Several vendors set-up shop in one of our Department training rooms last week, peddling the newest models of body armor, Airsoft weapons, and assorted tactical gear. Live demonstrations followed in the range and the hands-on experience was well worth the time invested to attend. I have learned over the years that those of us in Law Enforcement like to see and touch new products and technology. You only need to look at the attendance numbers that regional trade show events like CopsWest and Trexpo produce to see that our profession is in love with the latest and greatest when it comes to tools of the trade.
Up to date equipment, use of modern technology, continual training and development of personnel, and constant evaluation of policy and procedure are a few examples of positive attributes of a progressive and quality Law Enforcement agency. But in the society and culture that surround us today, that is not enough. It is said that change is slow and difficult. The days of strict “paramilitary” police work have past. Society has asked Law Enforcement to evolve into a business that includes community partnerships, transparency, and accountability, while at the same time, upholding the law and “fighting” crime. We have not been asked to step away from our role as Law Enforcement officers, but rather to improve the way we do business. Answering these challenges and changes for Law Enforcement is not necessarily something found in a booth at the next trade show, but rather a change in philosophy and simply modifying the “way“ that we do business.
Law Enforcement managers should look to their own personnel for one easy answer to help in this “change.” At a recent #140 Character (Twitter) conference, Chief John Stacey of the Bellevue Police Department in Nebraska discussed BPD’s use of social media. Chief Stacey described how a young officer “lit up” during a recent briefing where the Chief mentioned that he would be out of town for a Twitter conference. The young officer was surprised that the Chief knew what Twitter was all about. That officer and the Chief had never really engaged in conversation before that moment but because of that common ground have developed a new and improved rapport. This small example serves as both a tool for internal personnel development and investment in an agency, but moreover breaches the tip of a much greater tool for reaching out to your community.
Chief Stacey is among a growing group of Law Enforcement administrators that have embraced the use of social media as a tool to engage, communicate, and interact with the folks that their police agencies serve. The Los Angeles Police Department, the Sacramento Police Department, and the Whittier Police Department in California, each host a blog, and actively interact with their communities. Some police agencies, like Bellevue, have taken the use of social media further. Bellevue PD, like the Lakeland Police Department in Florida, has both a Twitter and a Facebook page. BPD even encourages their individual police officers to send “tweets” about activity while at work. The Oxnard Police Department in California has asked a lead officer from each beat or sector within the City to send out Twitter updates specific to their service area. OPD also produces web video providing crime info, press release information, and other information to promote their agency.
YouTube is also being used by Law Enforcement to deliver assorted messages and embedded video. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department in Nevada and the Milwaukee Police Department in Wisconsin are two agencies utilizing YouTube. Media releases, crime prevention tips, suspect wanted bulletins, missing persons, are all examples of potential use of video releases from a police agency.
The Boca Raton Police Department in Florida and Chief Dan Alexander have taken the concept of mixing social media and Law Enforcement even further. BRPD has a project called VIPER that packages the best of their use of social media use in a one stop shop. VIPER allows the Boca Raton community to interact with BRPD by use of video, Twitter, Facebook, crime mapping, news, email alerts, and more. BRPD provides text messages and email information through a service known as Nixle. Nixle is available at many agencies and local government agencies across the country.
Social media experts and consultants are a great resource for researching and implementing a social media plan for your Law Enforcement agency. Christa Miller of Cops2Point0.com has been and continues to be an excellent source for me and others in our field. Lauri Stevens from LAwS Communications and ConnectedCOPS.net is passionate about assisting Law Enforcement in their social media strategies. Lauri moderated the panel discussion with Police Chiefs Stacey, Alexander, and Assistant Chief Whitney at the #140 Character Conference in Los Angeles. Other sites such as DailySplice.com, CrimeReports.com, and MichaelVallez.com provide excellent information and insight into the topic.
Think about your own personnel, your family, and friends. How many of them are carrying a web enabled phone with them everywhere they go? Technology has put cameras, news reporting, and instant delivery of information in the hands of virtually every person on the street. Take advantage of this wave and go “hands on” with social media. Explore the benefits and learn about the positive impact your agency can have by interacting, listening, and being involved with your community by using social media as a tool for Law Enforcement.