Enhancing Your Agency’s Image During Challenging Times
By Paul Grattan Jr., M.P.A.
It has been a tough year for law enforcement. In our tabletop exercises, most of us never considered a global pandemic as a possible scenario. Just when the COVID-19 crisis was testing our abilities to provide useful public information and guidance, we face another set of socially and politically trying circumstances.
Law Enforcement Challenges
Recent antipolice rhetoric, violent demonstrations, and the current political climate are part of a long list of things that take a serious toll on law enforcement members, our families, and the ability to effectively carry out our mission.
Calls to defund the police are gaining traction, and critics primarily focus on scaling back an agency's public information resources. Unsurprisingly, eliminating public information assets prevents us from demonstrating how our officers serve their communities. The current state of the world serves as a good reminder of the important role that social media plays.
Factual, timely updates from the most appropriate and reputable source — the police — can have an enormous impact on the public’s perception of law enforcement. A constant stream of criticism and rampant misinformation can be frustrating. When morale takes a hit, our social media strategy is not the first thing that comes to mind, and getting support from our officers can seem like an uphill battle. However, we know that social media often provides the first look people get at the organization that represents them. It acts like a storefront, showing how the agency is portrayed. We must choose between sitting silently or promoting a message.
Sergeant Grattan is a digital communications officer with the New York Police Department’s Transit Bureau and a graduate of FBI National Academy Session 254.
A common complaint is the lack of physical police presence in neighborhoods. We cannot be everywhere, and we often go unseen even when we are there. Our online presence can be a great way to heighten visibility. People do not look out their windows; they look at their phones.
As law enforcement professionals, we have a lot in our favor, including our great communication skills. We talk people down from building ledges, comfort victims under indescribable circumstances, and routinely bring highly charged situations under control. When violent demonstrators try to take over a precinct or station house, we do not relent — we defend. Our instinct is to step up, form a line, and fight back.
Why would our stance be any different when confronting an onslaught of inaccurate information on social media? Some tried-and-true policing principles that work in the field are just as effective in our public messaging efforts — a strong professional presence, active listening, adequate tactical posture, situational awareness, a forward-leaning and proactive stance, empathy, and a quick and intelligent response to problems.
If social media is a big part of our agency’s image, we should not let it get trampled either. There has never been a more important time to examine and reinforce our online presence and communication with the public. Our teams deserve to be accurately represented and to have their stories told truthfully and compellingly. You can defund the message makers, but you cannot defund the message. Now is not the time to remain silent on social media. Now is the time to enhance law enforcement’s image.
Sergeant Grattan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.