Welcome to the Department

I think we should re-think the front desk/front lobby experience in our police stations. It seems to me with a little imagination we can re-engineer the front desk to do two things.

  • Make it less intimidating for the average member of the public who knocks on the front door for some sort of help.
  • Make the message of the front lobby more consistent with the professed values of community-oriented policing.

I am a little more aware of these things because these days in my work I regularly experience the front lobby as a regular member of the public.

From the back of the badge, where the experience of providing services is so intense and complicated, it’s hard to keep in mind that for a lot of the people in front of the badge, the public, the “Police Department” is the officer on the desk, the records clerk and, of course, the 9-1-1 call taker. But with this in mind, and leaving 9-1-1 call center protocols for another day, let’s think about improving what people experience when they ring the door bell.

I would convene a diverse group of people made up of some people who have used/use the front lobby, a desk officer, a records clerk, a security expert, an architect (if you have one in town who’ll help) and a retail expert.  I would  charge them with coming up with a design and a customer service program that improves the lobby experience.  Here are some issues I would ask them to think about.

Architecture that balances security and putting people at ease.  One gets the security angle.   Cops deal with scary people who at any time may choose to carry out an attack to fulfill agendas of revenge, etc.  But we may have over-engineered the security.  I know one department, which I admire for its progressive strategy and programs, features mirror, bullet-resistant glass around a fortified desk.  I was in another recently whose lobby is bright, well-lit, and sparkling clean.  But the long walk from the inviting street-level front door to the fortified, built-into-the-wall desk emplacement intimidates unduly.  I watched customers slow their pace as they moved within 10 feet of the window, across the attractive but barren lobby.

If we are reluctant to alter the architecture, let’s consider signage.  “Welcome to the Town Police Department. Here’s How to Access the Following Services…If you need additional assistance, go to the front desk ahead of you.  Officer John Jones is the officer on duty on this shift and will help you.” Maybe get fancy and do an electronic  service kiosk.

History displays and decoration.  Many departments display monuments and artifacts in the lobby.  Of course the department must display prominently the memorials to fallen officers.  It goes without saying that their sacrifices merit perpetual remembrance and the public can always use the reminder.

But otherwise we should think about using media that express the great things officers DO, not the instruments they do it with.  Displaying come-alongs, saps, stickball bat-sized night sticks, primitive riot gear and in some cases firearms not only look a little intimidating to the average person but defeat the message.  Cops change lives for the better and save lives every day.  They treat wounds, help alcoholics and drug addicts, stop via arrest people who victimize individuals and communities, comfort and reassure the injured and scared, selflessly put the safety of others before their own and stand ready to make the supreme sacrifice for others.  So why not tell THAT story? In pictures, testimonials and other media we can tell stories that move and inspire.

Customer service.  Anyone old enough to remember the original Registry of Motor Vehicles, like the on N. Washington St. in Boston, knows what atrocious public service looks like and feels like.  I am not equating the average PD lobby with the Registry, but, in the absence of a proper program and training for desk officers and clerks, the service is uneven.  I would have my committee think about a program for making it easier for the public to do business in the lobby.

It’s understandable that personnel can be defensive and wary, waiting for that whiny complaint or bad attitude.  But how often does that really occur?  I suspect the great majority of people who come to the front door are unsure of what they need or what they are entitled to.  A smile and a statement as innocuous as “What can I do for you?” would go a long way to achieve the goal of making the front door experience consistent with department’s the community policing philosophy.



About stephenomeara

My name is Jim Jordan. I have had the privilege of working with the Boston Police Department and hundreds more departments over my nearly 30-year career in police administration and city government. I am now teaching and consulting independently at www.sergeantsleadership.org. I have learned the best of what I know from the thousands of smart, dedicated and ethical police personnel and scholars who have guided me along the way. My address is named for the great Reform commissioner of the Boston Police at the turn of the 20th century. Commissioner O'Meara died just a short while before the Strike in 1919. He was replaced by a vicious puppet (of Gov. Coolidge) named Edwin U. Curtis. Had O'Meara lived events may have turned out quite differently.
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