Chief, What’s Your Department’s Brand?

“Branding is the representation of your organization as a personality. Branding is who you are that differentiates you.”– Dave Kerpen – Likeable Media

imagesI know policing is not a competitive business (at least not yet!), but how your department is viewed by those who depend on your agency for service matters. While citizens may not be able to choose which police agency responds when they call 9-1-1, the quality of the response matters with regard to how citizens may or may not cooperate and assist police.

For example, if your agency is perceived by those whom you serve in a positive way there is a better chance citizens will be cooperative, help out, and be willing to work with you. On the other hand, when responding police are viewed negatively, the outcome can be dramatically different and the possibility of a good outcome drastically reduced.

Since Ferguson, police in America are often encountering distrustful and uncooperative citizens. This, of course, can significantly reduce the ability of police to be effective and undermines our democracy and way of life.

So what’s the answer? Let me get back to the first question: “What’s your department’s brand?” (And, why is that important?)

Developing a brand, that is a positive community image, is not just limited to the private sector. Cities have brands that make them desirable or undesirable for business ventures or a place in which to reside. The same applies to police agencies and their representatives. As I said, while citizens cannot choose which police department responds to their call for service, they can choose whether or not they want to cooperate with arriving police.

During my many years as a chief, it has always made good sense to try to develop a positive brand for my department and to consider community residents as “customers.”

Branding can be divided into old and new ways. Old branding is shouting a carefully canned message at consumers who don’t want to hear it – police slogans like “We are our city’s finest,” or “We protect and serve,” when those who hear these slogans have never experienced it.

Whereas new branding is humbly listening to what consumers tell others the brand is and what they experience is backed up with real action that results in customer loyalty. (Dr. Augustine Fou – Marketing Science Consulting Group).

This got me thinking more about police branding – not for the purposes of competition, but rather for cooperation — for overall organizational effectiveness.

For example: “Committed to Excellence in Service: We strive to be the best police department in America” (part of the mission statement when I was chief in Madison, Wisc.) Or more contemporarily – “Our City: 21st Century Police” (Because we have fully implemented the recommendations of the President’s 21st Century Policing Task Force.)

I have often wondered why the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) has not branded the departments they accredit and describe how such an accredited agency is better than those who are not. (Is it because those in policing don’t like the fact that there is great variability between police departments? Or that differentiation makes police uncomfortable?)

Maybe this is a time for a national movement; for differentiation which can eventually lead to overall improvement. A movement in which police chiefs come together, set national standards based on what they know today are the “best known methods” and then step out and differentiate themselves from those who poorly practice and tarnish the image of police in America; thereby inviting others to step up . Such a bold leadership step may be very welcome today.

  • After all, we do know the difference between “good” and “bad” policing, don’t we?