By John Scimeca, Captain, Lodi Police Department, Lodi, New Jersey
or many years the Lodi Police Department had too little involvement with the community. The department was reactive; the prevailing policing style was to wait for a crime to be committed or a problem to arise, respond to it, solve it, and then wait for the next call. At the same time, the department did not receive much support from the community, crime rates were too high, and officer morale was low.
This has all changed in Lodi because of proactive leadership. Today the Lodi police department embraces the community policing model and directs the department's functions in support of the model. It is providing the community with more professional service, and it enjoys more community support than it did before.
One of the specific changes is its new police-community partnership mission statement: "Improve the efficiency of the police agency by providing a variety of diverse, educational programs to the community through the use of community relations projects."
This mission statement is appealing to officers and citizens alike because it
- tells officers what to do-namely, improve the efficiency of the police agency;
- defines the target audience - namely, the community;
- states how the mission's goal is to be achieved-namely, by providing programs; and
- identifies the vehicle to use-namely, community-relations projects.
After articulating the mission, the next step was to devise a plan of action. The police department forms partnerships with different groups in town, including schools, businesses, civic organizations, and recreation organizations. These groups agree to provide the department with venues to host community education programs and to sponsor and be a part of those programs.
Then, with the assistance of school administrators, leaders of civic groups such as the Lodi Chamber of Commerce, and other community leaders, the police identify the target audience and publicize the programs through newspapers, radio announcements, the World Wide Web, word of mouth, officer contacts, and the communication vehicles of the service organizations and clubs.
The target audience participates in the event and the end result is an informed and educated public, a fostering and nurturing relations between the department and community. Community trust is gained and the community assists the department with more missions and activities. By having all segments of the community involved together, building trust in one another, the police department reaps many rewards.
Selecting the Partners
To select the partners required an analysis of which segments of the population would provide the opportunity to reach most of the community. Police officials realized that if they concentrated their efforts on the schools, they would reach students and some parents; if they reached out to businesses, they could miss civic organizations and youth; if they focused on the general population, they might reach a cross-section of the community but miss many businesses and civic organizations.
After examining all of the possible partnerships, police leaders determined that Lodi's recreation organizations stood out as the partners who could help police reach the most people. Recreational organizations, more than any other groups, touched almost all of the target audiences: schoolchildren, teachers and school administrators, parents, and business and civic leaders who sponsor teams or contribute to them.
Once police decided that recreation organizations would be partners, the demographics of various programs were analyzed to determine which would provide the most impact. Lodi school demographics showed that there were 1,100 students in grades 1 through 5.
Little League Baseball: Lodi's youth baseball league involves approximately 350 boys and girls ages six to eleven, representing about a third of elementary school students. Parental involvement in the league is high.
The Little League leadership quickly endorsed the partnership and had a simple message to the police department: "The kids don't know you." This simple statement cut to the core of reason for the partnership, to build and foster the relationship with the community.
Boys' & Girls' Clubs: The Boys' & Girls' Clubs of Lodi attracted the involvement of 3,000 youths. Many of the various club activities involved youths from adjoining areas who were not residents of Lodi. Nevertheless, considering the tremendous pool of Lodi youth, parents, and relatives involved in the clubs, this partnership was appealing to the police department, which made the Boys' & Girls' Clubs of Lodi a partner.
Selecting the Program
The objective of the police partnership program was to build and foster relationships with the town's children and their families. The police department asked stakeholders from the school system, recreation organizations, and other community groups to help police officers determine the program's theme and format.
Program Format: The stakeholders agreed on a format based on a popular marketing tool used by professional sports teams: special promotion days. Just as a professional baseball team may host Bobblehead Doll Day or Wooden Bat Day or Take Mom to the Ballpark Day, the Lodi youth recreation leagues would promote four special days of their own:
- Police Trading Card Day
- Child Safety Seat Day
- Police-Community Program Day
- Bicycle Safety Day
The promotional days were announced in the printed season schedule, through media outlets, and during police-citizen contacts. During each promotional day, the Lodi Police Department would set up a hospitality tent and present a specific educational program.
Throughout these events the officers met many people in the community. What was designed to appeal to children and their families actually captured the interest of the entire community.
Involving the Business Community: Although the promotional days would be low-cost efforts, there were expenses. The largest expenses would be a promotional giveaway item. The promotional item had to be fun and it had to deliver an educational message about public safety and the police department. By reaching out to the business community, Lodi police found that their offer of a new marketing opportunity was a welcome one. Local businesses saw sponsoring the promotional giveaways as a more personal kind of advertising than newspaper advertisements, and they relished the chance to show their customers that they were involved in community activities, presenting a caring message to the residents from the business community.
For example, a local business printed 48,000 cards for the department for Police Trading Card Day. The business printing the cards was acknowledged on the card and on signs in the hospitality area at the games. During the 10-hour promotional event, the police department personnel were introduced to thousands of Lodi's residents. The department's image was improved by introducing the residents to the department's community programs and they left feeling that the police department cared about them. The business providing the trading cards benefited from the day by having a unique type of advertisement available to reach its customers.
Other promotional days followed this one. These days were made possible because of the partnerships that were formed with different organizations.
Evaluating the Process
The police department used a survey instrument to measure resident satisfaction with the agency's services. Not to be lost in the police-community partnership effort was the goal to improve the efficiency of the police agency. If this goal was not being met, then another program would need to be implemented.
Lodi police log about 3,000 calls a month. Of these 3,000 calls, approximately 10 percent require a written report. The completion of a written report is a strong indicator that the citizen had more than a casual contact with the police officer.
Each call for service receives a case number. Each month, police choose two numbers at random, and any case ending with either of these two numbers would be flagged to participate in the evaluation process. From among participating cases, police would identify cases with written reports and mail a resident satisfaction survey to anyone who was involved with that case, including victims, witnesses, and even the accused. The survey measures satisfaction with several aspects of the police agency, including respondents' perceptions of officers' demeanor, helpfulness, and professionalism. The survey inquires about the level of service provided, how the dispatchers treated the caller, how well the detective division responded to their needs. It also invites the respondent to write comments about how the police department could improve its service, what factors in their lives the police can influence, and other concerns.
The Lodi Police Department continually receives an average rating of excellent on the monthly surveys. Approximately 80 percent of those who respond write comments on the survey. The comments and suggestions provide ideas about how the agency can improve its service and what other service the department should be providing. From the written comments there is an extraordinary amount of information ranging from vehicles speeding in particular areas to suspicious people in an area of known drug dealing.
Overall, police feel that without the community programs in place the people would not respond as well to the residential satisfaction surveys. Without this community assistance, the department couldn't improve its efficiency. ■