Neighbourhood policing and community development: Gainesville, Florida style

The very same I day I published my Neighbourhood policing, digital engagement and community development blog  (15th January) a police officer was filmed sympathetically dealing with some young people shooting hoops in Gainesville, Florida.

I stumbled across this Telegraph article that chronicles what happened when the officer, Bobby White, attends and then returning with the “back-up” he promised, one of whom was NBA legend Shaquille O’Neill.

It was a masterstroke by whoever managed to persuade Shaq to agree to be part of the ‘back up’. Clearly, his input guaranteed the media spotlight; but it shouldn’t disguise how important it was that White kept his word and returned to play with the young people

It’s simply great policing on White’s part. He addresses the young people with respect – which they show in return – and he has been rewarded with a huge local, viral, and media presence. #BasketballCop and #HoopsNotCrime trended and Gainesville PD received ‘incomprehensible’ level of social media traffic.

The point of the original blog, and the Telegraph article that prompted it, was to illustrate how digital engagement was complementing, and in some cases replacing, traditional models of engagement by police. A week after the #BasketballCop shot some hoops with teenage Floridians, Gainesville PD drew a full house for a public meeting, the staple of the traditional model of engagement.

Despite how popular Bobby White and Gainesville PD had become it is a nice touch that White’s “basketball buddies” also attended the meeting.

A more sober observation is that given recent press coverage of the relationship between American police and black male youths it is a poignant and refreshing reminder that matters can be handled in a civilised manner.

It is also easy to overlook that it was digital engagement via Gainesvile PD’s YouTube channel that underpins this uplifting episode. Had they not uploaded the initial video recorded from White’s police car then most people would still be none the wiser. That video has had almost 300,000 views. “The Rematch” clip (the one above) has had over 1.5 million views. I love how a brief scan of Gainesville PD’s other clips have received more modest viewing figures: 818 views for their Christmas holiday safety clip; 549 views of a burglary caught on CCTV; 1,301 of their August edition of their occasional ‘Police Beat’ videos. The video that preceded that of White attending the basketballers has been viewed 5,009 times

Clearly, those that managed the account made hay of the whole thing. But what I also like – and this goes to the heart of quality engagement – they remained alert to the need to remind citizens of the ‘bread and butter’ issues; that despite the media frenzy, it was business as usual. So in between Shaq and #BasketballCop tweets they also updated on the relatively more mundane: traffic issues, swearing-in of new officers, car thieves and community safety advice:

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