Focus on police-community relations: marketing available police services the MAPS program - related article: case example of emergency police assistance marketing
Police departments typically do not think of using marketing concepts when trying to improve their image. In the past, for-profit companies and corporations have used marketing techniques to increase customer satisfaction. But, police agencies easily can adapt the concepts of business marketing to help them reach their customers (citizens) and educate them about the many services that they provide.
Marketing available police services (MAPS) (1) is a process whereby communities can learn what services their law enforcement agencies offer to meet public safety needs and wants. In return for providing these services, the police department receives more positive contacts, cooperation; and an improved image from the community that it serves. This proves true no matter what type of population (e.g., college campus, city, county, or state).
Police services marketing attempts to attract new customers who are unaware of police services and to keep a positive relationship with those individuals who already have had contact with the department. While reaching out to new people is important, it is even more important to keep those people agencies have contact with satisfied. Various research has indicated that satisfied people tell their stories of police contact to at least 3 other people, whereas dissatisfied individuals will tell, on average, 10 others about a negative experience with the police.
Marketing consists of understanding, creating, communicating, and delivering services to obtain members' satisfaction. Adding each of these components together creates a marketing plan for success.
Departments must understand the makeup of their communities, as well as the needs and expectations that citizens have of their police services. Knowing the diversity of the service population (e.g., age and national origin) helps agencies define who they serve. Even understanding who passes through the community at different times of the day can help determine what public safety needs exist. For example, if a community has a high school population of 1,500 students who come from many different neighboring communities, law enforcement must consider providing for their public safety needs while they are on the way to school, at school, and when they leave school. Or, a college campus police department might have a significant Spanish-speaking segment of the student population that would impact services by creating a need for documents produced in both English and Spanish.
Once agencies define their service population, they must survey their communities' needs. What expectations do citizens have as they relate to public safety issues? What services could the department provide to meet concerns of community members? Creating a planned response can help answer these questions. Departments can focus on crime prevention programs, hold community workshops, use focus brochures; or take other steps to respond to their communities' needs.
Once agencies develop plans, programs, and new services, they must communicate these initiatives to their constituents. A department can have many services, but if no one knows about them, they waste resources. Communication constitutes a vital link between the police and the community, and it can develop a positive relationship between the two entities.
Finally, agencies must deliver police services to the public. In turn for the services, the police department's image will improve, and agencies will serve their communities more effectively.
THE MARKETING MIX
Today, the single most significant marketing doctrine is the marketing mix, which encompasses all of the agency's tools that it uses to influence a market segment to accomplish its objectives. These tactical tools are used to influence customers, and, in law enforcement, they can help realize the police department's goal of a positive image.
When determining the marketing mix for which tools to use in a marketing plan, managers must remain cognizant of the internal and external environments of the organization. Neighborhood and community groups may influence what services a police department offers. Local newspapers and radio and television stations can carry news of department activities and services, as well as provide editorial comments to influence public opinion of the department.
Public relations, the single most important mass-promotions tool that significantly can impact the department's image, has the ability to create favorable publicity, build on the department's image, and prevent or handle rumors and incorrect information. Therefore, law enforcement agencies must have an excellent working relationship with the local media. Positive media stories are free marketing ads about the department. The more trusting a relationship a department has with reporters, the better it will be able to work with them during times of crisis.
Most services provided by police departments are intangible. When possible, the department should look for ways to leave a tangible product behind. For example, officers can leave brochures, patches, rulers, frisbees, stuffed animals, and other departmental memorabilia with citizens.
Police services' design, variety, public relations, advertising, location, and quality form much of an agency's marketing mix. An agency's use of technology, collaboration with other partners, management perspective, and selection of staff members also prove important considerations of the mix.
Use of Technology
In today's technological society, the Internet should play an important part in any MAPS plan. A department's Web site can offer services reaching large groups or providing for one-on-one contact. Some possible uses of a Web site include sharing department information, crime statistics, and safety tips; providing opportunities for citizen feedback; adding a silent witness program; and using e-mail as a vehicle for communication with the public. Video clips from a department's Web site can serve as an easy way to have community members see and hear what it has to offer. The Internet is an economical and valuable tool for reaching out to the community and beyond.
Small departments often face difficulties when offering services that take a significant amount of resources, but they may find that collaboration with other departments can result in an attractive solution to the
problem. Businesses consider this collaboration as creating marketing alliances. One such service is the formation of a citizen police academy (CPA) that residents attend for several weeks to learn how police operations work in the community. (2) Combining resources and staff efforts from one or more departments can make this service become a reality. Members of each participating department's community should have the opportunity to attend the CPA.
The Management Perspective
For any MAPS plan to succeed, it must have support from upper management, from the chief of police to the command staff. Supervisors should mandate that their line officers deal with everyone with a customer service approach; they should treat everyone with respect and dignity, even during arrests.
No marketing plan can be successful without appropriate financial support. Therefore, departmental management support can help ensure that financial resources, through the budget process, are focused toward marketing efforts.
In addition to concentrating on quality services, managers must use internal marketing strategies and train all employees who interact with the public to deliver quality customer service. Departments also must have a good service recovery plan; which focuses on turning a complainant into a contented customer.
Police administrators should take advantage of every opportunity to become a willing participant in local law enforcement and community organizations. Joining committees and participating in community groups increases the department's exposure and contacts.
The Marketing Staff
With any marketing effort, only employees with a positive attitude should reach out to the community and customers. To select someone for marketing efforts who does not express an interest in working with people can result in disaster. In fact, selecting the wrong officer can create the opposite of the department's intended effect and, possibly, lead to a negative impression about the department and its employees.
Regardless of rank, those officers who have positive attitudes, enjoy public speaking, can think on their feet when asked questions, and present a positive appearance for the department prove ideal candidates to work on marketing efforts. Adding bilingual staff to the resource bin also can help departments. Many parts of the country are experiencing a growth of minority groups; therefore, reaching out to them only enhances a department's marketing efforts.