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Make every day National First Responders Day

Follow these steps to share your public safety agency’s success stories, accomplishments and challenges with your community all year round

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Nestled among October’s National Custodian Day, National Taco Day, National Coaches Day and World Smile Day is National First Responders Day shared by National Chocolate Day and the eve of National Cat Day. This follows a year that includes Thank a Police Officer Day and Peace Officers Memorial Day.

Clearly, some of these celebrations are more festive than others. How can we make our days special? Here are some suggestions:

Join the work already in progress

Many nationally tried and true community relations programs already exist with proven positive outcomes. National Faith & Blue Weekend, National Night Out, Coffee with a Cop and drug take-back programs all have templates and suggestions that your agency can adapt to your community. Being creative is great, but hopping on the bandwagon works, too.

Celebrate others

Photos and stories about law enforcement working with other first responders, city workers, service clubs and non-profits can shine a light on other good work going on in your community while telling the story of how your police officers are integrated with other helpers. Offer certificates of appreciation and achievement to others. Helping to tell their stories elevates everyone.

Share the numbers

Do your crime stats look better than the national or state average? Are crashes down? Thank your traffic enforcement and community members’ driving behavior. Are your reported crimes up? Thank the public’s diligence and trust for reporting criminal activity. Is your robbery or homicide clearance rate above average? Thank your detectives and cooperative citizens.

Exploit existing good vibes

Despite all the negative rhetoric about cops in recent difficult years, the public has consistently expressed confidence in and respect for law enforcement. That is a message that needs to be reinforced in your own community. Do a well-constructed survey and you will likely find that your agency is supported by a significant majority of your local population. Let them know you appreciate it with some humble bragging.

Share your struggles and ask for help

Every agency has challenges, whether it is a particular criminal activity, staffing shortages, or budget crunches. Be transparent, without sounding like a complainer, and ask the public for suggestions. It’s not likely that you’ll get a response that you hadn’t already thought of, but you can share those good ideas and give credit to an involved constituency that can become partners in problem-solving.

Encourage ceremony and tradition

Promotions, historic occasions, service anniversaries and recognition of achievement are important for morale if done equitably and consistently. Sharing those achievements with the public. It’s a sad day when somebody shows up with brand new sergeant stripes with no promotional announcement or retires without a cake. The public will appreciate an agency that appreciates its own.

Maintain consistent communication

Keeping up social media accounts and press releases can be challenging, especially for smaller police agencies. Frequent positive messaging and agency branding with a mix of good news, crime reports, safety suggestions and other information can maintain a professional image that shows your public a high level of community engagement. The alternative is that your agency shows up in the media only at crisis times or when controversy arises. Passive silence is a practice no longer acceptable in policing.

Do good work

The best practice for good public relations is good police work. We all know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of good service and products. That is how we decide where to spend our money. The taxpayer may not have an option other than calling on your agency, but it does have the option of reducing your budget and not cooperating with your officers. If your agency does not have a culture of compassion, service and problem-solving no amount of public relations activity will counter that reality. Healthy monitoring and positive accountability is a necessary part of the leadership that develops a deserved good reputation. Look good. Do good. Let others brag about you. This will ensure that every day is First Responders Day.

NEXT: A letter to the American public: Appreciate our first responders every day

Joel Shults retired as Chief of Police in Colorado. Over his 30-year career in uniformed law enforcement and criminal justice education, Joel served in a variety of roles: academy instructor, police chaplain, deputy coroner, investigator, community relations officer, college professor and police chief, among others. Shults earned his doctorate in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis from the University of Missouri, with a graduate degree in Public Services Administration and a bachelor degree in Criminal Justice Administration from the University of Central Missouri. In addition to service with the U.S. Army military police and CID, Shults has done observational studies with over 50 police agencies across the country. He has served on a number of advisory and advocacy boards, including the Colorado POST curriculum committee, as a subject matter expert.