The Indianapolis Mounted Patrol is in an unusual spot. They’re a police agency with salaried and city-supported officers. But the horses aren’t. Because of municipal contracts and purchasing agreements, public property must be auctioned at the end of its useful life. This poses a problem when live animals are at work. This is where the Indianapolis Mounted Horse Patrol Association comes in. This private 501(c)3 organization purchases and maintains the horses, their facilities, and their medical care. The officers are paid like every other police officer, but the horses can now be treated like living things and not used furniture.
This arrangement has a lot of upsides. Officers know their horses are in good hands when they need to retire. Budget fluctuations don’t require them to sell or buy horses in quick succession. Medical care is given to the extent that money, not politics, will allow. And taxpayers aren’t on the hook for maintaining what a lot of people incorrectly consider an “extravagant expense”.
We were approached by the Horse Patrol Association (HPA) to design and build the new impdmountedpatrol.org. But we needed to get everyone to think bigger. We wanted to know:
- How do we get people to recognize the legal structure and why the HPA and the Mounted Patrol are setup this way?
- How do we get people to understand the need for, among other things, a new facility for the officers and horses? How do you get city dwellers to care about a barn?
- How do we build an audience of horse-lovers and police-supporters, as well as generally interested residents?
When we looked at the current site and setup, it became clear the HPA had struggled with turnover, leadership changes, and even deaths of board members. Paperwork, as one example, was cumbersome to find because ownership from past board members – which is often great – had become a liability when those individuals are no longer with us.
Planning the new site
When we were awarded the work, we were, as is often the case, the youngest people in the room. It’s been an ongoing theme with many clients that we’re the ones a group of people, particularly older people, turn to for handling everything online. It’s up to us to make sense of it and make it all “happen”.
Here are some of the things we wrote down in early notes:
- What does success look like? Success is getting a lot of people to understand how the HPA and Mounted Patrol operate together.
- What do you want people to feel when they look at this site? Pride, patriotism, approachable, community, and comfortable face for tough issues.
- Can we get the Mounted Patrol to outrank or match IMPD in Google search results? Probably not, at least not soon, but it was a fun bit of rivalry we wanted to try.
- Can we get people to volunteer or share time in addition to money with the mounted patrol? This, it turns out, is no.
Ultimately, other ideas on sponsorships, “request a visit” (for elementary schools, for instance), and citizen volunteers were unworkable because of city code and police policies. Which is fine, it’s our job to generate the ideas, but it’s an example of working between a rock and an immovable horse.
Designing the new site
We also had to work with the board, an entity that met once-monthly, on coordinating some serious design decisions. For instance, the use of what was two different logos. The old site used a horse emblem with swords, something the board didn’t want to play up. “It looks like they’re jousting”, was a common refrain.
We needed to move toward the badge logo in place now and rarely used elsewhere before.
There was also the matter of the overall aesthetic of the site. Experience working with government websites tells us that they can’t be too slick or fancy. This is a website for every person, regardless of what device or Internet service they’re using. We worked up several ideas and board decisions ultimately led to the current version. It uses a lot of photos, but the homepage is dense with other text and shows the breadth of work the Unit and the Association are doing.
Developing and writing for the new site
As we developed the site we also worked on creating and re-writing pages. This is where most clients become frustrated and bored. We try to counter this by doing as much of the writing as we can ourselves. “It’s like a homework assignment”, except here we’re handing you a pre-written paper so you can edit and modify as needed. This is also where a lot of freelance designers and developers, as well as budget solutions, fall woefully short. They’re just not interested in doing the work.
We wrote new pages for everything, taking only a few bits from the prior site, such as bios of officers. Almost no word went unchanged.
There were several struggles:
- Do we want to show people how much we’ve raised against how much we need? The half-million-dollar need looks insurmountable against what’s been raised. True fundraising efforts hadn’t started yet.
- The Facebook page’s audience is solid, but slow-growing. We’re going to need to write ongoing material to keep it going. How much are we going to be able say about the HPA, vs. the police and police action (which is the part most people are going to be more interested in)?
- What do other cities do and how do they fund their mounted units? Turns out, other cities weren’t real interested in talking to us about that, but the few that were mentioned similar budget issues. Some, like Columbus, Ohio, have publicly-funded units.
- How do we share a dire need without seeming “desperate”? How much of the tone should be about protecting and serving, the line of duty, and the benefits to Indianapolis?
The largest struggle was with the domain name, which had been registered nearly a decade prior to an intern of an assistant of a volunteer. None of those individuals remained in place or in contact.
We nearly lost that domain name forever. Serious discussions were had about changing it to something else entirely. That would have blown up 10 years of work.
The final product became something we are proud of and has pleased all the board members and, we think, IMPD’s Mounted Patrol officers. You can view it at www.impdmountedpatrol.org.