This last year was a tumultuous year for the image and reputation of policing. A tidal wave of negative news about police misconduct and illegal behavior both locally and nationally overshadowed the important and oftentimes dangerous duties officers perform every day, which many of us take for granted.

According to The New Bedford Light, the negative perception of policing is working against the New Bedford Police Department’s ability to recruit new officers.

The negative news coverage of the policing profession dramatically increased the negative opinion and perception citizens have of officers. A Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that 6 in 10 Americans reported that their confidence in police officers has been shaken. The same percent believe that police officers are not held accountable for their unlawful behavior.

I conducted a survey of college students in a crisis communications course I taught at a Massachusetts community college. These were not your typical students who belong to fraternities and sororities. My class was composed of students holding full- and part-time jobs, raising young children and those who served in military combat.


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The survey showed that 100 percent of the students believed that policing is a dangerous job and officers perform a vital service to society. However, almost 70 percent believed that their local police officers are not friendly or approachable, and do not relate well to the community. A similar percent do not trust their local police department because of frequent media reports on officer misconduct and illegal behavior.

The Boston Herald and other respected print, broadcast and social media news organizations have been laser-focused on the growing trend in police misconduct. This paper and its columnist Howie Carr have gone after the embarrassing scandals and multiple arrests of Mass. State troopers. Legitimate and embarrassing news reports focused on officers being arrested for driving under the influence and leaving the scene of an accident, domestic violence, sexual assault and rape, assault and battery, inappropriate use of force, sleeping in a patrol car while on duty, officers lying on the witness stand, and possession of child pornography.

High-profile and live televised trials found juries convicting officers of murder and manslaughter. Demonstrations were held to condemn police brutality while chants of defund the police and police reform were heard coast to coast. And most recently there was the tragic story of a 14-year-old teenager trying on dresses in a store dressing room being accidently shot and killed by an officer firing a high-powered rifle at a suspect accused of assaulting shoppers.

As someone who has spent decades dealing with image and reputation challenges and designing state and national communications campaigns to change public opinion and perception, let me professionally declare that it’s time for a police image makeover in 2022. And here’s how.

Massachusetts police chiefs, union representatives and leaders of professional law enforcement associations must stop complaining to each other about their poor image and take action by coming together for an image and reputation summit.

A professional facilitator would lead the group into designing a six-month statewide rebranding campaign, using all types of media tools to communicate the positive contributions officers make in the communities they serve. The goal of this campaign is to begin to regain the trust and appreciation of all Massachusetts residents toward law enforcement officers.

Rather than paying high-price consultants to assist with campaign development, distinguished and accomplished public relations, advertising, marketing and branding experts now retired should be invited to volunteer their time to this initiative. Retired non-profit fundraisers should be asked to volunteer their expertise in identifying funding sources for the campaign.

A campaign with consistent and repetitive messaging, with campaign material sent to local departments that they can use to supplement the statewide messaging, is needed now as a way to counter the negative image of officers, which is likely to continue in 2022. Otherwise, the law enforcement profession will continue to experience poor officer morale, chiefs and command officers leaving the profession, greater challenges of filling vacant officer positions and decreasing enrollment at regional police training academies.

Good officers are being stereotyped by the bad, which is not fair to the hardworking men and women who wear the badge of a Massachusetts. This is the year to turn this image problem around. Other industries and professions under fire have done this; now it’s time for Bay State police leaders to do the same.

Billerica resident Rick Pozniak has spent 40 years as a public relations and communications executive. He taught communications to command law enforcement officers at the New England Institute of Law Enforcement Management. A White Paper he prepared on the policing reputation crisis was cited in material produced by President Obama’s Task Force on 21st-century policing.

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