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Trusting the police: is it a matter of PR?

The news that only half of Brits trust the police doesn’t come as much of a surprise to me. Only half of those surveyed said they still have faith in officers, according the ComRes survey for ITV released on Friday.

An unrelenting barrage of negative press over the last couple of years has seen the institution surpass bankers and politicians in the unpopularity polls to hold the crown as the nation’s scapegoat. Newspapers list Hillsborough, Plebgate and the Mark Duggan case as examples of police incompetence on a daily basis, despite the fact that this ‘news’ is often years old.

When I consider my personal experience with the police it is as positive as it is negative. When my identity was stolen by online fraudsters they were straight on the case, offering advice and doing their best to find a solution. However, there is no excusing the shame and embarrassment I felt when I was stopped and searched at a London train station last year and given no explanation as to why I was singled out whatsoever. If I was going to take one story to the press, which do you think they’d be interested in? Certainly not the positive one.

Positive stories about the police are hard to find.

Positive stories about the police are hard to find.

I can’t remember the last time I read about a police success story. In fact, I just spent 20 minutes trawling the internet for good example and the best I could find was tucked away in the Coventry Telegraph: ‘Police save Christmas for burgled family’.

When thieves broke into a home on Christmas Eve stealing two laptop computers and two bin bags full of wrapped presents, response officers PC Cheryl Rudnicki and PC Matthew Allt had to break the news of the burglary to the family – and the parents were so distraught that the officers vowed to do all they could to help. Hours after the burglary the compassionate pair went to a toy shop to replace some of the presents out of their own pockets.

This warming tale of police community spirit received a total of two ‘likes’ on Facebook and no pick up whatsoever in the national media. It’s common sense that positive news stories about the police massively outnumber the negative ones, but bad news is always more popular than good news… Isn’t it?

In December alone, police officers carrying out everyday operational duties were killed in Scotland, shot in West Yorkshire and critically injured attempting to stop a stolen vehicle in Reading. I wonder if the public would have responded any differently to the Duggan enquiry if they were aware of this? Perhaps the police force should consider investing in some outside PR.

Time and again we receive crisis management briefs from organisations and individuals targeted by the media. Where the press is concerned one bad move will overshadow a lifetime of good. This is when you need an intermediary like a PR agency, who will shout your good news from the rooftops and give you a voice to tell your side of the story when things aren’t going so well.

In terms of building and keeping the public’s trust, it is therefore vital the police work harder to develop their relationship with the media. That responsibility clearly falls to their press office, who must do more to ensure good police work receives a greater level of publicity.

3 comments

  1. I wonder how the public would take it if the police started to shout about their successes though? Very fine line to negotiate! Such a shame we don’t have more respect for those who risk their lives and are ultimately just doing their job.

  2. Trouble is that the culture of cover ups such as in the Stephen Lawrence case and Hillsborough still permeates the police force.As long as this culture is commonly acceptable in the policeforce ……how can we trust and respect them? Plebgate doesn’t just happen to ministers…..!

  3. Good work, I wonder if the general public had to serve with the police force for a short period of time as with the courts or do military service it might help create a ‘different way of seeing’ – not sure if it would work for those with a criminal mindset though!

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