“How do we get people to actually want to talk to us?” was a top question during a session I led for law enforcement yesterday. The topic was building community and police engagement and partnerships. This was at the annual Midwest Security and Police Conference/Expo put on by the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police at the Tinley Park Convention Center.
There were lots of examples and ideas, both for in real life and digital. Building community coalitions that brought multiple groups together was highlighted as a great way to gain momentum. (The Champaign County Community Coalition is an example.) Transparency via the website was another. (See the Milwaukee Police News website with real time updates on incidents).
One Chief shared that he created a “Police Chaplaincy.” He “deputized” (with badges and jackets) leaders from the religious institutions in his community. In fact, at their recent National Night Out Event, it was the chaplains who sat in the dunk booth and invited their constituents to come and throw the balls! And, speaking of National Night Out-latching onto national events or themes that can be implemented locally was another way to engage and get the broadest reach.
Fellow presenter Thierry Hubert from Darwin Ecosystem shared samples of online engagement. The NYPD Instagram page has 270K followers. Rapper Forensic, a policeman cum rapper cum comedian has 50K followers. Hubert also talked about how AI is helping police departments measure results and to identify officers who will excel at community engagement.
Even with all they were doing, there was a shared challenge of really connecting. “We want to talk. We want to engage.”
While that sentiment is extremely important and powerful, it might be the wrong question—the idea of talking about engagement to drive engagement.
Change the Dynamic from Us/Them to We
Create events that allow you to stand side-by-side with the community. Literally. Studies show that people are more apt to talk when they are side-by-side. It could be because it lets one avoid uncomfortable eye contact. Being side-by-side, as opposed to face-to-face or across a table, can neutralize a presumed power differential based on age or position. It physically changes a dynamic from us/them to we.
So how can you purposely be side-by-side to initiate a conversation? Create a community walk. It could be for a cause or it could be for a community health initiative. Donate an auction item for a school fundraiser inviting the winner to join the bike or beat cops on their round. My son loved riding his bike around town with former Des Plaines Mayor Marty Moylan, who was already doing daily rounds of his town by bike.
Offer job shadow days. A student or community member can shadow a police officer to see what their job is like. Or a law enforcement officer can follow a community member. Shadow a teacher and sit side by side with teens in the classroom.
It’s not about us.
The point of engagement is that you are talking and building trust. You don’t have to talk about engagement (with the person with whom you are engaging) to get engagement.
Want to get a 5 year old to wax poetic? Ask them if they like peanut butter or chocolate better. Don’t ask a teen “how is school?” or an adult “how are things in your neighborhood?” Ask them to “tell me a story about school” or “tell me a story about your week.” Share your own personal stories and start with I statements.
“Let’s talk about us” has been the death knell for many a relationship. By the time that question comes around there is already an “us” that is relating, doing fun stuff together and enjoying lively conversations. But focusing the conversation away from actually doing things together to explaining what you are doing can have the opposite effect—creating distance rather than bringing you closer.
Doing a community outreach booth? Set up chess or checker boards, dominos, offer to teach people how to tie a tie. Do something that IS engaging as opposed to talking ABOUT engaging.
To be clear, It’s not one or the other. Direct dialogue may be exactly what’s needed, especially in response to a specific incident. The Champaign County Community Coalition started following a police involved shooting. The Affirmation of Shared Principles signed last March between the IL-NAACP and the Illinois Chiefs was initiated proactively, following the community unrest in in Ferguson, MO.
And, of course, if you need help to get started, give us a shout.