Document Sample
					    Best Practices
                                                        International Assoc iatio n of Chiefs of Police
                                                               Smal ler Police Department s
                                                              Technical Assistance Program

            Website Development for
            Smaller Police Agencies

           by G. Matthew Snyde r & Lt. David J. M ullhol land

This project supported by a grant from:

BJ           B ur ea u o f J us t i ce A s s i s t an c e
             Office of Justice Programs U.S. Department of Justice
                                     Best Practices Guide for

       Website Development for Smaller Police
          By Matthew Snyder, Administrator, IACP Technology Center and Technical Assistance Program
                and Lt. David J. Mullholland, United States Park Police Public Information Officer

                                                Research Support:
                    Tom Robey, Technology Clearinghouse Specialist,

Tapping the Potential of the Web
The Internet has dramatically changed how we gather information and conduct research in our personal and
professional lives. This World Wide Web, as it is called, literally puts the world on one’s desktop. It is easy to
overlook the fundamental benefits it has to offer a large or small police department, given its expanse and
complexity. With a little bit of effort and minimal financial resources, a police department can establish
powerful lines of communication with its constituents, peers, and a much broader community of citizens
through a department web site.

Through a presence on the World Wide Web police agencies can overcome the historical monopoly the
media has had on controlling information dissemination from the agency to the public. While the media will
always have a role in covering incidents and occasionally highlighting programs, the chief of police can now
easily have his or her own multidimensional online publication - essentially, a virtual public information
officer accessible to the public 24/7/365.

                                       Benefits of a Web Presence
                               ♦   Agency controlled content
                               ♦   Information can be changed in real time
                               ♦   Existing paper publications can easily be put
                               ♦   Community access to and understanding of
                                   department increases
                               ♦   Recruiting tool for officer, civilian, and
                                   volunteer positions
                               ♦   Promote department activities and employees

Many agencies have already embraced the value of maintaining a web presence. Some have very complex web
sites while others have a simple single page overview of their department. Some of the more unique resources
to help local agencies build a web site are identified in the Web Site Resources section that follows. It should
be noted that many agencies are willing to share their web site programming code with other police
departments that want to offer similar online services. A department’s Webmaster is the best point of contact
to obtain design and application guidance.

For agencies without a web site, the barriers to establishing an online presence are minimal. The practical
barriers and technical barriers to consider include:

                                              Practical barriers
    •   Identifying what information the public most wants to know
    •   Identifying what an agency wants published on the web site
    •   Identifying the person responsible for managing the web site

                                             Technical barriers
    •   Who will design and build the site
    •   Who will host the site and
    •   How should it be secured from cyber vandalism

The following adage – Plan, Program, Promote and Manage – also describes how to build a web presence.

Plan: Decide on the components you want to display on the web site. Remember brevity is critical. Online
attention spans are short. Determine where the site will be hosted (local agency, government server, third
party server). Begin to collect all of the material planned for the web site.

Program: Convert the material to an internet readable format. In accordance with the requirements dictated
by the web-hosting server, format the material for web publishing. For MS Word documents this may be as
easy as saving files in hypertext markup language (HTML) format. Inexpensive web site design software
packages are readily available. See the “Software List” that follows for suggestions of inexpensive and simple
software packages to get you started. Remember, an easily understood navigational structure between pages is
critical. The user should be within three clicks of the page they want when they arrive at the home page.

                                       Basic Web Site Components
                               ♦   Chief Executives welcome and introduction
                               ♦   Agency structure, mission, and values
                               ♦   Agency contact information (directory of
                                   employees or offices, mailing address, fax,
                                   phone, e-mail)
                               ♦   Summary of key programs and services
                                   (DARE, TRIAD, GREAT, SRO’s, etc.)
                               ♦   Answers to frequently asked questions
                               ♦   Links to other community and law
                                   enforcement online resources

Promote: Just because you build it does not mean they will come. Make the community aware of the web
address. Some agencies put their web address on their patrol cars, business cards, and letterhead. Links are
just as important. Make sure your site is linked to other web sites your constituents might access (State
Association of Chiefs of Police, other local police departments, community sites, local media, local
governments, etc.). Also, register your site with the main Internet search engines (Yahoo, Google, Hotbot,
etc.). A list of search engines that list web sites free of charge follows. Periodically run a search on the web for
your department and see if it hits on your page.

Manage: Once it’s operational, keep it fresh. A basic web presence, (a relatively simple web page), will
require minimal maintenance. Identify a single point of contact to coordinate adding and updating online

information (webmaster). More complex web sites will require more time to produce and manage. While a
variety of people may produce material for the web site, one person should manage the process of publishing
updates. Even in smaller agencies, there will be officers with a keen interest in technology who can serve in
this role. Chief executives should periodically review their web site and verify its usefulness by comparing it to
other agencies web pages.

                                                  Software List
Dreamweaver                                                  AOL Press    
FrontPage                                                    Arachnophilia                
HomeSite                                                     Coffee Cup          
BBEdit                                                       Cold Fusion Studio                          
Cool Page                                                    Drumbeat      

Once the agency’s web presence is established, it will be useful to track the usage statistics (how many people
have viewed it). Notice which pages visitors most often access and how long they stay on your site. These
web statistics are generally available from the hosting service or office that maintains your server. These
statistics can verify popularity of the site, be useful when measuring the impact of web marketing efforts and
provide convincing data to validate a grant proposal or request for funding. You may also find that web
traffic dramatically increases after a major incident involving your department or jurisdiction.

