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Public Relations: It's in the Cards

By producing trading cards for animal control personnel, a few municipal agencies are helping officers make some memorable introductions.

By producing trading cards for animal control personnel, a few municipal agencies are helping officers make some memorable introductions.

Last summer, dozens of children in Deadwood, South Dakota, were looking for Ordinance/Animal Control Officer Cynthia Rische. They weren't planning to report that a dog needed water or that a cat was up a tree—they wanted to get their hands on Rische's trading cards.

No, Rische is not a baseball legend or a professional wrestler. She's just one of a handful of animal control officers around the country who put their names, smiling faces, and badge numbers on collectible cards that are distributed to the community.

Following a trend popularized by many police departments, ACOs are enhancing their image through these colorful "business cards." Officers have found that when they use the cards to introduce themselves to children, the kids are more likely to approach them later with problems. "They don't perceive you as just a police officer," says Rische. "They perceive you as more of a friend now, because they get to know you a little bit more." After a fellow officer challenged a class of fifth graders to obtain every card produced by the Deadwood Police Department, Rische found herself passing out 20 to 30 cards a week.

In Naperville, Illinois, a trading card features all four animal control officers employed by the city's police department. "We hand them out to people who come through the shelter, at school presentations, and on scout tours," says Cindy Bickle, supervisor for animal control for the Naperville Police Department. "And if we're [on duty], we may just hand them out with a business card. It just adds a positive note about animal control."

The department's K-9 unit and swat team already had trading cards, and local kids saw the jobs in those units as "cool," says Elizabeth Brantner, Naperville's previous animal control supervisor. "We wanted to add ACOs to 'the cool people,'" she says. "The cards help rid us of the dog-catcher image, and show the officers' involvement in community education."

In 1992, Joel Myers, community relations officer for the Iowa City Police Department, set up a trading card program for all the officers in the department, including animal control personnel. Since then, three editions of the cards have been produced, with the financial help of local sponsors such as a fast-food restaurant and a photography studio.

Some people collect entire sets of the cards, and officers have gained a bit of celebrity status by appearing at local sporting events. "We have no major professional sports teams in this area, so the University of Iowa athletic program is popular," says Myers. "And whenever they have a homecoming or any other event, we have animal shelter officers and police officers out there signing cards with the athletes."

Of course, an ACO's rookie card may never be auctioned for $10,000, but the card's public relations boost can be priceless.


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