When it comes to branding, there may be no tool more important than social media. And when it comes to entities that have a desperate need to revamp their branding image, police departments rank high on the list…especially the St. Louis. Mo. police department. Let’s look to the KCPD for inspiration.
In January 2013, I sat down with KCPD Public Relations Specialist Sarah Boyd for an episode of Soundtrack of the Week (shameless plug). At the time, the #KCTweetAlong hashtag was just going viral. If you’re not familiar with the hashtag, every now and then, the KCPD will live tweet their adventures that night using the hashtag. Not only did this latch on to Kansas Citians, but people across the world started following the official KCPD account.
Boyd came on the show to talk about the social media sensation she had created. The details are not important. What is important is that a police department was booking interviews to talk about something that they did that was very positive and entertaining. Even before the events that would unfold in Ferguson, public perception of the police has been negative over the past few decades.
Fast forward to present day: Ferguson happened; violent clashes between protesters and police occurred; bloggers and news publications have been writing about police corruption and abuse of power; YouTube videos of police abuse, corruption and harassment are popping up left and right; and at ground zero is the St. Louis PD.
Shortly after the Michael Brown shooting, I went to a Ferguson rally at the J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain. Equipped with my recorder, I wanted to know how Kansas Citians viewed the KCPD compared to what we know about other major cities’ police departments. You can listen to the interviews here. Long story short, it’s what you expected: white people trust the police, black people don’t.
Of those with a positive outlook, the KCPD social media accounts were often cited. Specifically, a recent post at the time showing two KCPD officers playing basketball with some urban youths. Essentially, if you are removed from the KCPD (i.e. don’t live in the city or you are white), then your attitude will be largely shaped by media. With no mainstream attention, the KCPD gets to dictate the narrative via social media. Let’s take a look at some of their posts:
Like most police departments, most of the tweets are about suspects they are looking for and various bits of information related to the law and the city. But as you can see above, there are plenty of lighthearted tweets and sympathetic replies. In short, the KCPD Twitter account has a pulse. Now let’s take a look at the STLPD Twitter account:
The first two tweets are representative of 95 percent of all tweets. The most lighthearted tweet I could find within the past two months was the thirds one, which is actually something they retweeted. I found that last one pretty ironic. You want to improve community relations? How about giving the people the impression they (and you) are human beings? The STLPD Twitter account averages about two posts per day with ZERO replies to people mentioning them. That’s right. No social media interaction. Additionally a huge bulk of their tweets are just retweets of the chief-of-police. Conversely, the KCPD posts well into double digits on most weekdays, not including them replying to as many people as they can. In a day where people are feeling threatened by law enforcement and view them as soulless beings out to get us, it is extremely important that police departments connect with its citizens at any opportunity.
Social media is the biggest, easiest, most cost-efficient way to grow a positive relationship with your community, and the STLPD seems to not care. That speaks volumes on their priority towards engaging with the people. According to a recent blog post on lawstreetmedia.com, St. Louis is ranked as the fourth most dangerous city in the United States. Kansas City is in bad company with a #10 ranking. Two dangerous cities, two completely different police department “personalities,” both in the same state.
There are very few negative aspects of Kansas City, Mo. We have great food, music, beer, art, culture, etc. Despite a high crime rate, people outside of Kansas City tend to have a favorable view of its police department. It’s high time @SLMPD pays attention to @kcpolice and starts taking notes. I’d rather they get their actual police department in check, but in the meantime, revamping their image is crucial at this point in time, and there’s no greater role model than KC’s finest.
UPDATE: Shortly after writing this, I reached out to @kcpolice. They responded immediately and confirmed everything you just. They also have some advice for @SLMPD and other police departments: