In today’s political climate, it is more important than ever to build public trust in our police departments. A critical component to building public trust that is often overlooked is actively shaping and promoting the identity of our local police officers to humanize them and show their relatability. In this article, I hope to provide some insight into how our communications office and police department work together to foster public trust through a strategic communication approach.
This year, the police department of Prince William County, Virginia, celebrated its 50th anniversary. We seized upon this milestone to highlight the culture of the department based on the principles of service, fairness, and integrity upon which it was founded. We brought together three former police chiefs, along with current officers, to tell why they serve. What stood out in this work was the honest, heartfelt desire to serve the community and to continue the legacy within the department of leadership, culture, family, and community.
Another key communication strategy we undertook was to reimagine the department’s recruiting materials. In 2018, the police department recognized that its community-based policing practices, which enable them to build public trust and confidence, required a concerted effort to attract and retain officers who reflect the people they serve, while also engaging in an empathetic approach to policing.
At the time, recruitment material was action-oriented, high adrenaline, and militaristic. The efforts were particularly successful in recruiting men, especially white men, and those who had a military background. However, the department did not have as much success recruiting women or racial and ethnic minorities. Simply put, as a community where nearly 60 percent of the population is of a racial or ethnic minority group and 50 percent are women, the police department recognized that its officers needed to reflect the diversity of the community.
In order to attract a broader applicant pool that better reflects the public it serves, we came up with the concept, “What’s your story?” with the tagline, “The Prince William County police department consists of backgrounds from all walks of life.” We showcased department members who reflect our community demographics, so that people would see themselves in the story. We highlighted real Prince William County officers at work, at home, and as part of the community. The public saw that officers have families, volunteer, play sports, and go to work, just like everyone else. The material produced speaks to the idea that no matter your background, “You, too, can be a Prince William County Police Officer!”
In order to effectively market and promote the department in a consistent manner, we created several products for the department to use in its recruitment efforts. This included banners, tablecloths, posters, social media graphics, business cards, and brochures. Two of the most critical products included a new recruitment video and a dedicated recruitment website.
“What’s your story?” is a well thought out strategic campaign that focuses on details and execution to create a brand that helps to accomplish the goals of the department. The feedback from the campaign has been tremendous thus far; and the campaign has seen positive results in reaching the targeted audience of women and minorities, while assuring a positive image of police in the community.
Ultimately, the issue of policing in America has taken a national narrative that can be difficult to combat. However, by assuring that our police department reflects the people of our community, and by presenting the human side of our police officers as we highlight them as members of the community on and off the job, we are able to build trust and engage in meaningful dialogue with our residents.