Image can be very important, especially to an ego-centric individual or an organization that may be trying to improve upon a poor image; whether it’s real or perceived. Dr. Frank Straub seems to think there is a problem with the image of Indianapolis Metro Police and he’s willing to spend tens of thousands of dollars to “improve” it. Despite Dr. Straub’s consistent statements to the media about the bad things IMPD’s officers do and a noticeable lack of praise for the good they do, he wants to spend public dollars for “brand development” and a “marketing campaign” to promote IMPD’s positive attributes.
In March of 2011 Director Straub began conversing with Emmis Communications in order to address the issue of “image.” PoliPit obtained the contract agreement between Frank Straub’s Public Safety Department and Emmis. These documents described a concerted effort to begin a media campaign with the intention of improving the “image” of IMPD at a cost “not to exceed $50,000”. You may be wondering, “I didn’t know IMPD had an ‘image’ problem.” They don’t and if they suffer from any problem it is an identity and morale problem that stems from the merger of MCSD and IPD, two proud, distinct and historic agencies wrecked by a political money grab. This particular problem can be corrected, but time and leadership are the proper prescription, not a $50,000 media campaign.
However, does IMPD suffer from an “external image” problem? Does the community hate or distrust our police force? If it does, then it’s the result of poor leadership, not the beat officers. Occasionally a few officers “get into trouble” and the media feeding frenzy begins, which is exacerbated by the public statements the Chief and the Director spout off. However, an agency with over 1,600 officers will certainly have an occasional problem with employees, and this no way reflects the true “image” of the department; unless the leadership promotes the idea that IMPD’s image is bad. (Surely that hasn’t happened in the last two years.) I’m not sure any police department’s image can realistically be, nor should be, what Director Straub desires. A large portion of a police officer’s job is doing things people don’t like; albeit justified. They take money out of the pockets of citizens by writing tickets and towing cars, they temporarily remove a person’s liberty by making arrests, and they tell people what they can and cannot do. They are a necessary evil to most politicians. If criminals dislike the police department that’s a good thing. Unfortunately over educated self-loathing experts think they have the secret for improving a police department’s image when the need is manufactured. A few disgruntled black pastors do not define an agency’s image! Instead of spending $50,000 on a media “PR campaign”, Director Straub should stand in front of television cameras and go on radio programs to talk about all the good things IMPD has done and continues to do. Although, it’s possible he doesn’t have the necessary time for this since he now has to manage 5 Assistant Public Safety Directors and micro-manage an entire police department. The Office of the Public Safety Director had an entire operating budget of $1.1 million in 2005; the adopted 2011 budget was $4.8 million. Managing a $4.8 million dollar office budget, larger than the Mayor’s $4.4 million dollar budget, takes a lot of time and energy.
The attached contract, specifically Appendix A, notes numerous ideas that were discussed in a March 9th, 2011 “conversation” between the Public Safety Dept and Emmis. The notes describe various ways to improve upon the “image” of IMPD and establish a “brand”, but most of them are typical “liberal feel good” ideas with no verifiable results. They actually discuss the United Kingdom model of policing as more effective, stating, “UK police see their job as educating the public on the law and use arrests as a tool versus our view of ‘fight crime’ as totally reactionary.” One of the biggest problems with law enforcement in America today is that agencies aren’t allowed to use their resources to “enforce laws.” The current policing trend has moved towards “volunteerism, coaching, building homes, hugs, relationships and understanding,” as opposed to the authoritative long arm of the law that should be feared by the “bad guys”, and encourage others to behave themselves. But I digress; I’ll save that for another article.
So how does Dr. Straub plan to improve IMPD’s image? According to Appendix A of the contract Director Straub signed on May 12, 2011, they want to “….seize the moment, capitalize on the positive public support of police in wake of David Moore’s death to celebrate service and the good men and women serving our community.” There was certainly a lot of good will towards IMPD after Ofc. Moore was murdered; however this is a typical response from the public nearly every time a police officer pays the ultimate price. Why would Straub wait until an officer is killed to drum up community support for his agency? Many within IMPD will see this as just another poor example of leadership from the Director’s Office and an overt attempt to exploit Ofc. Moore’s death for political gain. If Straub wants to improve the image of IMPD, then he should resign the Director’s position. Improved officer morale would immediately follow, which would probably translate into a more motivate police department, which would likely produce a reduction in crime; and that wouldn’t cost $50,000.