Earlier this month the New York Police Commissioner, Bill Bratton, announced that his officers were going to stop people sleeping on the city’s subway system. Not rough sleeping, just sleeping – tired shift workers, exhausted parents dozing on the way home etc. It was a crime prevention measure, he said.

It was an unusual enough move to make waves on this side of the Atlantic.

But then, as the Evening Standard report made clear, Bratton had a very good point. January had seen a 32.9% rise in transit crime. Moreover, he was able to justify the new tactic because 50% of subway crime victims had been asleep.

“You might miss your stop if you’re sleeping, you might lose your wallet or your iPhone, you might be the subject of sexual assault.”

Evidence-based messaging

That’s pretty direct messaging. But Bratton wasn’t accused of scaremongering – he couldn’t be, because he had produced the evidence. He was prescribing strong medicine, but his comms had the best active ingredient – facts.

Take a closer look and as a piece of data-driven community engagement it is even more impressive.

Bratton was speaking on 4 February, barely 72 hours after the dataset his analysis was based on had been finalised. By then, the NYPD had crunched the numbers, examined the MO of the crime reports, formulated an operational response (based on the data) and then announced it, treating the public like grown-ups (using the same data to explain its thinking).

Is there a UK police force capable (or willing) to deploy data and communications so effectively? Probably not, in fact the evidence points to the opposite.

A few days later another surprising police tactic hit the headlines.

Eagles.

Police-operated eagles, to be precise.

Communicate change effectively

The Metropolitan Police had apparently dispatched a senior officer to the Netherlands to see how police there were using eagles to tackle the menace of rogue drones.

“As would be expected in an organisation that is transforming, we take an interest in all innovative new ideas and will of course be looking at the work of the Dutch police use of eagles,” a spokesman said.

Hmm.

We all know the importance of communicating change effectively, explaining the reasons behind it, the benefits it will bring and how it may lead to fundamental changes in how services are delivered etc. But the link between the Met Change programme and the recruitment of birds of prey seemed a little tenuous. Why not tie the interest in this feathered flying squad directly to the need to tackle rogue drones? In fact, what is the evidence about rogue drones and why was it absent from the comms…?

You can find it here, on the Met’s FoI disclosure log. Between Jan 1, 2014, and Sept 1, 2015, a grand total of 21 incidents were reported to the force involving the use of an unmanned aerial vehicle, of which 9 were recorded as crimes.

Call for back-up!!!

How to make better communications decisions

Change programmes can be used to justify a lot of radical ideas but I think the Yard may need to point to more than a desire to demonstrate an open mind if it hopes one day to announce that the eagle has indeed landed.

That’s the thing about data, it cuts both ways. It distinguishes fact from fiction, myth from reality and gimmicks from genius. And, because it catches the eye and proves a point, good data leads to better communications. You can let the facts do the talking, use plain English and present a consistent message to all your audiences (and hopefully not fall back on the twin crutches of ‘change’ and ‘innovation’ for support, however tempting that may be).

That’s why Crest has a Communications and an Insight team sitting alongside each other, working with an increasing number of police forces, Police and Crime Commissioners and other agencies to identify what makes a difference and communicate what that means for their services, their staff and the public. We hope to help them master their data, to take better-informed decisions and to then put forward arguments, narratives and campaigns which really will fly.

Jon Clements

Jon Clements

Director of Development

Jon Clements is Director of Development at Crest Advisory, and formerly a crime reporter for ITV News and the Daily Mirror.

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