Marketing your law enforcement agency E-mail
Written by Mike Parker   

Never forget that the public you serve always wants to know what your agency and officers are doing. A good flow of information gives them the confidence and sense of well being that comes from knowing they have a professional, active law enforcement agency that is working hard 24/7 to protect them. But how do you best get that information- your message delivered by your agency to the people you want to reach - out there?

 

In times past, this task was harder because we had no way to get our message out through the traditional broadcast and print media. Those of us who have been around for a while were always aware that we didn't own a newspaper and our in-laws did not own a television station.

Thanks to the scores of online and digital options including web sites, email newsletters, Nixle instant messaging, and a whole slew of social media options, never before has your ability to share your agency's goals and successes been as great as they are right now. Lee Baca, Sheriff of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, has been using many of these new technologies to mount an aggressive marketing campaign for his agency, where the goal has been is to let the public know about all the efforts  the LASD is making on their behalf.

In addition, they are encouraged to communicate with us about any concerns or public safety problems they may have. It's a virtual two-way street.

What is your plan? If you want to implement a marketing strategy for your law enforcement agency, the first thing you need to do is develop a plan. Today, marketing your agency and letting the world know about all the good work you are doing is a lot more than just having a web site and sending out press releases. Over the past decade, the public's expectations have changed a great deal.

Today people expect us, as their  protectors, to communicate directly with them by using instant communications. But despite these expectations, our profession has been slow to respond and start using inexpensive new technologies to get our messages out to the public. The idea of preparing a plan is not a new one for any of us. For decades, when we have known about an impending protest, parade, tactical operation, or major event, our preparations have included writing Operations (Special Events) Plans to define the Situation, Mission, Concept of the Operation, Execution, Administrative Instructions, and Personnel Assignments.

But when it comes to defining our image, upon which the public's trust of us depends, frequently there is no comprehensive written plan outlining our objectives and strategies. To address this need, Sheriff Baca directed that all units of the Sheriff's Department develop a "Law Enforcement Agency Marketing Plan" and then implement it.

"Marketing plans enable us to communicate our core values and show the communities we serve the great dedication shown by all of our personnel," Sheriff Baca said. "These plans define an organized approach, and ensure that we use all possible opportunities to communicate that our deputies and civilian personnel follow a code of conduct, care about the people they serve, and work hard to accomplish the mission. The media is an important element of every marketing plan, but it isn't the only one."

What's in your plan? If your agency wants to get going on a marketing plan, start out by describing your organization and its position in the city, county and region. Write down the unique aspects of the jurisdiction that impact your mission, such as population, diversity, and possibly topography. Summarize your agency's challenges and successes.

By defining your goals, your employees will understand that marketing your agency is in fact everyone's job. Then write out your mission including a description of your department's perceived image, different groups/communities you are trying to reach, perceived weaknesses and strengths of your agency, and your environment. At the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, our marketing plans are designed to enhance the image of our agency and inform the various communities that we serve about our core values and our mission with the goal of improving our image with the public, the media, our employees, other law enforcement agencies, the criminal justice system,  public and government professionals, as well as vendors, inmates and their visitors.

We have worked hard to successfully advance our leadership efforts and management here at the LASD, but most of the public is unaware of the outstanding efforts made every hour of every day by our employees. The tremendous versatility and abilities of our personnel is a major strength and is exemplified by ongoing successes at crime reduction, recruitment of civilian volunteers and more.

For example, in the adjoining photo a Sheriff's Special Enforcement Bureau sniper deputy supports his partner deputies who are positioned in armored rescue vehicles and radio cars while they convince an armed kidnapping suspect to surrender on a freeway in Los Angeles County. Such images when owned by your agency can help illustrate our priority of preservation of human life.

This photo taken by Chris Miller helps to show the dramatic impact of having a good image to show the public. We had another great arrest where deputies heroically took armed robbers into custody without firing a shot. Despite our best efforts to get the news media interested, they had other plans that day.

Yet with an improved and flexible web site and Nixle instant messaging, we were still able to get our message of success out to thousands of people. Another important reason to devote the necessary resources to marketing your agency and spreading the word about all the positive things you are doing for the community, is that most law enforcement agencies are like ours. We face healthy competition. Contract cities can contract elsewhere, as can the Superior Court system, transit authorities, colleges, and jails so it is necessary for us to constantly prove that we are the best at what we do.

You don't have to rely solely on the news media A big problem of late is that the growing popularity of tabloid-style media, a 24/7 news cycle and the rise of "infotainment" has meant more coverage of the negative, lurid and violent aspects of police work. Compounded with the fact that law enforcement is under constant scrutiny and a segment of the population views us with suspicion, and you can see what it has become crucial to have a program to spread the word about the good works that you are accomplishing.

Our marketing team decided on ten groups of people who formed the core of our clients. They include the public, media, employees both internal and external, other law enforcement agencies, justice system officials, public officials, external organizations, vendors, and inmates and their visitors.

By improving our focus on delivering information directly to each of these target markets as our objective, we are working towards our marketing goal of drawing people into our message, mission, and successes. "The results of the evaluation of our marketing efforts could be described as positive, with room for improvement. Sheriff Baca said, "The public's trust for the average deputy sheriff went up, yet I would have liked to see more of an impact.

But overall, it was a great start. We were getting our message out well before, one deputy at a time. You can't use the media to convince the public they should trust your deputies. Only the deputies can market trust. Without this marketing effort coming from us, the bad seems to dominate while the good gets obscured.

"One of my goals was to get employees thinking that there are many ways along with the traditional print and broadcast media to communicate with all the groups who need to understand what we are doing on their behalf," the Sheriff concluded.

Mike Parker is a captain with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Dept. (LASD) and the Unit Commander of Sheriff 's Headquarters Bureau, which leads the media relations and marketing efforts for the Department.  For lots more on "Marketing Your Law Enforcement Agency," visit www.lasd.org.


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