations of pent up frustrations.
This is a great opportunity for Chiefs and Sheriff’s to re-examine their public relations practices. It has to be more substantial than a few handshakes with kids at the high school ball game. An ongoing, open dialogue with the community we swore to serve builds bridges and breaks down walls.
A few suggestions:
- Balance the “official” tone of agency social media accounts. If you want the public to relate to the humanity of your officers, then present them as such.
- Not every public event has to be public. People distinguish “photo ops” from sincere neighborhood engagements.
- Proactively pursue the media for establishing mutual credibility. Yes, mutual.
- Ensure the designated “Voice and Face” of your agency is representative not only of the community, but of the vision and ideals for serving the public.
- When wrong, say “I’m sorry.”
- When right, give credit to the persons responsible. Whether it’s the rookie cop or the shop owner who dialed it in, give legitimate thanks.
- Don’t wait until a crisis to introduce yourself to the public you vowed to protect.
- Don’t take it person. Negative public comments are born out of the frustrations of not being heard. Re-evaluate practices to ensure you’ve not shut your community out.
- When times get tough, don’t be a prick.
- In all situations, be yourself – a single human being placed in extraordinary circumstances trying to handle unimaginable calamities. People understand if you trip, and if you do, refer back to #9.
Ferguson & Public Engagement | What are they good for?