The Corvallis Police Department’s old flier with information about safely drinking alcoholic beverages featured grainy black-and-white sketches on its cover and a wall of text inside.
Its current flier is smaller, with a colorful glossy image of a smiling plastic cup on its cover, a handful of “frequently asked questions” about Corvallis drinking laws inside, and a chart on the back to help people estimate their blood alcohol content.
Officer James Dodge, with the Police Department's Community Livability Unit, said the old flier basically amounted to 1990s-era clip art, so even though it contained good information, it wasn't very approachable for the flier’s target audience of college-age students.
“You would hand them the fliers and their eyes glazed over,” he said.
In the fall of 2015, Dodge said, officers in the livability unit began to look at redesigning the fliers. With the help of a number of community partners, they completed the redesign and started distributing the reworked fliers in 2017.
The redesign became the central element of an educational initiative the department conducted as a way to reduce alcohol-related livability crimes. The initiative has attracted attention outside Corvallis: In June, the department was named a finalist for the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing’s Herman Goldstein Award, along with four other police agencies in the United States, United Kingdom and New Zealand.
Corvallis officers also presented results of the initiative to the center’s conference in November.
The initiative is a good example of “problem-oriented policing,” which Dodge said is about approaching issues from a different perspective than traditional law enforcement.
Trevor Anderson, also an officer in the livability unit, said it’s about getting to the root cause of a criminal activity as a way of prevention.
In developing new fliers and other educational materials, including posters and refrigerator magnets, the officers partnered with the Benton County Health Department, Oregon State University and Oregon State Police. With $5,000 each from the Police Department and the Health Department, the organizations hired the Madison Avenue Collective to do design work, research effective alcohol education campaigns and hold focus groups with students to help understand what sorts of messages would connect with them.
Dodge said it took some time to develop messaging that worked for all parties. The final campaign's “Know your limits. Know the laws” tagline encourages students to know their limits so they don’t embarrass themselves or their friends, and to know the law so they don’t cause a scene with the police or encounter long-term consequences.
Dodge said OSU provided printing services for the materials, and Police Department officers worked to get them in all of the roughly 40 places that serve or sell alcohol in town starting in the fall of 2017. They also placed the materials in residence halls, at coffee shops and even around town as a way of spreading the message to first-year students.
A white paper the officers assembled on the campaign said the number of alcohol-related crimes dropped 26 percent from the 2016-17 school year, the year before the campaign, to the 2017-18 school year, when the campaign was in effect. They also saw a 20 percent decline in the number of livability-related calls for service during the same time.
Surveys of students attending campus events conducted by the Health Department found 73 percent of students surveyed had seen the campaign materials.
“The statistics show we had a positive change in behavior we can attribute to the campaign,” said Anderson.
Anderson said livability officers are also working on ways to use similar messaging in the future with other issues, such as marijuana education.
Sgt. Joel Goodwin, who runs the livability unit, said the campaign was an example of creative policing.
"You don’t just show up and write tickets,” he said.
And he said the department is proud of the work of Dodge, Anderson and Officer Luke Thomas, who also worked on the initiative.
“They were definitely honored to be recognized at an international level. It’s pretty remarkable.”