Community engagement in policing
Sophie du Mont on how to take your strategy to the next level
Hi, I’m Sophie and I work here in the Strategy and Delivery Team at Crest. Today I’d like to talk to you about community engagement and what this means in the policing context, and how you can make your community engagement strategies even more effective than they are already. So, to begin with: what is community engagement? Community engagement is the way that the police can build trust, legitimacy and support for the actions they do in the community, and it allows people and individuals to come and contribute and support the police at a level that they feel comfortable at.
You might be thinking ‘I know what community engagement is; we have a community engagement strategy and it works pretty well’. But it’s important to constantly update your strategies and think about new ways of doing things. And the reason for this is:
Communities are fluid – the people you know in your communities today, you might not know in a year’s time; they might have moved on or things might have changed. So you need to constantly update and think of it in this way.
Crime is changing; concerns change as a result; what people are worried about today might be different in a year’s time.
Finally, communication is complex. It’s becoming more and more complex the more channels there are; we’ve got different forms of media, social media, and people’s expectations are changing: the way they want to be heard and listened to and spoken to is changing. So all of this means you need to constantly think about your strategy and what it is you are trying to achieve.
Your community engagement strategy will underpin the entire policing strategy of your force and when you are thinking about looking at it and reviewing it, you want to start with thinking: what are the aims? What do you want to achieve with the strategy? What are your objectives? And what does ‘good’ look like at the end of it? I’ll come back to this at the end, but to begin with that’s what you’d want to start thinking about and then we’d get into how you start looking at your strategy.
So, the first thing when we’re looking at the strategy is: who are your audiences? Who do you want to engage with?
You might have a really good idea already of who makes up your communities in your different areas, however, as I mentioned earlier, these do change. So it’s important to start using things like data – census data, sociodemographic data – to really underpin the knowledge that your offices already have just from working in your communities. You might want to start recording this.
You also want to start making lists and records of the assets in your communities. When I say assets, I mean: who are the people that are supportive, who are the groups that are receptive to the work of the police, and which areas and groups have hotspots – where people gather, communities gather – and can you start engaging with these.
On the flip side, you want to think about your vulnerabilities. So, when I say vulnerabilities in this context, I mean: where are areas that don’t engage with the police, that are hard to listen to, hard to reach, and don’t necessarily feel that they want to engage with you. You can’t ignore these areas, and in fact these are the places where you could really make a difference with your community engagement.
Once you’ve started listing these things, you might want to look at the physical area of the community, so where are religious centres, leisure centres, places of interest, where do people gather. These are really good forms of intelligence that can complement the lists of people that you already know.
The next thing you want to think about, once you’ve done the ‘who’ you are trying to engage with, is the ‘how’. What channels are you going to use?
First of all start by thinking what channels you already have. Do you have social media channels in place? What links to the media do you have? And what kind of links do you have with community groups – do you already go to events that are held by groups in the community? If the answer is no to any of these things, you might want to start thinking about it but again it all depends on who you are trying to engage – will they be receptive to these techniques?
Going back to community groups, if you’re not already doing these, these are a great way you could start piggybacking. If there are regular events or regular activities, could the police go and help out or show a friendly face there? It all builds trust; all builds confidence.
You might want to think about what works. What has worked for your force in the past? What currently works? And even talk to neighbouring forces and other partner organisations to see what they’re doing. All the information might help.
Going back to partners, you want to talk to your local service providers – you want to talk to businesses, local organisations and charities, and see how you can all work together to do this. Remember, no one size fits all. Every force is of course different. Every area and every community is different, so these concerns need to be listened to and understood.
And finally, when you are thinking about your strategy, once you’ve done the ‘who’ and the ‘how’, you need to do the ‘what’. So, what messages are you going to use, and what would be the most receptive and most effective messages for the channels you’re using and the people you’re trying to target?
Most importantly, before you even think about what you are going to say, you need to be consistent. At the beginning of this we said: what are your aims, what are your objectives? You want these aims and objectives to come through loud and clear to your message, no matter what it’s saying, across all the channels. These messages need to be appropriate for the groups that you are talking to. They need to be challenging to you as a force; you want to try something new. They need to be tailored to each audience; they need to be specific. And, above all, they need to be interesting. People aren’t going to engage with you if you’re boring, if you’re churning out the same old stuff every single day. Make it interesting.
So finally, we’ve talked about the ‘who’, the ‘how’ and the ‘what’ of community engagement strategies, and now we’ll go right back to the beginning and think about your aims, objectives and what does ‘good’ look like. Now you’ve done all this, you’d have a much better idea of what you’re actually wanting to achieve. But as a starter for ten, some of the ideas that we think here about what good community engagement looks like would be: you want to think about quality not quantity. So think of one or two really good examples of where you could make a real difference with helping out the community, engaging with the community. Start there and then you can start thinking about rolling it out on a wider scale.
The second thing is you want a wide and active network of contacts. There’s no use having one small group of people who represent one part of a community and aren’t that interested. You need to try and target and contact every part of your community for it to be most effective.
You also don’t want to just inform and give out information. You want to actually work with the community to solve problems together, as a group, and listen to concerns.
You also want to have regular activities. One-off events are brilliant but only if they are used as part of a longer term strategy, otherwise it will all go quiet after a year and people will think that the police have forgotten about them.
And the final thing to remember is it’s not just the police who should be doing this. You need to engage the communities but there is a part that the public services in your area also need to be helping out here. Talk to health, talk to education, businesses, charities. They’ll all want to be involved and you can try and persuade them to do so.
I hope that this has been useful and helped you think about how you can make your community engagement strategies even more effective. If you’d like any more information please contact Crest Advisory.
Sophie du Mont
Strategy and Delivery Analyst
Sophie du Mont is Strategy and Insight Manager at Crest. She analyses and evaluates statistics and existing policies affecting the criminal justice system.