Police Services Board supports communications strategy to promote Wellington OPP

Wellington County, OPP develop communications plan aimed at improving public perception of policing in county

GUELPH – Ideas for promoting the OPP in Wellington County were presented on Wednesday to the county’s Police Services Board (PSB) following discussion last year about perception issues among residents.

After prompting last year by county councillor Diane Ballantyne, who is not a police board member, the board requested a communications strategy be presented for its consideration.

PSBs across the province are responsible for governing, overseeing and managing how policing is provided to a community.

Despite considerable and frank conversation at previous meetings, members had little to offer beyond their support of the options proposed by county communications manager Andrea Ravensdale on Jan. 10.

In a report to the board, Ravensdale proposed increasing the board’s advertising budget by $4,500 this year, from $15,500 to $20,000, to provide the county and police “enhanced communication to residents.”

At the top of the list was a recommendation to send a monthly newsletter via email to people who sign up.

The emailed newsletters would highlight units within the OPP, events, special features (such as fraud prevention month), and statistics (such as traffic enforcement data).

Ravensdale noted email communication was the preferred method chosen by 440 people who responded to a citizen satisfaction survey conducted by Ipsos last year.

Also included in the proposed ideas:

  • $5,000 for OPP marketing and promotional items such as pens and stickers designed with help of county staff;
  • $1,500 for social media campaigns with the help of county staff;
  • $3,500 for additional PSB advertisements in the Wellington Advertiser newspaper;
  • use of the county’s weekly, full-page ad space in the Advertiser (already included in the county’s budget);
  • $8,000 for a centre-spread advertisement across two pages in the Advertiser twice per year.

In 2022 and 2023, the board spent $13,716 of taxpayer’s money on advertising, promotional material, and social media videos and campaigns.

The cumulative spending over the past two years is far below the $15,500 budgeted yearly for the board to spend on advertising, according to Ravensdale’s report.

“Reaching residents can been a challenge and does require a combination of traditional and advanced communications methods,” Ravensdale wrote.

“Different demographics also prefer to receive their information in variety of ways,” she wrote.

“There is not a one-size-fits-all approach for our population.”

A little over a year ago, board chair Earl Campbell asked about reviving an annual OPP year-in-review publication, last circulated in 2019.

The year-in-review featured informative articles about specialized OPP units and training, introduced the community to local staff and officers with photos and profiles, publicly highlighted officers’ achievements, updated the community on major cases and the work of local detectives within the county’s crime unit, incorporated information about the local police board, and provided infographics with statistics and data.

It was published and distributed for more than a decade by WHA Publications Ltd., the company that publishes the Advertiser.

In more recent years, promotion of local policing has dwindled and shifted in favour of promoting the overall organization on social media channels, where occasional bits of insight into local operations are funnelled.

Wellington OPP Inspector Steve Thomas has cited the amount of time staff spent working on the year-in-review when opposing its return.

The inspector has said the agency continues to value transparency and public reporting, but does so “in other ways,” such as with monthly reports to the police board and press releases.

The Advertiser has reported extensively on the inadequacy and inconsistencies of information gleaned from police-issued press releases, and local media’s difficulty in obtaining information from police.

At the Jan. 10 meeting, Ravensdale recommended against reviving the year-in-review in its original form.

“I’m suggesting that we still do the annual report, but we could possibly do it in a different way,” Ravensdale told the board.

In her report, Ravensdale suggested a digital version of the year-in-review can be made available online, with a small number of print copies available at detachments, or mailed to residents wanting it.

Warden Andy Lennox requested analytics later be reported to the board, so members can evaluate the effectiveness of the methods in reaching residents.

The board voted to authorize the budget increase and endorse Ravensdale’s suggestions, developed in collaboration with Wellington OPP.

Ravensdale was unable to say by email when work on the plan would begin.

It has yet to be approved by county council, and she noted an “extensive approval process,” both at the local OPP and provincial level.