                                   Advanced Web Site Components
                               ♦   Anonymous crime stoppers tips
                               ♦   Local most wanted, stolen property, and
                                   missing children info
                               ♦   Online incident reporting (minor incidents
                                   and property damage only accidents)
                               ♦   E-commerce (purchase copies of reports and
                                   local records checks)
                               ♦   Crime mapping and analysis data availability
                               ♦   Public Surveys

The web offers one of the most economical and accessible public relations tools for a law enforcement
agency. With a minimal financial investment, a little bit of time and some promotion, an agency can tap this
resource to open doors to many parts of the community not previously reached. The public has a natural
curiosity about the inner workings and activities of their law enforcement agency. A well-designed agency web
site can provide a much more objective view of the agency and its programs than available through other
media reports. Welcome to the 21st Century!

The Internet Name Game
After an agency has decided to develop a web site, a domain name for the web site must be chosen. Each web
site has an Internet Protocol (IP) address, or a series of numbers that routes an inquiry to a web page. A
domain name is a substitute for those numbers. The domain name generally ends with .com, .org, .net, .gov,

or a country identifier such as (United Kingdom). The “.com” portion is known as the top level
domain, or domain extension. Many domain names also include a sub-domain (also called a second level
domain), or an additional portion of the address that points to the hosting agency. Choosing a domain name
is important if an agency wants a web page that can be easily accessed by the public and quickly found using a
search engine.

The Internet is organized by a hierarchical directory of all domain names and the computers and companies
referred to as InterNIC. Until recent de-monopolization, the only way a name could be registered was
through Network Solutions. Now, there are numerous businesses acting as registrars that will register domain
names for a fee.

Agencies should choose a domain name between 3 and 67 characters long, remembering that simpler is
better. Characters may be letters, numbers, or hyphens and are not case sensitive. Hyphens may not be used
as the first character or last character. Spaces are not allowable. The best choice is a name easily associated
with the agency, and acronyms may be quite appropriate if immediately associated with the agency.

At one time, the use of some domain extensions (.net, .org, etc.) was limited to organizations or institutions
with specific functions. Most of these limitations are no longer in place or enforced. It is advisable to register
your domain name with multiple extensions. If an agency registers as “”, someone could register
and publish an anti-law enforcement website “” and mislead the unsuspecting public that keys
in the wrong address.

An agency that has chosen a domain name can go to any number of sites on the Internet to register the
registry service, but it should be around $25 to $35 per year. Some services may include a one-time set up fee.
Registrations are normally in one-year increments with renewals up to a period of ten years. An agency should
not pay a monthly fee or additional “holding fees” and should be aware that some registrar business only
register a name for a “90-day period.” The registrar should be accredited by the Internet Corporation for
Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

When registering a domain name, the agency will be asked to provide contact and technical information. It is
important to register with accurate information, using a reliable contact email address that will be in service
throughout the life of the website. This contact information is submitted to a central database known as the

registry. Contact information is crucial for several reasons, chief of which is the ability for the registrar to
contact the agency when the domain registration is about to expire. There is always an abundance of web
entrepreneurs waiting for high traffic domain names to expire and be available for purchase. Domain names
are not owned by the agency. The agency has bought the rights to that name until such time as the agency
turns the name back in, or fails to renew its registration.

Domain names should be registered as soon as possible, even if an agency has no immediate plans to publish
a web site. This ensures that the name is available when the agency is prepared to move forward with its
Internet plans. When a domain name is registered without a website, it must be “parked” on a server. Some
registry business can provide that “parking space” along with an “under construction” web page.

There are several important considerations for an agency registering a domain name. The agency should
ensure that it, and not the registry service, is listed as the registrar, or administrative contact. If the registry
service retains that title, it can control, modify, sell, transfer, or abandon the domain name at any time. The
agency should maintain the ability to transfer the domain name to a different registry service (usually can be
done after a period of at least 60 days). Contracts should be carefully read to check for expirations, renewals,
and any hidden fees.

If an agency chooses to use a web hosting service, it is essential to select a service that provides an exclusive
domain name without their service as a sub domain (e.g., Many search
engines will not hit on these sites and those that do give such sites low priority. Also, these services frequently
plague site-visitors with pop-up ads. With that in mind, there are many economical solution providers that
will provide web space, web management tools, robust security, and domain registration in a turn-key

Smaller       1-25 SWORN OFFICERS
           Durham (NH) Police Department
           • Community Survey
           Nahant (MA) Police Department
           • On-line Community Survey
           Baldwin (PA) Borough Police Department
           • On-line Community Survey
Mid-size      25-50 SWORN OFFICERS
           Merrimac (NH) Police Department
           • Comprehensive web page
           West Deptford (NJ) Police Department
           • On-line Drug Activity Report
           • On-line Criminal Activity Report
           Fairfield (NJ) Police Department
           • On-line Incident Report
           Falls Church (VA) Police Department
           Portage (IN) Police Department
           • On-line Community Survey
           Philadelphia (PA) Police Department
           • Abandoned Vehicle on-line Report
           • Hazardous Highway Condition
           • Permit Forms
           • Request for Reports
           South Plainfield (NJ) Police Department
           • Request copy of report on-line
           Mesa (AZ) Police Department
           • Patrol Activity Reports & Maps
           Menlo Park (CA) Police Department
           • On-line Report Forms
           • On-line Crime Report Forms
           • On-line Anonymous Tip & Suspicious Activity Report
           • On-line Traffic Complaint Form
           Littleton (CO) Police Department
           • On-line Crime Map


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