• Emergency and non emergency numbers front and center
  • Most Wanted
  • Silent Hotline
  • Links to news like press releases and events
  • Integration of social media accounts

There are many things to consider when designing and administrating your department’s website. It must look professionally designed and well thought out with navigation designed for ease of use by your community. It must contain pertinent information for the public such as safety and crime information. Information you offer must be kept updated and relevant on a regular basis. Utilizing pictures of your officers on the job can on your pages can help put a face on your department. And of course, correct spelling and proper grammar go a long way towards cementing how professional your department appears to your community.

What they say about first impressions is true. Your community will judge the rest of your site and even your department based on your website’s homepage or front page. Therefore, it’s important to focus on things that will entice your visitors to look deeper into the site and keep them coming back. This is a list of some important things your website should provide not only within the site, but preferrably on the front page of your site.

1. Emergency and non-emergency contact information. This may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many departments fail to at least provide a non-emergency number on their front page so people don’t have to dig around on the site to give you a quick call about something that doesn’t require emergency attention.

2. Most Wanted or other ATL information. The front page of your website is a great place to showcase those people you may be looking for or to give more information to the public about cold cases, etc. Citizens find these topics interesting and are apt to at least take a peak if you have them on your front page. Make sure you include photos of some of your Most Wanted. This makes it visually more exciting than just a link.

3. To go along with your Most Wanted, its a good idea to have a number of online forms on your site for people to contact your department with. One form in particular belongs on the front page – the Silent Hotline. The Silent Hotline or whatever you want to call it, should be a link to a form that can be filled out online and submitted anonymously. Thats right, no IP addresses collected, no email addresses collected, etc. to trace back. This form should be similar to making an anonymous phone call. With anonymity you will get more people apt to fill out the form and submit more tips. Many of the best tips have come in over the Internet and Email or Social Media so don’t brush this one off. In addition, some forms you have on your site may need to be secure. This means you must have a secure server or SSL – secure sockets link for these forms to be transmitted through, just like when you are purchasing something online. This is particularly important if you are going to allow citizens to send you requests like Vacation Watch requests. A Vacation Watch request might contain a citizen’s address, times and dates their home will be empty, etc. You don’t want some bad guy intercepting this data off of an unsecured transmission to your website. And with a plethora of free tools available on the Internet it’s very easy for someone to snag this information during transmission. To have an SSL or secure socket layer you will need a web server that supports SSL encryption, a unique IP address and an SSL Certificate provided by an SSL certificate provider. If you host your site with an outside host they may be able to help you set this up or there are also services on the web you can host just forms on to serve them securely. If you have an internal site you will have to rely on your internal IT to help you out.

4. The front page of your website is also a great place to post links to press releases, upcoming programs, events and links to good news stories too. Posting this information on your front page where it’s easily seen can garner your department more community participation in programs and show your citizens how proactive your department is.

5. Last but not least, I hope your department has begun using Social Media to interact more with your community. Right now, this is the single most cost effective thing you can do to connect with your citizens. This does not however, overshadow your website. As a matter of fact, your website can be an integral part of your Social Media plan. Your website draws a number of citizens looking for information on your department. So why not introduce them to your social media accounts while they are there so they can follow you there as well. Try to integrate the icons and invites to Facebook, Twitter, etc. into your front page design. These icons usually are placed towards the top of the page. Remember, many people really do want to hear from their police departments. They do like knowing what is going on and can help you spread the word you need to get out regarding safety, missing persons, wanted persons, etc.

Your website is a good resource to use to keep in touch with your community. Spend the time to optimize your front page to get that good first impression.

Pam Armstrong

Pam is an Information Specialist with the City of Chandler, Arizona. She was the webmaster and designer for the Chandler Police Department with the PIO office for 10 years. During this time she built many police and police related websites to serve both the public and sworn communities. She currently manages and assists with many social media accounts with various divisions in the city. She is also a professional FBI trained Forensic Artist and has done over 150 sketches in the last four years. Before joining Chandler, Pam worked at Cox Interactive Media, a subsidiary of Cox Enterprises as a senior web designer. Before that Pam did work in 3-dimensional web design and served as an animator, artist and video production specialist. She can be found at: @pjarmstrongaz on Twitter and tumblr: le-tek.tumblr.com