We are social animals. Yet, in our technology driven society, the importance of direct communication is often overlooked. Person to person interaction is especially important for members of the police department, who are constantly under the critical public eye. For police officers good communication skills are essential. In this context community policing has an increasingly important role.
Today, police officers must establish relationships with a huge variety of different groups of people. Officers must adopt different approaches to each group. Those violating the law will certainly have a different opinion of the police, from those who do not violate the law. Furthermore, as society becomes increasingly diversified, the police have to establish relationships and encourage cooperation between groups. In creating such positive communication, police public relations play an especially important role. In Metuchen, the police department has always been community minded and has recently come up with another program to further this endeavor.
The Metuchen Police Department is conducting a very popular trading card contest for Metuchen children. The contest, which is sponsored by several local businesses, challenges children 14 years or under to collecting a complete set of Metuchen Police Department trading cards. The set of cards includes all 27 borough police officers, a Metuchen Police motorcycle, the Borough Hall, and a group photo of the entire police force in front of Borough Hall. The front of each card shows an officer, and the back of the card contains biographical information and a personal or safety message from the officer.
This is an example of the trading cards. The officer photographed is Chief James T. Keane
The project started as the result of a call from a citizen who was wondering when we would be issuing a new set of trading cards. From there we needed to find a funding source for the production costs and the photography used on the cards. Fortunately, the photography work was made easy when a local photographer and member of the local chamber of commerce, David Glasofer of Image Up Studios offered to do the photography work at a discounted price. We then worked with local businesses to cover the costs associated with the production of the cards.
In exchange for their donation, the sponsoring business was named on the back of the card for the officer that they were sponsoring. In addition, their address and business telephone number were printed on the card. Each sponsor also received a complete set of cards in a poster form to be displayed in their place of business. The program was so successful that many businesses wanted to sponsor more than one card. Each officer is given a sleeve of one thousand cards for distribution.
The trading card contest is designed to help officers break the ice when talking to children. And the cards encourage children to interact with the officers. I feel that it is important for the youth of the community to feel comfortable enough to come into the police department if they need help from an officer. The contest provides the opportunity for the children to have a positive experience with the officers and for them to realize that they are regular people just like their families. As children ask for their first couple of cards from officers we can see that they are shy and somewhat apprehensive. However, as the children near the completion of the set they are more outgoing and comfortable with approaching our police officers.
Posters of the complete set are on display in all of the local elementary and secondary schools. In addition, the Metuchen Area Chamber of Commerce office and many local businesses also have the poster on display. Children can check the status of their collection by comparing it to one of the posters. The first three children to bring in a complete set of the trading cards were awarded one of three $20 gift certificates from local businesses such as Antonio’s Brick Oven Pizza, LaRosa’s Pizzeria, or What’s the Scoop Ice Cream Parlor.
The winners were announced at the Metuchen Area Chamber of Commerce Annual Tree Lighting on December 3.
In addition, other children who complete the set were awarded a certificate of achievement from the Metuchen Police Department.
The last time that the Metuchen Police Department conducted this contest was in 2001 and since the program was such a huge success we decided to give it another try. While in Atlantic City for the annual police expo, I saw a number of baseball style trading card vendors and thought that it would be a good idea to hold the contest again. In looking at a complete set of our old cards we realized that nearly half of the department had changed. In fact, since the first issue of the cards our police headquarters was rebuilt and the old headquarters was depicted in a card for the first set. Nearly a decade later we are offering the contest to a whole new generation of children.
The Metuchen Police trading card program has been a home run for our department in terms of reaching the young people in our community. The officers are approached at the schools in our community, during public functions, and while on patrol. We have made it mandatory that each officer carry their trading cards while on duty.
During a recent holiday parade, the officers were astonished by the number of children requesting the cards. The children in our community have really embraced this program and are striving to complete their sets of police trading cards. This program has put our department in the spotlight with our community in a very positive way.