Thursday, October 11, 2007

Information Sharing in Reluctant Neighborhoods

The latest issue of has a nice article on encouraging information-sharing between police and citizens, especially in neighborhoods where residents are generally hesitant and may be distrustful of the police. The article focuses on recruiting volunteers who will regularly help police, but the advice is sound in any case.

Police officers are advised to think like marketing executives, paying close attention to the needs of their "customers" (i.e., those who may share information with them):

[T]hought should be given to how your volunteers will be perceived by their fellow citizens.

When faced with troubled areas of your community, a different approach to marketing your volunteer unit to soften the perception could be as simple as a name change. Choosing a unit name such as Neighborhood Assistance Volunteers or Community Support Team removes what could be viewed as negative words.

At some point, your volunteers will speak with their peers in the community, at which time they can explain their purpose.

Not feeling singled out by their peers as "police in hiding" may also provide an incentive for members of the community to step up and perhaps join the team or at least pass on information that may help your agency to solve and prevent crimes.
Projecting an image of helping the community - being supportive and assistive - extends beyond just words:
Some simple resources to consider would be providing your volunteers with a list of community agencies that offer help to folks who may be having problems paying their utility bills, resolving disputes with neighbors and landlords, finding educational programs to increase their self-worth and more.

Other ideas may include providing your volunteer units with donated child safety car seats, and/or bicycle helmets for families that may not otherwise be able to afford them.

Other items to consider may be new donated basketballs, footballs and games to give children in the community something constructive to do, rather than just hanging out on the street corner. Doing so will help your volunteers "walk the walk" if challenged by their peers to demonstrate how they are "assisting and supporting" the community versus "working for the police."
This is all part of building a trusting relationship. In the end, we freely share information with those we trust.

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