What’s Your Police/Sheriff Department “Brand Reputation” and does your agency provide “Customer Service”?

Original Article HERE

Let’s try a little exercise to get started here.

Write down three words that come to mind when you think of each the following companies.

  • Campbell’s Soup: 
  • Nissin “Cup Noodles”
  • America Online:
  • Google:   
  • Wal Mart:
  • Target:

Look at the three words you used to describe each company and in a nutshell, that’s the company’s “brand reputation.” Brand reputation is the opinion that a consumer forms either through actual “user experience” of that specific product or just based upon the experience of others who have dealt with that product. To make it simple: if I want to try a new kind of soup, chances are I would pick Campbell’s over the Nissin/Cup Noodles because of its history and “brand reputation.” Nissin/Cup Noodles could have a really fantastic new soup, but I probably wouldn’t risk trying it over the Campbell’s soup simply because of the solid product reputation built by Campbell’s.

Now onto “part two” of the exercise; write down three words to describe the following law enforcement agencies.

  • Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI):    
  • Transportation Safety Administration (TSA):    
  • Los Angeles (CA) Police Department:    
  • New York (NY) Police Department:    
  • The Police/Sheriff Department you work for:    
  • The Police/Sheriff Department “next door” to yours:    

When you look at the words you used to describe the first four on the list, what do they seem to say? What caused you to write those specific words? Was it based on actual experience you had working with the agencies? Was it based on something you saw on TV, an article you read, or just something you “heard about from some guy whose partner worked a case with them way back in the 80s”?

As for the last two on the list, what did you write based on the vast amount of experience working for and with both the sworn and non sworn personnel of both agencies? You should have a pretty accurate picture of the efficiency and capabilities of both sets of personnel. Now, what sort of words do you think the residents of those areas would write down? Do you think the words used by the residents would be the same as what you wrote? Somehow I doubt it!

In regard to branding, things work a bit differently for those of us in law enforcement. Our “brand reputation” is not based solely on residents’ (our customers) experiences and perceptions. It’s also based on the perception and experience of other law enforcement agencies that interact with us on a regular basis. The reputation your agency has among other local agencies might be very different from what its reputation is among the residents.

As law enforcement professionals, we must strive to have a positive reputation not only among our peers, but also among the citizens we serve. Your agency can be the most “kick-butt, bad-guy chasing, gun- and dope-suspect arresting” police or sheriff’s department in the state. But how well does your agency respond to the lady calling about her windows being smashed or the elderly woman who just had her life savings swindled by a con artist?

Think about this: your windows get broken and your house is “tagged” up with graffiti, so your spouse calls the police—how would you want the responding officer to act? Would it be ok if he took a deep breath and rolled his eyes as your spouse told him about the windows? Because, after all, he has better things to do than deal with some broken windows and a bit of spray paint—he has real criminals to go after! Think about how you act when you respond to the same type of call—are you giving the same “service” that you would expect and deserve if you called the police?

We in law enforcement need to realize that we live and work in the era of “customer service.” Both the residents and criminals alike are our “customers,” and yes, I said “and criminals.” Like it or not, how we treat suspects, arrestee’s, and prisoners all affects our brand reputation.

We all know that as law enforcement, out of all the offenders we routinely deal with, about 5 percent of them are “repeat offenders” taking up 95 percent of our time. We pretty much understand that those repeat offenders don’t like us, and we don’t like them too much either. The other 95 percent of offenders we deal with are just regular citizens who made a mistake by getting a DUI, simple assault, or other minor offense. They can be teachers, doctors, judges, housewives, and just “regular” people.

Those people will most likely just “do the time” and go back to being mostly upstanding members of society. How you treat them is just as important as how you treat the little old lady with the broken window, because I guarantee that they are going to go back home and tell everyone they know about the experience they had with your police/sheriff’s department. Those people are going to listen intently to what they are being told and unless they have firsthand experience, they will form an opinion and pass that opinion on to other people they know.  

We live and work in the era of “instant media,” with Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube making it possible for people to share everything all the time. Everyone has a Smartphone with video capability and would just love to film your traffic stop, your arrest, or your consensual encounter with a person you know is a drug dealer. Those people would also love to sell that video to a news organization for a few bucks if there is any use of force or the like. If you think they’re bringing any video of a significant incident to the police station for law enforcement to view and copy, you are wrong!

There are a growing number of people in society that are doing the best they can to follow the police on a regular basis and just film every contact or incident the police make. These same people will hide cameras and try and bait officers into a use of force or an arrest that they can then use as a springboard to a lawsuit and quick payout or court challenge.

We all know that nothing gets the media in a “frenzy” like a new use of force or “rudeness” video that makes the cops look bad. Videos go viral and have hundreds of thousands of views in a matter of hours, and as we all know, it’s an uphill battle from there. Those videos damage the brand reputation of our profession as a whole, not just the officers from the involved departments.

So think about this and remind your employees that perception and action create opinion, which forms your agency’s REPUTATION. There is no double standard when it comes to “us and them.” It’s the deputy that blows through the red light then turns into Starbucks for coffee, or the uniformed officer driving a police car, talking on a cell phone while he drives past a citizen he just gave a ticket to for the same thing. It’s the ten marked units hanging out at the burger shop for 2 hours, it’s the officer who rolls his eyes when someone comes up to ask a routine (to him) question. Those actions all damage the brand reputation just a little, and believe me, a bunch of “little” adds up to “a lot”!

Remember, there is ALWAYS SOMEONE WATCHING, and the things you may not think are a big deal can chip away at the reputation of your brand, the brand of your department, and the law enforcement brand as a whole. So do your best to protect your brand’s reputation.

Sergeant Chris Cognac
Hawthorne (CA) Police Department