Webinar presenters Katie Nelson and Kate Kimble answered a number of your questions after their presentation, Navigating the Pathway to Public Trust. Here are just a few of their responses.
Audience Question: What is the best way for our agency to respond when there is national news about another agency having some sort of a crisis? What should we be doing when incidents happen to other agencies?
Kate Kimble: Sure. I think if there is a national incident that is impacting your community in some way, whether that’s everybody’s watching it, or, if it involves a particular identity group, and that that identity group within your community is feeling it on a very personal level, I think it’s important to acknowledge what’s happening. If everybody’s talking about it and you’re the only one not, it gets awkward. But that being said, I think Monday morning quarterbacking is a challenging and tricky place, and I worry that karma is going to bite me back if I’m quarterbacking someone else and acting like we’re perfect kind of thing. I think it’s important to acknowledge what’s happening nationally, and then bring it back locally. So, in the wake of George Floyd, there was a lot of questions about the tactics that were used there. And we were able to say, here in our community, here’s what we train, here’s what we do not allow, and bring it back locally so that people aren’t focused on what happened there. They can refocus on what they can expect from your agency going forward.
Audience Question: So, how does the community trust that you’ve been talking about here during your presentation impact other parts of our organizations? Let’s say, like the recruiting and retention challenges that so many of our agencies are facing?
Katie Nelson: I think what we are facing right now is just a national shortage in general, I think it’s not necessarily always tied to trust, though. I will say it is very difficult to be a police officer in America right now because of the loudest voices that are out there constantly questioning how you do, why you do it, and what goes into that? I remember there was this viral graphic that was shared immediately post George Floyd where it said, You can become a police officer in the United States in like six months or something. And it takes four years in Germany, two years in Sweden, something else like that. Taking those moments to educate your community on all it takes to become a law enforcement professional. I think, actually, it, more often than not, stuns people. We in California, we just had a law passed where you have to now have a college degree in order to be applied, to become a police officer. You have to go through 6 months of academy, and then that is just the beginning, then you have four months minimally of in-house training followed by 12 months of supervision before you are able to patrol on your own, on the streets. So, that kind of information is often forgotten, or it’s not shared because it’s every day for us. Don’t forget that our communities are grossly uneducated on how we get to where we are. Their view of us is defined very much by what they read in the news, what they see on television, The Shield was a great show but that in no way defines how a lot of our detectives operate on a day-to-day basis. So, just think of ways that you, the minutia for you or the finer things that are kind of every day for us. Turn those into stories, turn those into educational moments. And turn those into ways that we can draw people in other capacities. Think outside the box for recruiting. We know, recruit fairs, sure, they work just fine. Where else can we go? How are we looking at being volunteer coaches in high schools? Are we looking at being better partners with mentoring programs in our communities? We talk about voices of influence, what about Boys and Girls Club? What about our local churches, where they have after school activities, things like that? You never know where your influence may be the difference in terms of how people engage and interact with you and think differently about potentially becoming a law enforcement officer themselves at some point.
Kate Kimble: Just add to that, I would say, if you face a crisis of trust within your organization, if an incident happens, that directly involves your organization, if there is going to be challenges. And I think you need to look internally first to make sure that you’re repairing any internal challenges that occurred, any cultural issues. Because at the end of the day, as Katie said, recruiting is hard, and I think it’s always going to be hard, at least for the foreseeable future and all of our careers, for law enforcement and justice industry. What you can do is create a strong culture, and then your people will be your best recruiters. They’re going to encourage their friends in the profession, you can differentiate yourself by having a strong culture and being a great place to work, and then that’s going to give you your best bet as you’re recovering, whether it’s something that happened to you or that happened elsewhere, that’s what’s going to make you a little bit of an island in just a challenging space to recruit.
Audience Question: Katie, can you talk through how you got that community relations hashtag call type added to CAD, and then how the aggregated and shared information was then shared throughout your department, and maybe what were the results of that? How did that information get taken internally?
Katie Nelson: So, Silicon Valley. We’re really in the hash tag, that’s where I am based. And so that was something that we had actually implemented before for two different types of calls. One was related to vehicle dwellers, and then another one was related to cannabis. And so, this was something that we had already had in our system. So, it’s very easy to just create, basically, a call sign for something like that, and plug it in. And then it turned into a training effort on our part to go to all briefings, to explain what this was. We had a training document that talks about why we were doing this, what it could be a community relations call. Then finally, going through and having, I believe, is a lieutenant at the time and now an officer does it going around and compiling all of that dataset, essentially, to outline it, share it with our internal audiences, so they could see what the feedback was, and then sharing it with our city management. So, they always had the first pass at being able to see what kind of calls there were, what the interactions were like. And then, inevitably, being able to share it, knowing that was going to our city management, was empowering for them. Because, it was, like, Look. All of these, you know. Again, small but mighty voices dissenting against our police department, look at how many people out in the community actually support us. And that became just a re-invigoration for our agency, at least moral wise, to know that we were. We have a vast majority of support in our community, and I can find out like, technically how that happened. I don’t have that in front of me right now because I am not a tech person, but I will find out how that, how that went and share that with whoever is asking that question, I can certainly provide a play by play on that.
Audience Question: You talked about the survey that’s in the document. How often should an agency distribute that survey? And then, what are some strategies for getting survey participation?
Kate Kimble: I think the frequency or the way that you’re distributing it can vary and should be aligned with the needs and resources that your community has in place. So, if you live in Silicon Valley, I don’t know Katie, to people even use paper there anymore.
Katie Nelson: Surprisingly, yes,
Kate Kimble: That’s an option. If you live in a rural community, and everybody goes to the post office to get their mail or to check in. If you have something available there. But I think the big thing is, work with those voices of influence in your community to figure out the best way to distribute it, because they are going to be the ones that get that buy in. You know, if you have a community survey already in place, some places do, and you’re able to tack it onto that like an annual survey, that’s great. If you’ve got a resource on your website, where you’re already seeking feedback on, calls for service or anything like that, that’s, that’s great as, well. I don’t have to re-invent the wheel there, but I think the power comes in, working with those influencers in your community to say, “Are you able to share this with your congregation, with your group that meets periodically? Can we leave some surveys behind and pick them up? Do you have a platform where we can share this,” so that you can consistently seek that feedback from, from people. And as we mentioned earlier on, don’t make it so they have to come to you to provide that feedback. There are a lot of people, and you probably want to capture their feedback. They may not be comfortable engaging directly with law enforcement for a variety of reasons. They still may have a valuable perspective to provide. And so, making sure that you’re making that survey tool accessible to them, is going to be really important. And, again, those influencers are going to be able to help you figure out the best way to deliver that to their community group.
Audience Question: Could you explain what a First Amendment auditor is?
Katie Nelson: Oh, a First Amendment audit or a First Amendment auditor is an individual who will come in with a camera and they’re very smart and they know their laws, so kudos to them, especially around First Amendment rules and rights of individuals. They will come in with a camera and typically in an adversarial fashion, try and rile individuals at a police department or at a city building to see if they have, if they violate their First Amendment rights. It has gone incredibly well for some agencies; they have responded appropriately. Been kind, cordial, offered help. And others have had a little bit more of a difficult experience. The rule of thumb is, and I actually have a one pager that I would be happy to share with you all on First Amendment auditors, is just treat them as you would any other community member who’s coming in and has maybe had a bad day and you just want to basically de-escalate the situation to the best of your ability. And then when you’ve answered as many as many questions as you possibly can and provided them services, let them do their thing, film, or record in a public space because they are allowed to do that. A lot of times, that’s where they catch a lot of government employees off guard, as they try ——– film. They will never cross the threshold to go into spaces where they do not belong or are not allowed. But they will get incredibly close. And again, everything they do is to try and catch you off guard or catch you violating their First Amendment rights. But they’re not really as scary as they come off to be the thing that’s most off putting is their aggressive demeanor.
