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5 Tips to Virtually Engage Your Community During COVID-19

How your department can leverage technology to connect with citizens during the COVID-19 crisis.

By Josh Miller

Police agencies across the country are adjusting their daily routines in response to the nationwide COVID-19 crisis. With departments changing their approach to policing and limiting engagement with the general public, officers must figure out how to approach citizens in a way that’s effective and safe for all. There are many agencies creatively using technology to adapt their traditional means of communication to keep the vital connections with communities going.

This presents an opportunity for your department to use non-traditional technologies since your communities want to be up to date and know how changing conditions affect their day to day lives. That’s why we've reached out to agencies across the nation to understand what works for them in their cities. Based on our findings, we’ve put together five tips that your agency can implement to help and some examples of police departments doing it well. The hard work your agency has put in to build good relationships with citizens, while out in the field, can continue in this time with the aid of these technology resources (often free):

  1. Provide an online submission tool or email address for reporting non-violent crimes
    Redlands Police DepartmentIt isn’t always necessary to visit someone’s house to write a report. Many departments are transitioning to online reports to save manpower for more critical situations. With the spread of COVID-19 across the United States, this is a good opportunity to try something new while limiting your officers’ exposure. It’s a fast way to log what’s happening in the community without deploying an officer.

    Redlands Police Department of Redlands, California uses an online reporting system as a way to make sure that even during social distancing, they’re able to receive and respond to reports of non-violent crimes without an officer having to be in the field. They’re using technology as a way to remain effective in how they communicate with their citizens without missing a step and making their system available to all. Click here: Redlands Online Reporting System

  2. Host an online Town Hall - LiveStream on Facebook
    Chamblee Police DepartmentUtilize software to share the latest news and field questions about your procedures, which is not only a good way to address a multitude of concerns at one time, but connects the community in this time of isolation. Video conferencing tools like Facebook LiveStream, Zoom, and Google Hangouts are easy ways to virtually engage with the community and you can later repurpose the video recordings for those who could not join live.

    Instead of cancelling or postponing an important City Council meeting, Chamblee Police Department and the City of Chamblee in Chamblee, GA chose to host a virtual teleconference to discuss important information with their citizens. With social distancing becoming more common in the foreseeable future, Chamblee is leveraging livestreams to distribute crucial information. Click here: Chamblee Teleconference Update

  3. Post your press releases online (Facebook, Instagram, city website) and provide a means to submit online questions
    Fullerton Police DepartmentMedia is moving away from the traditional news release system and into one where more news outlets are searching online for information rather than going through reports (trust me on this - it’s my full time job). When you release information socially and tag your local news outlets/reporters, you create your own news cycle and tailor your message in the public eye. Reporters will engage with your content more frequently when they know new information is coming in on a regular basis. This can save time with easier posting and opens the door for building relationships with local media, which helps spread positive news in the future.

    Fullerton Police Department of Fullerton, California utilizes their social media accounts (Facebook and Instagram) along with their website to make sure information is distributed. Similar to Chamblee in Georgia, they are working in conjunction with their city to get the word out and create spaces where most everyone can join virtually to stay properly informed. Click here: Fullerton Website

  4. Share best practices and tips for staying active while at home via eNewsletter
    Huntington Beach Police DepartmentThe most effective agencies are the ones that disseminate information to their entire community using the technologies they frequent . Creating and sharing newsletters via web platforms lets people stay informed easily, feel connected with the community, and keeps them up to date with the latest information.

    Huntington Beach uses an online newsletter to update the public about the amount of affected citizens along with tips on being safe during this time. Public guidelines and tips are easily shared and help the city be more socially responsible, creating safer communities. Click here: Huntington Beach Newsletter

  5. Leverage social media to post daily updates to citizens, even if it’s to say Sarasota Police Departmenteverything is okay 
    Everybody uses social media these days and you can use that to your advantage. Proactive communication can take many forms, and posting updates, arrests, and vital information to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram is an easy way to give peace of mind to people without them having to ask. Many will be looking for guidance and to be informed of the latest happenings from trusted sources.

    The Sarasota Police Department of Sarasota, Florida uses Instagram posts to keep their citizens up to date and informed about critical information. Even a picture and a brief summary can be a powerful way of delivering information. Click here: Sarasota Instagram

If you’re curious to see all of these tips in action, please take a look at the Redlands Police Department in California. They’re not only leading the charge in public information, but they’re adapting to an ever-changing environment and using technology to make their case work and public service easier. For a deeper dive, please visit: https://www.cityofredlands.org/police.

For resources on building better public and private partnerships, visit National Coalition Building Institute link here: https://ncbi.org/trust-building-law-enforcement-and-community/.

Have a good tip to share with agencies on how to effectively connect and engage their community? Let me know at joshua.miller@flocksafety.com, we’re always looking for ways to better enable our police customers and keep their cities safe.

Originally published: 2020-03-17 18:23:47