The Value of a Small Piece of Card

Since leaving Oxford University, almost a decade ago, I have never had a job without business cards.

Until I joined the police.

In my previous roles it has been expected that the individuals recruited will be ambassadors, conveying a professional image to all they meet and building relationships. As a result, my past employers considered a small investment in the human and social capital of the employee to be worthwhile: a box of business cards.

I have also benefited from many ridealongs with police departments and law enforcement agencies in the United States and always been impressed by the fact that officers often have personalised business card-sized contact cards.  By contrast, in my experience in the UK, the use of business cards often seems limited to more senior or specialist officers.

As may be clear from my recent post on speaking to people, I see policing (especially uniformed neighbourhood policing) as being inherently about people and relationships. Most importantly the relationship between the public and the police. As a Dedicated Ward Officer, I consider myself to be the local figurehead of the Metropolitan Police and to that end am obviously keen to be professional, convey a professional image and also build real and meaningful relationships at a local level.

I have to confess that it was a source of disappointment for some time that no business cards were readily available, and that those I could order centrally were (understandably with the passage of time and focus on usage by senior officers) not as fit for use “on the beat” as they could be. Consequently, after some discussion with local residents and a desire to improve the service provided to my public, I designed and have had printed some business cards (as pictured above). If you follow me on Twitter you may even have seen the cards already:

The benefits have, for me (and I hope the public too), been immediately apparent.

They provide a quick and effective way of establishing contact with people now and into the future. It is easy, as part of a routine everyday non-covert encounter (aka conversation), to slip a business card into the hand of a member of the public. It is easy for them to pop it into their wallet/purse or stick to their fridge with a magnet.

It also saves the awkward and cumbersome handwritten exchange of details – with the inherent issues of handwriting and the product essentially being a scrap of paper! Gone, now, are the days of having to scribble furiously and probably illegibly on a memo pad, while watching a local offender cycle off into the distance!

What’s more, this particular design is double-sided. The rear of the card providing useful contact numbers for the Council regarding noise, littering and street care. There is also promotion of CrimeStoppers and space for three lines of written notes, such as reference numbers, contacts or other details.

There is also something to be said for the psychology of receiving a professional and tangibly manufactured item. It signals the fact that the police officer in question is well-supported in his work and that the officer, and by extension the organisation, values the encounter – whether it be a quick exchange on the street, or a longer exchange in a member of the public’s home or business.

There is also the fact that it reinforces – for both the officer and the public – a sense of ownership and personal accountability. I am a great believer in the value of personal accountability. I truly love the role of Dedicated Ward Officer (or what might be labelled ‘Home Beat Officer’ by others), it is an empowering role with responsibility for protecting real people and a defined patch. Residents receiving the card have something tangible that reinforces in their mind the (hopefully) ‘routine’ conversation that they have had with me. Both parties, I suggest, come away feeling valued and connected in a more lasting way.

Finally, I have handed more than a few of my cards to young children and their parents. The young children are excited to receive something from the police – albeit a business card, rather than a trip in a police car! I like to think that a few of the children might stick the card on the kitchen fridge with a magnet as soon as they get home, or perhaps go to sleep holding the card, having exciting dreams about one day growing up and being a police officer.

Perhaps it is more reasonable to imagine that a parent sticks the card on the family noticeboard, or on the fridge, or in their wallet. Perhaps it is even more reasonable (or cynical) to imagine that the cards end up – inevitably – in the bin, decomposing in landfill or being recycled.

However, I also like to imagine that one or two of the cards might over time find themselves a little dog-eared and dusty, stashed in the back of a drawer in a child’s bedroom. Some years on, when the child is growing up and clearing out their room, they find the card and remember that time when PC Rory Geoghegan (they have a real individual name on the card, don’t forget!) took the time to say hello, allowed them to try on his hat and gave them his card. They remember that experience with positivity and they consider what is for them, up until that moment, unthinkable. Whether for one moment or a few, they think about becoming a police officer. However infrequent, I see that scenario as a major win.

I have approximately 13,600 residents. If I were to give 1 in 4 of my residents a card each year, I’d be looking at an annual cost of little more than £150 (and that’s based on ordering small quantities as a private customer). If we believe in economies of scale, The Met ought to be able to secure a substantial discount on that sum. Alternatively, sponsorship might be the way forward.

I see such an investment as extremely worthwhile. On the other hand, I know many will see them as an “unnecessary luxury” or “having all the makings of a tabloid headline” (Shock Horror: Met wastes £150,000 on Bobby Business Cards). Others might think “they look good, but the problem is that everyone will want one”, “but people will get in touch with you all the time” and “the trouble with you police officers is that you are forever changing jobs” and “there’s no money”. One or two might even say things like: “you can’t do that, they won’t let you use their logo or will want payment for it” or “we shouldn’t be promoting numbers for other agencies at our expense”. To me, especially in the context of neighbourhood policing, I think these arguments are primarily folly.

In closing, I think there are significant benefits to accrue from local police officers having personalised business cards. They signal and reinforce the values we stand for and they help empower us to model the behaviours we and the public value. Fundamentally, I see them as helping build relationships with the community I serve.

Now that I’ve got some (“to pilot”, of course…), I can’t imagine doing uniformed community policing without them.

PS. I’d love to run an experiment testing my assertion. I’d also welcome thoughts on the use of contact cards such as these!

About the Author

PC Rory Geoghegan
I was the Dedicated Ward Officer for Clapham Common Ward in the London Borough of Lambeth until May 2016. I’m a former strategy consultant and criminal justice researcher. As a Dedicated Ward Officer I was something of a foot and cycle patrol fanatic! All views expressed are/were personal opinions and the usual disclaimers apply.

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