Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Seattle Police Department's "modernizing" its public communications

From time to time I write about how government agencies need to step up their game in terms of external communications and "campaigning."

WMATA and transit marketing vs. crisis communications (which reprints, in part, entries from 2005 and 2006)
Making bus service sexy
- (Ir)rational planning #2: sexy (Circulator) vs. plodding (Metrobus) bus service"

Although it's hard because government agencies walk a fine line between serving versus leading the public and therefore sometimes can't be too forward.

Plus whether or not they are even responsive to the public and think more expansively.  These entries are about the design method and governments:

- Design as a city branding strategy: transit edition
- All the talk of e-government, digital government, and open source government is really about employing the design method

And this is about what I call the "action planning" approach, which integrates the design method with social marketing, branding and identity systems and program delivery:

- Social Marking the Arlington (and Tower Hamlets and Baltimore" way.  (I updated this in the context of the bike and pedestrian planning project I did in Baltimore County, but that leap forward is discussed in the "e-government" piece cited above.)

I write about this a lot with regard to transit marketing, because it is a service that needs to be marketed in many dimensions.  Most transit agencies are stuck in their government mindset and don't do a good job of being externally focused.  But it tends to be much worse for other agencies with less day-to-day contact with the public.

What Seattle's police department is doing, being aggressive and creative in communicating to the public about crime, in a forward way, is getting national attention, having been written up in the New York Times ("Hey, @SeattlePD: What’s the Latest?") as well as the local press. I didn't pay attention to it at first, having read the NYT article, because many police departments use twitter.

But what they are doing goes far beyond sending out 140 character notices.

It's not unlike what I suggested in this blog entry from March, "Missing the most important point #2: WMATA, real-time service information needs to be available at station entrances":

1. Change number one would be for WMATA to employ people as journalist-reporters to report on system status in real-time, just like how radio and television stations provide traffic reports during rush hours .

If trains are down and service is impacted, people need to know.

And the "reporters"--even if WMATA employees--need to be empowered with the authority to put the information out in real-time.

2. The information needs to be pushed out in a variety of ways--on the website (it is, but isn't always accurate), in social media venues, in real-time status displays that aggregate various mobility information (WMATA trains and buses, local buses, bikesharing, other transit options).

And the feeds should also be made available to local radio and television broadcasters for rebroadcast on air, because information on transit availability/uptime/downtime should be made available just as widely and as prominently as information about road status and traffic conditions.

That kind of externally focused communication is at the heart of SPD's external communications operations, according to the Seattle Times, "Seattle’s police department finds its freshest official voice."

The Police Department, in its vision plan (SPD 20/20: A Vision for the Future) charged itself with improving its external communications functions. And one of the ways they did so was to hire a former writer for one of the city's local alternative weeklies, who after his gig there, did a blog for a year focused on Seattle crime news.

From the ST article:

Even without the bylines, it’s not too hard to guess which posts on the Seattle Police Department’s “Blotter” blog were written by Jonah Spangenthal-Lee.

If the post is about a man who tried to rob people on Lake City Way by making his hand into the shape of a gun, it’ll call him a “human sad trombone” and say he had a “limited working knowledge of pantomime.” If it’s about a man masturbating in public in Columbia City, it’ll note that he was caught in “the throes of” said act and refused to stop because he was “almost finished.”

What's impressive about the Seattle Police Department is twofold. First, that they have a detailed initiative to significantly improve their public communications function and responsiveness. But second, that they decided to be creative and forward.

Here is the section on "Provide Better Information to the Public" (#17) from the planning document. It's a good outline for any government agency.

In order to build trust between the police and the public, as well as to help the community fight crime and protect public safety, effective two-way communication is required. The Seattle Police Department is building an interactive response information network which will provide public safety information to the community in a way that is interesting, transparent and localized. We will:

• Develop and implement an integrated news channel to distribute a variety of content in multiple formats (print, video, audio, photo).
• Redevelop precinct web pages to improve communication between precinct personnel and neighborhood residents.
• Develop/implement a ‘dashboard’ of key performance metrics that are tracked consistently and used to build expectations of achievement and improvement.
• Use social media including Twitter, Facebook, and blogs, to communicate with local communities and share relevant stories and information as often as possible
• Develop and implement protocols for community commendation and recognition.
• Provide consistent data reporting, tracking and metrics at the department level
• Provide more crime analysis and crime prevention information at the neighborhood level.

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