Transactional vs. Relational Policing
As a law enforcement supervisor, have you ever tried to explain to someone what good policing is? Sometimes putting things into words can be an extremely difficult task. If you are like me, the first hundred times you try to answer this question you find yourself jetting off into all these tangents about handling calls, traffic enforcement, conducting thorough investigations, making big busts, taking down the “really bad guys,” and somewhere in there working with the community. By the time you get done it feels like you just named off a bunch of different tasks and never really answered the question – What is good policing?
One night, I was driving in for my overnight shift listening to the “EntreLeadership” podcast and they were interviewing a gentleman named Mick Ebeling. What really struck me was when Mr. Ebeling began talking about transactional and relational marketing as it relates to his non-profit organization. Mr. Ebeling did not invent these concepts, but it was the first time I had ever heard them explained. I realized that the concept of relational marketing is 100% applicable to explaining what good policing is. I knew that if I could put what good policing is into words, it would be that much easier to explain to my officers what we should be doing out in the community . . . let me explain.
Transactional and Relational Marketing defined . . .
Transactional Marketing: Transactional marketing is focused solely on the actual sales process for an item and may include aggressive tactics that alienate the customer. The emphasis is on getting the deal done right now with little thought about future sales or the customer ever returning. For example, think of the car salesman that will do or say anything to keep you from getting off the lot without one of their vehicles being purchased. You either purchase the vehicle and feel dirty for it or you become so alienated that you never return to that dealership again.
Relational Marketing: Relational marketing is focused on developing a relationship between the customer and the salesperson or business. Because of the relationship, customers feel loyal to that company and return for future purchases. For example, a non-profit organization tells you the story of the person that you will be helping by donating the equivalent of “just a cup of coffee a day.” There is a relationship built between you and the person you will be helping; the non-profit organization is the intermediary. The relationship is the priority in this type of marketing with the hope being that you return to donate regularly to help support that person and their cause.
So, let’s take those same concepts and replace the term “marketing” with “policing” . . .
Transactional and Relational Policing defined . . .
Transactional Policing: Transactional policing is focused solely on the process and may include aggressive tactics that alienate the community. This comes out in policing primarily when we are overly focused on statistical production: handling calls for service as fast as possible, writing as many tickets as possible, or making as many arrests as possible with little regard for the community as a whole.
One excellent example of transactional policing is photo radar – photo radar is all about the transaction between a vehicle speeding and the associated monetary fine. There is absolutely no relationship developed which explains why there is such a visceral hatred of photo radar tickets from many in the community. If you are reading this example and thinking, “yeah, but there isn’t a person involved in photo radar tickets,” my reply would simply be to ask if you have ever been pulled over by a stereotypical motor officer? It often goes something like this . . .
MOTOR: License, registration, insurance…
DRIVER: Here’s my license and I’ll have to look for the registration and insurance.
MOTOR: Do you know why I stopped you?
DRIVER: No, not really. (Or insert generic excuse for bad driving here.)
MOTOR: You were doing 58 mph in the posted 45 mph zone. Wait here.
MOTOR: (5 seconds later) Here’s your ticket for speeding, no registration, no proof of insurance, the cracked windshield, and I also noticed that you have a white light to the rear. Your options for taking care of the ticket are on the back.
Traffic stop complete in 54.3 seconds, 5 violations written, and the motor pulls away to make another traffic stop before the driver even knows what happened. This is obviously an exaggerated example, but you get my drift – no relationship developed. Similar scenarios can be played out while handling calls for service or conducting investigations, if the emphasis is solely on getting the task done as quickly as possible or getting as many as possible.
Relational Policing: Relational policing is focused on developing a relationship between the community member(s) and the officer(s) they come into contact with. Because of the relationship, the community member(s) feels a sense of loyalty to that officer(s) and ultimately each is more cooperative with the other. Overtime, this type of policing develops a stronger relationship between the police department and the community they serve.
Let’s go back to our traffic stop example; this time with an emphasis on developing the relationship between the officer and driver . . .
OFFICER: Good evening, do you have your license registration, and insurance?
DRIVER: Here’s my license and I’ll have to look for the registration and insurance.
OFFICER: Other than this, how has the rest of your day been?
DRIVER: OK, but long. I was trying to get home a little quicker than I should have to get dinner ready. (Hands officer registration and insurance.)
OFFICER: Yeah, you were doing 58 mph in the posted 45 mph zone. We’ve been working a lot of traffic enforcement in this area due to the high number of collisions recently. Wait in your vehicle and I’ll be right back.
OFFICER: (Returns after writing the ticket) Like I said earlier, I had you at 58 mph in the posted 45 mph zone. Your options for taking care of this are . . . (provides explanation) . . . Do you have any questions for me? Have a better day.
While this example is obviously based upon a cooperative driver, many times even an argumentative driver can be won over by just doing some of the basic relationship building concepts exhibited. Some of the key points include asking how they are doing outside of this experience, giving them time to actually answer your questions or complete requests, provide a reason for your actions, and provide an explanation for how they can take care of the ticket. Simple concepts based on treating people with dignity and respect can be applied in nearly every law enforcement encounter we go on; as officer safety allows. Obviously during instances of emergency response or use of force situations, this is secondary to the welfare of citizens and officers; but these situations make up a small percentage of our total daily interactions with the community.
DO NOT misunderstand this concept, this is NOT about “hug a thug,” only give warnings, do not make arrests, kissing babies, and pretending the world is a completely safe place. The concept of relational policing is about spending an extra couple of seconds on each traffic stop, call for service, investigation, foot patrol, etc. to build a relationship with community members whether they are reporting parties, victims, bystanders, concerned neighbors, or even suspects.
Still wondering if it works? To date, I have physically placed handcuffs on and arrested approximately 1,500 people for various crimes. Of those, only 5 have ever fought with me getting into those cuffs. I do not attribute this to luck, I attribute it to the fact that I received some very good advice earlier in my career to treat everyone with dignity and respect until they showed they deserved otherwise. This is not an easy task, but it has served me well over the years and when I heard the aforementioned podcast talking about relational marketing it gave me words to describe how good policing should be – relational.
Being a leader is about building relationships. The better relationships you build, the better leader you will be. As law enforcement officers, regardless of rank, we need to build relationships both with those we work with and with the communities we serve so we can lead them properly. As the 21st century continues on and law enforcement works towards solutions regarding negative LE perceptions, I believe that relational policing provides a no cost way of beginning to work on many of these issues. The challenge is that there must be law enforcement leaders willing to stand up in briefing rooms, training environments, and command staff meetings open to putting new, viable solutions out there that answer the question – What is good policing?
Good policing is relational policing.