Connecting Creativity and Caring

Kathryn Lymburner
March 04, 2015
By Kathryn Lymburner
Cst. Ian MacDonald's leadership goes well beyond just being a media liaison officer with the Abbotsford Police Department (APD). His specific involvement in anti gang activity and road safety not only highlights his leadership skills to the community at large but also amongst his peers. Mistrust of police has become all too common in today's society. Stories of conflict between police and the public sells newspapers and dominates the news cycle. Trust in police has dropped across Canada and especially in BC. Today, police, crime and court reporting make up 60 per cent of news content. News travels faster than a police car. A gangster murdered in a parking lot receives wide social media coverage within minutes of the occurrence, with many of the details tweeted out for public consumption.

Cst. Ian MacDonald's leadership goes well beyond just being a media liaison officer with the Abbotsford Police Department (APD). His specific involvement in anti gang activity and road safety not only highlights his leadership skills to the community at large but also amongst his peers.

Mistrust of police has become all too common in today's society. Stories of conflict between police and the public sells newspapers and dominates the news cycle. Trust in police has dropped across Canada and especially in BC. Today, police, crime and court reporting make up 60 per cent of news content.

News travels faster than a police car. A gangster murdered in a parking lot receives wide social media coverage within minutes of the occurrence, with many of the details tweeted out for public consumption.

Four Worlds Apart

MacDonald has been the Media Liaison Officer (MLO) for the Abbotsford Police Department (APD) for the past five years. In that time he has mastered four connected worlds:

  • Earned the trust of the media locally and provincially through the traditional media handling of police operations;

  • Generated proactive stories about public safety;

  • Established a presence on social media, "Generation Next's" medium of choice for news and information, and;

  • Earned the trust of the members of his own and other police agencies.

Over the years MacDonald's high profile media visibility has enhanced the APD's positive image in the community, translating into a necessary two-way dialogue between the public and the police which, in turn, promotes a lower crime rate. This ultimately helps reduce the pressure on street level officers.

Gang Prevention

Gang prevention is a crucial issue in Abbotsford. Finding themselves unable to succeed in the mainstream, many young people join gangs as a way to belong and be successful. Youth in Fraser valley communities took advantage of the "BC Bud" cash cow wave in the early 2000s to get involved in the drug trade.

Pot production leads to importation of cocaine and the weapons required to protect the business and product, resulting in a gang war in Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley.

One part of the APD's success in dealing with this problem was a strategy to highlight the realities of being involved with a gang – what it was really like. It was important to educate the community, and specifically young people, during the 'at risk' phase of their life about the dangers of gang involvement. MacDonald was very proactive in getting the message out, a key part of the strategy.

Getting Attention

In charge of ensuring media coverage and interest in the projects, MacDonald staged multiple events, getting the message out through video and audio PSAs and poster campaigns and working closely with his media contacts.

MacDonald worked with the youth squad sergeant to get free coverage of the posters, videos and in-school programs. He arranged for the sergeant to make multiple live appearances on Global TV's morning show and arranged numerous TV and radio interviews.

Media Buzz – when people remember and talk about a story after it airs – occurred throughout the project.

MacDonald took the materials and presentations and built them into a large, successful media campaign, which was instrumental in reducing gang crime and violence in Abbotsford.

Getting Results

The statistics tell the story. There were nine gang murders in 2009. That dropped to one in 2011 and one in the following two years. For his hard work on this project, MacDonald was awarded the Solicitor General Community Safety and Crime Prevention Award in the fall of 2010.

Another campaign that gained media attention was the APD's Christmas card, which featured the police chief dressed up as Santa in full ERT protective gear, armed with a carbine rifle. The card, featuring captions about being naughty or nice, was sent to serious offenders the APD had dealt with, asking them to make a different choice in the year ahead.

MacDonald ensured the card was featured on the front page of BC's biggest newspaper and carried on media across the province. The card gained so much buzz that it was also featured on CNN's Anderson Cooper, two other national US TV shows and print publications around the world.

Road Safety

Abbotsford, the largest city by area in British Columbia, has approximately 1,300 kilometres of roads winding through its urban core and peripheral agricultural lands. As the city continues to grow it recognized driver attitudes had not kept pace with the increase in population. Statistics showed that 110 people had died on Abbotsford roads since 2000. The top three causes were distracted drivers, speeding and alcohol and/or drug use.

In 2013 and again in 2014 the number one priority for police was to reduce the carnage. The three Es of road safety – enforcement, engineering and education – are at the root of this project. MacDonald took the lead in educating the public, making it easier for officers to carry out enforcement. With all the publicity about their efforts, few motorists could argue that they hadn't been warned.

As the primary person for both creating and delivering the media message that drivers had to change their behaviours, MacDonald created many posters and crafted numerous messages to get the word out.

Social media was a large component of MacDonald's work in this area. Through 2013, he built the department's policy and training for members to engage in social media – most through Twitter.

MacDonald, in tandem with a videographer and on a shoestring budget, created multiple videos highlighting Abbotsford's police at work, uploading more than 100 videos to the APD YouTube channel. The main Abbotsford PD Twitter account has nearly 8,000 followers while its Facebook page boasts over 4,600 followers.

MacDonald's use of social media to convey Abbotsford's road safety was integral in the mainstream media picking up the message, all the way up to the national level. MacDonald's "Driving Excuses Week," which provided examples of excuses drivers gave when they were stopped, went viral, attracting more than 100,000 views. Officers tweeted the most worthy examples throughout the week.

Knowing the media and public would continue to discuss road safety, MacDonald then asked, "who are better drivers; men or women?" The conversation generated huge buzz on talk shows and news networks. MacDonald followed up that question up with another, asking if it mattered what kind of car you drive.

It appears to be working; people are examining their behaviours and discussing road safety in large numbers.

Poster campaigns are also a successful component of MacDonald's leadership. Posters he designed highlight distracted driver's month (February) and the start of the school year, reminding drivers to slow down in school zones and watch out for the little ones.

All these programs and campaigns are a result of MacDonald's own initiative and creativity. He has built a solid reputation for openly and honest delivering the facts and being accountable for police work in Abbotsford, whether good or bad. He answers all phone calls, tweets and emails from the media and citizens, a work ethic that has built MacDonald's reputation and inspires all APD members to do their best.

"The police are the public and the public are the police" was the message from perhaps the first great police leader, Sir Robert Peel. For police to succeed, they must connect to the public they serve, hold their trust and gain their co-operation.

Ian MacDonald's energetic efforts have gone a long way toward closing the gap between the public and the police. He has not only helped to create a safer community but shown the way for others in this enigmatic new era of open and transparent police work.

Awards Banquiet

Ian MacDonald will receive the 2015 Police Leadership Award at the Blue Line EXPO Awards Gala to be held on April 29. To check on the availability of tickets go to blueline.ca/expo.

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