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Public perception of the police is no longer effectively gauged by issuing surveys and hoping a representative cross-section of the public responds. Understanding how the police are doing requires knowledge of the different communities served—and their priorities. Once the police can evaluate the perception of the police held by different segments of their communities, and identify which triggers are driving or changing that perception, they can target engagement with those communities more effectively. Some individuals never interact with the police; some live in areas of perceived high crime and disorder, and some will be victims of crime—or perpetrators of it. These diverse public representatives can perceive the police completely differently and measured accordingly using a variety of tools.
With so many digital channels available to influence public opinion, police leaders must recognize that they are vulnerable to being misunderstood if they do not join the conversation. Although 96 percent of citizens recently surveyed by Accenture want to play a role in police services, 68 percent said they do not receive enough information from their local police. Police officers must understand the impact of not approaching conversations or specific types of social media channels correctly and seek different types of engagement.
Social media success is less about quantity and more about the quality of engagement between citizens and the police. To proactively shape sentiment, police organizations must tailor their engagement efforts to different community segments using a variety of channels and recognize that one size does not fit all. The Accenture United States Citizen Survey found that although more than two thirds of citizens support the use of digital technologies to increase police effectiveness and communication, only 7 percent of adults above the age of 55 preferred more digital or technology initiatives. The police must recognize, too, the willingness of communities to support them—96 percent of citizens expect to play a role in policing and 66 percent want more police interaction. Traditional Neighborhood social network for neighborhoods used in more than 58,000 communities across the United States.
Perception of the police can change fast and a ground swell of opinion spreads rapidly. Police organizations need to be equally agile; they must visibly respond to feedback and address concerns or questions from the public to maintain their trust—while constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law.
Effective policing demands public trust and engagement. Gaining that trust and engagement goes beyond reducing crime levels—it involves, in Police Commissioner Bratton’s words, holding “cops and commands accountable for how safe their communities feel, not just how safe they are.”19 By better understanding the priorities and preferences of different segments of society and embracing targeted, multi-channel digital and face-to-face communication strategies, police forces can build trust and gain support from the public, putting officers in a stronger position to cope more effectively with unprecedented change and new threats.