Lord knows we dwellers of the Paper City could (and do) spend hours and hours picking apart Westbrook and identifying problems that plague this city and brainstorming remedies for its improvement. However, in keeping with the author Jonah Lehrer's wise advice that we limit our New Year's Resolutions to one at a time, I'll suggest only one resolution for now: We need to reduce the energetic self-promotion of our city's warts.
The greatest problem with Westbrook's dreadful public image, from my perspective, is that our police department currently doubles as the city government's de facto PR arm. Hear a story about Westbrook on the evening news, or read a similar story in the paper? Chances are it's crime-related, and Chief Bill Baker is being interviewed. Got a Facebook update about the goings-on in Westbrook from the city's government? I can almost guarantee it was the WPD's latest list of arrests or the department's updates of sex offenders lurking in our neighborhoods.
Now, I completely understand the usefulness of the WPD's Facebook page as a tool for broadening public awareness. Moreover, I appreciate the law enforcement strategy behind announcements of drug busts and captured outlaws. The problem as I see it, though, is a question of balance and quantity.
The scale measuring public awareness on one side and negative public perception on the other has, in my view, tipped toward the latter. Instead of serving as reassurances for the city's citizens and warnings for its dirtbags, I'm concerned the WPD's steady stream of press releases and talking head interviews depresses civic morale and might scare off possible new residents, business or otherwise.
Some might argue that the challenges and controversies we face here in Westbrook would lead to an inevitable negative public perception of the Paper City. Such critics would have a point, though I'd be interested in their answers to the following question: Which city had a higher crime rate in 2009, Westbrook or South Portland? I suspect they--and most residents living in the Greater Westbrook media market--would quickly guess Westbrook, even though they'd be wrong.
Why do I think most people would guess Westbrook as the more crime-ridden of the two? It might have something to do with the fact that nobody knows what South Portland's police chief looks like, and that city's landscape wasn't, say, plastered all over a recent news story about rampant statewide drug addiction.
- John C.L. Morgan
Related: Mullets and Tracksuits and Cuffs, Oh My (Wednesday, November 24, 2010)