Community engagement is critical to ensuring that your police department is trusted, respected, and supported by the communities you serve. Building and maintaining positive relationships with residents, business owners and other community members help peace officers more effectively carry out their mission to serve and protect. It also helps citizens better understand emergency and public safety response and how to access help, as well as become better prepared for disasters, emergency situations, and other events affecting the whole community.
Covid has meant that engagement efforts must look different (i.e. socially distanced and with precautions) than before; however, that doesn’t mean they should stop or slow down. In fact, in times of crises like this, community engagement is more important than ever.
Here are some ideas for your agency to strengthen the bonds with your community – while keeping everyone safe.
Host virtual events
Many events that used to happen in person can be transitioned online fairly easily. Use platforms such as Zoom, GoToMeeting, Skype, Google Hangouts, or even Facebook Live from your department’s Facebook page.
- Community meetings – Whether a town hall or something less formal, virtual meetings allow your department to meet with your community on specific topics, questions, or concerns they may have. They also allow you to share news, announcements, and new campaigns or initiatives.
- Meet and greets – Let your neighborhoods meet their peace officers! Showing your officers’ human side – personalities, humor, and all – goes a long way toward relationship-building. This can be as simple as short self-intro videos to virtual ride-alongs in a squad car and campaigns designed for young audiences.
- Virtual tour – Offer a virtual tour of the department and its facilities – everyone loves getting a peek behind the front doors.
Connect with kids and youth
Forming good relationships with youth is key to creating a community environment where citizens can live, work and play free from fear of crime.
- K9 tour – Service dogs in canine units are a perennial hit with kids. You can share live videos of the dogs training with their handlers, as well as tours of their kennels and a peek inside K9 vehicles. What are the most common questions about the dogs? – answer those in your video! Check out some examples here, here, and here.
- Storytime – Make an early, positive impression on kids by reading and sharing their favorite books. Check out other departments’ videos here and here. You can customize for any age group or by topic – the possibilities are endless! Channel some Mr. Rogers, and you’ll have fans for life.
Bring it outside
With a little creativity and the proper safety precautions, your department can do many of the outdoor activities you used to, shift some previously indoor activities outside, or even start a new tradition or two.
- Events at the station – Depending on your station’s outdoor facilities, you can host meet and greets, K9 with kids, town halls, press briefings, and more – anything where groups can stay small and socially distanced.
- Community walks – Police chiefs like this one and this one have made a point of walking their neighborhoods as a way to meet local residents. By answering questions and learning about residents’ experiences and concerns, police leaders are able to better understand the community’s needs and challenges. These friendly one-on-one conversations also foster goodwill and help citizens feel invested.
Screens, airwaves, and other virtual channels aren’t going anywhere, even when the pandemic ends. They give you a ton of options for new and sustainable ways to connect with your community.
- Social media – Your department’s social channels are great for 2-way communication, allowing you to push out information that you want your community to know, and also to hear directly from citizens. A simple social media strategy will help advance community outreach, problem-solving, and crime prevention efforts.
- Traditional media – Even in the digital age, “old school” media still plays an important role in helping your department spread messages, disseminate information, and raise awareness and community engagement. Build your media relationships to leverage local TV, radio, and newspapers.
Make it fun, make it meaningful – make it about them
Despite there being an end to the pandemic is on the horizon, these are still stressful times. A bit of levity can help immensely and reminds the citizens you serve that your peace officers and your department are an integral part of their community. Directly addressing the concerns, questions, and interests of your community will go a long way toward building those relationships and trust that’s paramount to your department’s success.
Support different languages
If your community is a diverse one, make sure to offer critical information in multiple languages on your virtual channels. This cuts down on information barriers and helps improve public health and safety in the entire community.
Community engagement remains one of the best ways to foster trust and respect between community members and peace officers. With a little retooling of your outreach programs, as well as some new ideas and thinking outside the box, you and your colleagues can continue building those relationships – while staying safe and keeping your community safe.
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