It seemed like a good idea at the time, but it quickly went horribly wrong. In an effort to show the public the community outreach side of the New York Police Department, the NYPD asked Twitter users to post pictures of themselves interacting with members of the police department:
“Do you have a photo w/ a member of the NYPD? Tweet us & tag it #myNYPD. It may be featured on our Facebook.”
The public relations campaign believed that New Yorkers would post pictures of themselves interacting with police in such a way that their public image would be enhanced: police helping people, police showing acts of kindness, police working for the community good. You know, like this:
Instead, they got this:
And this picture of officers helping an elderly jaywalker across the street:
And this picture of police helping a young woman to style her hair:
To protect and serve:
Many people are calling the failure of the public relations campaign “predictable,” particularly in light of criticism of the NYPD’s “stop and frisk” policy. Under state law, the police are allowed to “stop, question, and frisk,” pedestrians at any time. Critics of the policy say it unfairly targets minorities, particularly African Americans and Latinos. They say the policy is racial profiling, and in many cases, judges have ruled that the stops were conducted without probable cause for suspicion.
It stands to reason that if your public image is bad, you should try to improve it. However, asking the public that is against you for help in improving that image does not seem to be the best plan.
It is unfortunate that a social media campaign intended to improve the organization’s image could be so destructive. Obviously, there are many good police officers who work hard to protect the public safety. These men and women put their lives on the line day in and day out. However, it does not take many bad examples to put the whole force in a negative light–and the #myNYPD campaign gave the department the wrong exposure.