Kate Kimble: And they post on YouTube. So, I suspect a lot of their channels are probably monetized, and so that’s where they’re getting some of them may genuinely be warriors for the First Amendment. And I just want to make sure you’re educated on where they can and can’t film. And they’re protecting that right of the public, but again, a lot of these are live streamed, or posted on YouTube, and so you can expect that if an auditor comes to you, to a town near you —— on YouTube, it’s not the end of the world. It’s worth taking a look at. And there may be some retraining opportunities. But, as Katie said, If she’s got that one pager to share. If you’ve got protocols internally, make sure your folks know where people can and can’t film where they can and can’t go. Because that’s it’s just a very easy trap. Especially when they’re trying to agitate folks, especially folks who may not be law enforcement professionals, who are used to dealing with angry folks or front desk customer service folks, records technicians, your admin employees, who don’t have to deal necessarily with those agitators every day can get a little riled. So that’s a good one, just to be on the lookout for, and just to make sure folks know how to handle something like that.
Audience Question: What is your guidance for agencies who do not have enough staff to properly monitor social media feeds in shutting off post comments when possible on their social media feeds?
Kate Kimble: Sure. I would say that the first piece is, if you are going to have a social media presence, make sure that you are investing in the resources needed to manage it. Don’t be on 10 platforms because oh we got to get on the TikTok challenges now. If you don’t have somebody who is all about the TikTok and has the time to manage it, be good at the platforms that you are on and why I say be good at it I mean have the resources and the capacity and the knowledge to manage it. It’s tough and I think that’s a conversation that needs to be had internally is if you are getting in the social media game, it’s not just for the great moments where you’re posting stories about how you saved ducks ——-or whatever. Social media is not just for the duck rescues. It’s for those times where the rubber meets the road, and you need to be present. So, that is a conversation with your supervisors to say, “Hey, if we have some controversy, I’m going to need to shift my workload. Or we’re going to need to train up some more people so they can help with this, so that you can respond,” because you can try to shut the comments off. But it’s just you’re trying to hold a handful of sand and squeeze it. The sans just going to leak out between your fingers. The comments are going to go elsewhere. The conversation is going to continue happening, whether or not you are present for it. So just strongly advise making sure that you have the resources, and the backup resources, that you can shift in the event that a smaller, moderate, or large-scale crisis happens.
Katie Nelson: To add to that one thing that oftentimes we don’t think about because, for us shutting off comments can just be a management issue. Believe it or not, that might be something that a person in the auditor could straight up tell you. You are violating my First Amendment rights, because you are not allowing people to use my voice to speak out or speak up about something. Which they would be ——. So, just bear that in mind. It is far easier to kind of let comments stay posted within reason, as opposed to shutting them off and potentially bearing the weight of a First Amendment lawsuit, which is the last thing anybody wants.
Audience Question: And just to kind of put some context, since you both were talking about context earlier, can you share with everybody how large your team’s departments are? How many people you have or how many people you don’t have working with you in your communications capacities?
Katie Nelson: I believe Kate and I are both teams of one.
Kate Kimble: I actually, I’m a team of two now. I was a team with a backup group, but at my old agency, and just joined a new agency. And we’re a mighty team of two now. We do cover quite a large portion of Northern Colorado. So, it’s great to have that secondary resource. But we’re pretty small teams.
Host: So, so, again, put context in this. You all didn’t build your processes, procedures, and responses overnight. The audience is getting a wealth of information and experience. Because you have been doing this for a while.
Katie Nelson: Yeah, certainly face our fair share of ridiculous, too. So please, you’re not alone.
Kate Kimble: And just to kind of cap it off, I think that the major thing here is, even if you’re a party of one, or if your volunteer, and it’s just a part-time duty for you, there is a huge network of public information communicators around the country. Katie and I are available, but we also just have a fantastic network of colleagues and friends in just every corner of the country and beyond. So, if you need help, or if you’re feeling a little isolated in your area, or you just need support and an ear to bounce things off of, we can absolutely connect you. Because there’s, if we’re so fortunate in the law enforcement and justice industry in this country, to have a really strong network. So please reach out. You’re not alone and you got a lot of resources to support you.
Host: And I absolutely concur. Every time that I have had a question, or needed an expert in a certain area of communications or social media, I know all I have to do is just call Kate or Katie and they have pointed me in absolutely the right direction, every time. They have fantastic networks and resources and folks, please do take advantage of them.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Navigating the Pathway to Public Trust.