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Engaging moments

AFP Community engagement is at the heart and soul of serving those whom we protect.

By Graham McBean

Law enforcement has the responsibility to protect the community – but police officers are also part of the community they serve.

Whether it's at the whole-of-AFP level or as individual citizens, engaging within the community is as fundamental to law enforcement, as it is in life.

AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin says people need to feel that you understand them, that you listen to their concerns, and that you care about the problems they face. He says the key to achieving this lies in building and maintaining relationships of trust with the community.

"Both as an organisation and as individuals – communicating with the people we serve is not only a good idea but part of the fabric of what AFP people are about," Commissioner Colvin says.

Achieving this isn't always easy in today's complex hive of diverse and changing communities. Organisations need to change with the times. Yet, despite the rise of the digital world, engagement with the world is still a mix of traditional and new technological solutions.

It is hard, however, to ignore the importance of digital communications in the modern world. AFP Federal Agent Erica Hanisch was an integral part of launching the AFP's Facebook page in February 2012 and expanding its social media presence to Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

The necessity to engage with new media can be seen in the phenomenal success of the Facebook page and other social media platforms. The AFP Facebook page now has more than 367,000 followers and more than 17,000 Twitter followers. The AFP is also broadening the number of Twitter accounts to international AFP offices and National Missing Persons has its own Facebook page.

Federal Agent Hanisch says the success can be attributed to the two-way conversation with the public; by being transparent with the Facebook community about what the AFP does; and by demonstrating a willingness to engage with their audience.

"We engage with them," Federal Agent Hanisch says. "It's important to a social media audience that they feel as though they have a connection with the people within the organisation they're following. No one wants to talk to a machine. We need to be conversational, empathetic, and open to entertaining new ideas, even if they differ from those of the AFP."

While the potential problems of social media are well documented, Federal Agent Hanisch says some problems are actually opportunities, where angry or disparaging comments can be addressed and the attitude of the commenter 'turned around'.

She says everyone has a right to an opinion and a right to voice that – providing they're not just 'trolls'!

"I don't see it as a negative thing," she says. "I see it as an opportunity for us to engage with them, change their minds perhaps and maybe even swallow a bit of pride and take what they say on board and maybe change the organisation as a result. It's not all about us just promoting what we do – it's a two-way street."

Engaging moments

Having the AFP present at community events is also a crowd pleaser. Throughout the year, AFP members around Australia and the world lend their time and expertise to numerous events from open days to community celebrations like the annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade.

'Redman' is always a crowd pleaser with the kids and has been "on duty" throughout 2017. So too has AFP mascot Kenny Koala. The many variations of Constable Kenny have appeared around the world to provide a symbolic way for the AFP to connect with the public. ACT Policing, in particular, is deeply embedded in the Canberra community via its community policing service.

It's not just a matter of being a good corporate citizen, or individual citizens as part of the community. Commissioner Colvin says the police role lies in increasing public safety, protecting the community, and preventing and disrupting crime though a clear understanding of the community environment.

"Our objective is to support and build social cohesion, not undermine it. We achieve this by building relationships of trust with the communities we serve. We have a responsibility to identify opportunities and develop programs to strengthen this trust."

AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin speaking at the Institute of Public Administration Australia in Canberra
AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin addresses the Institute of Public Administration Australia in Canberra. Commissioner Colvin says communicating with people is part of the fabric of what AFP people are about.
A police officer wearing red protective armour playing with a young boy
At a community event, ‘Redman’ is always popular with the public.

White Ribbon Day

Another important community message supported by the AFP is the White Ribbon Day campaign to end violence against women. The AFP and Department of Human Services jointly supported the Canberra-based charity, the Tara Costigan Foundation, at AFP headquarters.

The Tara Costigan Foundation provides long-term support to victims of domestic violence to help rebuild their lives and break the cycle of violence. Currently operating in Canberra, the Foundation is working towards rolling out its service model nationally.

The fundraiser had the added poignancy when founder and CEO of the foundation Michael Costigan spoke of his journey since his niece, Tara, was killed in 2015 by her former partner with an axe as she held her five-day-old baby girl.

Speaking about the Foundation's motto, 'together we are strong', Michael urged all men to be warriors and work together to effect change in our culture for good.

Opening the event, Commissioner Colvin said all violence against women begins and ends with a lack of respect.

"Respect is often misrepresented, particularly in cultures like policing, as something that has to be earned. Respect shouldn't be earned – it should be given."

CEO and founder of the Tara Costigan Foundation delivers a passionate address about his niece, Tara, who was killed in a domestic violence attack
CEO and founder of the Tara Costigan Foundation delivers a passionate address about his niece, Tara, who was killed in a domestic violence attack.