Can a Metropolitan Police Department Use Traditional Marketing Techniques to Improve Public Relations Term Paper

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Metropolitan Police Departments Can Use Traditional Marketing Techniques to Improve Public Relations

The days when people trusted police officers simply because they were police officers are over. In today's society, the image of law enforcement has been damaged by incidents like the taped Rodney King beating, the Rampart corruption scandal, and other incidents of excessive force, racial profiling and corruption.

Even the courage and heroism shown by New York police officers following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 has not been enough to change the general negative image of police forces in metropolitan areas. Nationwide, police officers are adapting a traditional marketing approach to policing in an effort to fight this negative image.

Policing Throughout History

Throughout history, as times have changed, it has often become necessary to alter the policies and practices of policing. Policing strategies that worked in the past often do not work in present times. The desired goal of an effective policing policy is the enhanced sense of safety, security, and well being. As the social climate of the United States changes, the policing of our country has adjusted to pinpoint different interests and pursue different goals.

Technological developments have been a key factor in the evolution of police agencies since the 1950's. (Goldstein) The expanding role of automobiles replaced the times of the walking and biking patrol officer. During the 1950's, an effort was made to improve criminal investigation and crime control, making these major functions of police agencies. The era signified the initial use of motorized, radio-dispatched patrol. In addition, police presence was beginning to be considered as a highly effective method for reducing crime (p. 54-55). By the 1970's, rapid telephone contact with police through 911 systems allowed them to respond rapidly to crimes.

After World War II, immigration and migration from rural areas to the cities started an era of growth and urbanization in the U.S. At this time, television became very popular, bringing into the living rooms of many Americans images of change in the country. Many of these images were of police responding to demonstrations connected to the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War.

In addition, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and President Kennedy fueled riots and fires in most major cities across the United States. The country was dissatisfied and the police were seen as the enemy.

The innovative ideas, arguments, and protests during the 1960's and 1970's created a full-scale social movement that changed policing in a major way. Antiwar protestors, civil rights activists, and other groups were demonstrating, protesting and rioting across the nation.

Effects of Changes on Public Image of Police Officers

The police forces were faced with overwhelming situations and were poorly prepared to handle them. Focusing attention on policing policies and improving the police force was a major goal of this era. Unfortunately, protestors took advantage of this, using police to get their messages across. Police became the targets of hostility, which ultimately led police leaders to thorough reflection and analysis.

Citizens felt that police response to situations was excessive in its use of force and "mob like." The public felt that the police had no respect for the community. National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (Eck)) noted that the relationship between the police and minority groups was abrasive and added to the tension and disorder. "The police in their pursuit of professionalism had lost touch with the citizens they were sworn to protect." (p. 114)

During this time of protest, which included fights for civil rights, arguments against racism and demands for veteran benefits and war prevention, the police force was unable to handle the nation's state of unrest. Between 1968 and 1973, three Presidential Commissions made numerous recommendations to change policing in the country. Agencies of the U.S. Department of Justice, which was working with police departments across the country, played a key role in stimulating, supporting, and disseminating research and technical assistance. Millions of dollars funded criminal justice education, and federal agencies supported a wide variety of police training, conferences, research, and technology upgrading.

Research on policing became a major focus in the 1970's. Many of the research findings during this time challenged prevailing police practices and beliefs. For example, funded victimization surveys documented the existence of unreported crime. The police force became aware than only a fraction of crimes were being reported, and, started seeking ways to interact more effectively with their communities.

Another experiment revealed that randomized patrolling had a limited impact on crime or citizens' attitudes, which led police leaders to come up with alternative ways to use their patrol personnel (Kelling). A different report showed that, in most cases, rapid response did not help solve crimes (Kansas City). The study revealed that a large portion of serious crimes is not deterred by rapid response, showing a need for formal call-screening procedures to differentiate between emergency and non-emergency calls.

By 1980, Team Policing emerged as a method to put officers back in touch with the community. "During the 1980's, the idea of professionalizing police had become widely accepted as an end in itself. As a result, there was a growing emphasis on technical training and accountability to the organization. While this emphasis on professionalism may have been an improvement over earlier ways of doing things, professionalism did not end corruption and misbehavior by police. Most importantly, professionalism did little to bridge the gap between the public and the police. An atmosphere of mutual mistrust was as strong as ever."(FLETC)

In the early 1990's, the world watched videotape in which a black man named Rodney King struggled for his life as Los Angeles police officers beat him. This caused an enormous riot and supported the notion that America remained a deeply racist society. It also forced police forces across the nation to clean up their act. A new focus was placed on preventing negligence and screening police officers. The country demanded a well-trained and effective police force.

The Role of the Media in Police PR

The media has played a tremendous role in high profile instances of police misbehavior, criminality, corruption and malpractice. The high publicity value has resulted in detrimental effects on policing agencies and the communities they serve.

In response, police officers must make an effort to fight these negative images, or risk losing respect amongst their communities. The LAPD, along with other police forces, adopted the philosophy of Community-Based Policing, which is an evolved form of Tem Policing, aiming to improve the police force's image within the community by being more friendly and responsive to people. In addition, due to the major influence of the media on the community, police forces must train officers to deal with the media.

Need for Traditional Marketing Efforts

All of these changes in society and the way the world views the police force have created a need for change within policing. Police practitioners themselves are actively seeking change. The recent shift to community policing reflects the conscious effort of a profession to reexamine its policies and procedures. The attitudes of the police, throughout history, have had to conform and adapt according to the social and political changes of the country. However, as society's negative image of police increases, it would be in the police department's best interest to return to traditional marketing efforts to improve the public's image of the police force, particularly in metropolitan areas.

Traditional marketing efforts, such as community-oriented policing, which involve officers partnering with residents to reach solutions, have been successful in many residential areas.

According to a recent news story, Los Angeles police officers, cursed with one of the worst reputations for excessive violence in the nation, have resorted to marketing efforts aimed at children (Poole). For example, the police department has launched a range of Barbie-style police dolls in the hopes that children will develop feelings of affection and respect for the city's heavily criticized officers.

Over the past decade, the Los Angeles Police Department has been plagued by a number of corruption cases, accusations of brutality, and accusations regarding the beating of Rodney King. The police department hopes to market the dolls as a symbol of L.A.'s new and improved police force, regardless of the fact that the doll comes with a pistol, baton, pepper spray and handcuffs.

Across the nation, another metropolitan area, Cincinnati, struggles with its bad reputation for police violence and riots. However, public relations experts say it will take some time before the police force will be seen in a better light. According to Dr. Hub Brown, a broadcast journalism professor at Syracuse University: "For a lot of viewers, the thing they think about a place or subject is the last thing they heard about it." (Peale) And many people associate Cincinnati with race riots and police brutality.

Still, public relations experts say that a slick public relations campaign will not be effective in restoring the city's image. Officials must make a good and honest attempt to show that Cincinnati's racial problems are healing.


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