34 people. Five sessions. Priceless feedback. 

We have made a number of changes to the Boca Raton Police communication strategy over the past year and it was time to get some constructive criticism.  Hence, we scheduled five days of focus groups, subjecting members to everything from signs and brochures to website designs and prevention programs.  True, there was a wide range of opinions from folks using very different frames of reference, but there were some common themes and observations which will clearly help us refine how we engage, connect, and communicate. I apologize for the seemingly disjointed synopsis, but there is just too much to cover in so little space.


VIPER is a relevant and sound community policing strategy, but some people don’t get it. We have to do a better job of explaining the concept on the web, in printed material and on the street.  We also recognize that it is time to consolidate the bocaviper.com and bocapolice.com websites. The future site, currently under development, will bring both VIPER material and information about the Department to one location.  Participants also expressed some confusion about Crime Watch and the Police Department. Crime Watch is a separate entity and we do very little cross-marketing to highlight how our missions are inextricably linked. Crime Watch is a valued partner and we will do more to support their work.
Opinions varied on the look of the current bocaviper.com site.  While some didn’t like aspects of the site’s appearance, others favored it over examples we provided which were reportedly “touristy.”  We will continue to use the black and gold colors to be consistent, with some variations resulting from a review of other popular sites.  Group members appreciated the communication resources available to them on the site. We will better emphasize these tools up front.  The feedback on video content was excellent. We will be shortening the videos we produce for the web and will seek to move longer segments to more appropriate media, such as our cable access channel. People enjoyed seeing solved cases and asked for more content about issues which are more of concern to them.
Aggressive and authoritarian (“DON’T_______!”) communication or marketing strategies do not resonate well. Protective themes and educational messages have greater impact.  Also, data isn’t enough. Respondents wanted us to include a specific call for action whenever possible.   Participants liked the bold look of our signs, but want to see “police” and our non-emergency telephone number emphasized more frequently.

Nothing can replace the face-to-face. People want a personal connection with Department members, more so at the street level. Whenever possible, we will be involving officers more frequently in neighborhood meetings and other events.

Not too many departments are using focus groups to challenge their communication models. I credit our public information staff and, particularly, Erica Reuter for developing and executing this process. The return on investment was phenomenal, given that it was easy to find volunteers who freely offered great advice in the interest of supporting their police department.  It’s a living, breathing animal, so I look forward to seeing how it evolves in future sessions.

The dynamic nature of social media will require us to be current, creative and, most importantly, relevant to our unique communities.  I think tools and processes, such as focus groups, can help point us in the right direction.  I look forward to seeing what other agencies are doing to become better “connected cops.”  Let us know what you think.