Colombian National Police take the lead in new social dynamics
By Dialogo March 11, 2014
In August 2012, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced the launch of Corazón Verde (Green Heart), a strategic plan that would allow the Colombian National Police (PNC) to confront one of the main challenges facing Colombian society today in terms of crime, insecurity and terrorism.
Diálogo had the opportunity to discuss these issues with Lieutenant Colonel Gustavo Franco Gómez, Head of PNC’s Strategic Communications Office, who also told us about the importance that communication has within an institution as important as the National Police.
DIÁLOGO: How and when did the need for creating a strategic communication position arise within the Colombian National Police?
LIEUTENANT COLONEL FRANCO: Media and information management has always been present throughout much of the history of the National Police for the mere fact that a police officer is present on the street; that means they are communicating. However, the formal need to create a communications office capable of creating processes that are more agile, that are strategic and transversal like public communications, boosted its creation in 2009 with the idea of requiring all public institutions to implement a communications process under three components: Media management, organizational communication and informative communication. Within this context, the National Police's Strategic Communications Office was restructured starting in 2009, and that structure was created under four main areas: Organizational communication, which is the one we should develop internally in the Police, considering the different levels of deployment and the importance of the institution, as well as the coverage offered by the Police itself. This institution has 172,000 men and women who are present in all of the country's municipalities. Another area within this restructuring is the relationship with society and to seek a mechanism through which we generate a rapprochement between the Police and the community about the country's situation, the conflict's situation, something that distanced us from the citizenry in some areas affected by illegal factors. Another area is strategic relations, which allows the permanent intervention with opinion makers, with journalists and the mass media. The fourth area is the Comprehensive Media Platform, consisting of the development of Police capabilities in order to create channels through which we deploy information. In that case, we are categorical through social networks, and this is something worth mentioning: we are the third police force in the world with the highest number of followers through social networks, after the FBI; and the Spanish Civil Police.
DIÁLOGO: What is the main mission of the Colombian National Police?
LT. COL. FRANCO: The PNC’s mission is established by the Constitution and determined by the responsibility of guaranteeing civil rights and liberties. Nevertheless, in addition to guaranteeing security and coexistence for all inhabitants of Colombia regardless their nationality, we are responsible for guaranteeing those conditions to every person that is on Colombian soil.
DIÁLOGO: What is your role as the head of the National Police's Strategic Communications Office? What is the main mission of this division?
LT. COL. FRANCO: I am responsible for the PNC’s Public Communication efforts, and my role is, first of all, to establish an institutional communications strategy and assist with assessment not only for the general director, but also for the Institutional Command, so we can adapt to the same strategy.
DIÁLOGO: You have studied in several international schools. Do you think these exchanges helped you develop your current role in the Strategic Communications Division?
LT. COL. FRANCO: Absolutely. International training is very valuable, because there are several benefits. We gain a new vision, but also understand that crime has no borders nowadays. Crime transcends borders in order to fulfil its purposes. And a third element that should be mentioned is the person-to-person interaction existing between us and other country's officials. This allows what I would call the globalization of relations with police corps, which bring more effectiveness against crime.
DIÁLOGO: How useful has the training received abroad been for training your personnel? How have you applied it?
LT. COL. FRANCO: In regards to Strategic Communications, something I used was the training received at an Information Operations [training] in Fort Benning, Georgia. When I took office and started to understand the context of communications in such a complex institution as the National Police, in addition to understanding that the institutions must provide all the answers relating to several factors that affect security and coexistence, I found a great opportunity to include the elements I had in my Information Operations training to train the personnel working in this office. The new dynamics [of Social Media] are particular for Strategic Communications because they also come with criminal factors.
DIÁLOGO: What other countries have worked and collaborated with the Colombian National Police? Which countries are you currently working with?
LT. COL. FRANCO: Currently, the Colombian Police has an offer, a portfolio of services in terms of training and technical assistance to other countries. We are in Mexico, in Honduras, in Panama; we have gotten closer to Ecuador, to Uruguay... We are also in Haiti and some African nations. In total, the Colombian Police is working with 21 international police corps at present.
DIÁLOGO: How important are the lessons learned and shared experiences?
LT. COL. FRANCO: We give great importance to the interaction with other police corps, because we learn from our interactions with them. There are practices developed that would allow us to share our internal experiences, so that they can take what they need for the development of their police. That has been essential.
DIÁLOGO: What does Plan Green Heart consist of?
LT. COL. FRANCO: It is an internal, institutional initiative, a product of a new strategy from the Ministry of Defense, which intended to gather officers, noncommissioned officers and base personnel in order to make an internal diagnostic and create a proposal called Green Heart Comprehensive Police Program for Citizen Security.
DIÁLOGO: Why was this proposal submitted?
LT. COL. FRANCO: It was submitted as an effective response to the most urgent expectations and concerns of citizens in terms of security and coexistence. Plan Green Heart has three main angles, which have a series of strategic initiatives. Specifically, sixteen strategies have been incorporated with the purpose of responding to those factors that affect security and coexistence.
DIÁLOGO: What do you think is the future of the Strategic Communications Office within the PNC? Do you think it will expand in the long term; can any changes be anticipated?
LT. COL. FRANCO: I would say we are creating and consolidating the future every day. However, we still have a long road ahead. I consider that the future we are talking about is based on the consolidation and strengthening of social networks and digital media. Nowadays, digital communication is a channel of paramount importance for reaching audiences, due to coverage and impact in the short, mid, and long term. Besides, we need further consolidation of our coverage; to structure a communications plan based on the new social dynamics and new order, not only of the country, but also of the world and in accordance with the new expectations and needs of society.
Very good article.