Video is a critical part of community policing

It is our job, as public safety leaders, to tell the stories of police officers in a way that is engaging, sincere and informative

This article originally appeared in the November 2020 PoliceOne Leadership Briefing. To read the full briefing, visit Power of video | Dangers of Parler | BWCs & memory, and add the Leadership Briefing to your subscriptions.

Every day in America, police officers make communities safer, solve problems, connect those in need to resources and, quite literally, save people’s lives. Police officers are humble, service-oriented, courageous and selfless. Yet, some community members attack the entire profession.

It is our job, as public safety leaders, to tell the stories of police officers in a way that is engaging, sincere and informative. If we do not, we are failing our officers. They deserve our best efforts to positively impact how Americans feel about their police.

Leverage the power of video

Currently, the Wausau Police Department employs a part-time person for 20 hours per week to produce videos.
Currently, the Wausau Police Department employs a part-time person for 20 hours per week to produce videos. (Wausau Police Department)

If a picture is worth a thousand words, how much is a video worth? We often see police body-worn camera videos or citizen cellphone videos go viral because of their content. These videos show the grittiness and intensity of policing under extraordinary circumstances. Sometimes we look good and other times not. Let’s not leave it up to citizens to engage communities through videos. Let’s take the initiative to create a positive narrative ourselves.

Police have been using social media to educate and inform citizens about the “why” behind police actions and policies. Digital marketing professionals will tell you that social media messaging is viewed more often if there is a photo associated with the text in a post. But videos are rated even higher than photos by social media users. So how can we leverage videos and social media within law enforcement to build trust and educate our community about our profession? It is a critical piece of community policing in the 21st century.

How we handle video production

A couple of years ago, one of our supervisors started creating no-budget videos about important topics using basic video editing software. The goal of these videos was to inform, educate and engage community members about the many aspects of law enforcement.

These videos range from a “Chiefs Chat” where the chief dives deep into topics such as police use of force, officer-involved shootings and armored vehicles, to a simple introduction of an officer on the department. These videos allow us to communicate in-depth to our community about important topics. The videos humanize law enforcement, increase understanding of our policies and practices, build trust and are a key component of our community-oriented policing philosophy.

Currently, we employ a part-time person for 20 hours per week to produce videos recruited from the videography program at a local technical college. Our total budget is about $15,000 annually. We invested in some equipment and video editing software as well. The videographer works with a member of our leadership team to develop the concepts for each video. The videographer is then tasked with the production and editing of the video. Final edit authority of each video rests with our leadership team prior to distribution on social media.

The videos are shared on a variety of social media pages including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The posts with videos receive a great community response and provide us the opportunity to interact with our community in a new way. The vast majority of views occur on these social media pages, but we also maintain a YouTube channel that contains more than 100 videos. The YouTube channel allows us to easily share a video link with a citizen, elected officials, or police recruit.

Focusing on recruitment

An example of community education we have done using video is around our hiring process.

A key component of building trust within our communities is hiring and retaining the right people. We spend an inordinate amount of time recruiting, vetting and hiring the best people. Our process for hiring is intensive and far more in-depth than most private-sector jobs. We know the character of the police officers in our building because we have read the background and psychological reports, conducted multiple interviews and often conducted a polygraph examination. But community members are often not aware of our in-depth hiring process, partly because we don’t educate our communities about the tremendous scrutiny in our hiring practices.

Here are two videos that outline that process:


Additional video examples 

Here are examples of some of the things we have done through video and social media.

We have started live-streaming all of our press conferences on social media and putting the press conference on our YouTube channel:

We share educational videos:



We also share the heroic work of officers:

And of course, some funny stuff:

And a video that is both educational AND funny (watch the former Mayor’s reaction to getting pasted in the back of the head with a snowball):

You can gain tremendous community engagement via video. This is digital community policing. Give it a try. You won’t regret it!

NEXT: Calif. agency's video series focuses on facilitating an open dialogue

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