Law enforcement officers are always on the lookout for new ways to connect with the public. Social media can be a great way to do that, especially if it’s used in an effective way. Here are five ways social media can help law enforcement officers reach out to the public:
Disadvantages Of Social Media In Law Enforcement
For all the benefits, social media presents its own set of dangers for law enforcement agencies. All communications sent or received by government organizations — including police departments, sheriff’s offices, and their employees — are subject to open records requests. For this reason, law enforcement agencies must develop plans for collecting and archiving every message to deliver the transparency guaranteed by open-records laws, also known as Sunshine Laws. These records might also be needed for internal investigations, case logs and potential litigation.
Facebook is the leading social media platform used by 94% of law enforcement agencies, followed by Twitter at 71% and YouTube at 40%, according to the Social Media Guidebook for Law Enforcement Agencies by the nonprofit Urban Institute. Social media platforms are used by 91% of agencies to notify the public of safety concerns, by 89% for community outreach and citizen engagement and by 86% for public relations and reputation management.
Considerable problems can occur, with the greatest danger being the personal threat to officers and their families. Because of social media, law enforcement officers are public figures more so than ever before. Barriers between their professional and personal lives have been diminished. Police may have no expectations that their homes and families will be protected from the dangers they face on the job.
Motivated individuals could destroy a law enforcement officer’s sense of security without breaking any laws. With cell phone Internet access and a police officer’s name, an antagonistic traffic violator could have a satellite image of the officer’s home displayed on the phone by the time the officer returns to issue the citation. While this is not a violation of law, it certainly would send an intimidating message to the officer. A note could be left on the front door, or a photo of a child could be posted on a social networking site with a seemingly innocuous comment, such as, “Isn’t officer so-and-so’s daughter cute?”
What Is The Relation Of Law Enforcement And Media?
Police chiefs and other law enforcement leaders are often called upon to be the voice of their department in public settings such as on-camera interviews and press conferences.
Sometimes this is in response to something positive, such as a crime solved or a community event. However, more often police leaders are called upon to be the bearers of bad news, to share information and insight about high-profile incidents, or to respond to criticism of the department or its officers.
PoliceOne.com offers six general guidelines for handling such situations:
- Pre-plan: Prepare a “worst-case scenario” public information release policy regarding events such as an officer-involved shooting, a mass casualty incident, an active shooter response, or high-profile arrest or use of force incident. Command staff should consult with their unit commanders and legal team to determine what can and cannot be revealed.
- Transparency: Seize the opportunity to be transparent and explain laws and procedures with the public, while also making sure to correct any false narratives or incorrect information that may have been given out by the news media.
- Verify the facts: Confirm information before releasing it to the media. That is, information should be taken from a credible and reliable source, not someone guarding the outer perimeter of a crime scene. Do not speculate. Once the information is released, it cannot be retracted. Whenever possible, have a third party and legal team vet the information being released before giving it to the media.
- Speak with one voice: Choose one spokesperson from the organization, especially regarding incidents that may unfold over extended time periods. Conflicting information from multiple police sources can create the appearance of a cover-up or a lie. Make sure the spokesperson has had enough training to be the face and voice of the organization.
- Explain the release of information policy throughout the organization: Be sure that all members, sworn and civilian, understand the rules, and enforce disciplinary measures for breaking them. Nothing can be more damaging than an “unnamed source” with inside information who releases falsehoods to the media. Explain that leaking sensitive information can ruin an ongoing investigation, and possibly one’s career.
- Get the message out quickly. Once a preliminary investigation has been conducted to address major points of the incident, craft a press release and send it to the media. Live interviews should not stray too far from the press release. Caveats should be given such as: “The investigation is ongoing, and more information will follow. This is a brief from what we know right now.”
Many experts also strongly emphasize the value of building relationships with reporters and the media outlets they represent. This can help your department realize more balance in the coverage it receives — with occasional “good news” stories along with the ongoing news about crimes and the wide range of challenging law enforcement situations.
Though police media relations have evolved dramatically in the era of the internet and social media, face-to-face contact with media outlets is still a vital part of the job. In addition to practicing the strategies detailed above, the most effective public information officers are often those who have made it a point to develop outstanding communication skills.
How Social Media Can Help Law Enforcement Officers
Social media can help law enforcement officers improve their investigations by providing a forum for sharing investigative tips and ideas. Additionally, social media can help to create difficult or sensitive situations by making it easier for law enforcement to communicate with the public. For example, using social media to share photos of potential suspects could lead to an arrest.
How Social Media Can Help Difficult Situations
Law enforcement officers can also use social media to help resolve difficult situations. By sharing information about the situation and asking for feedback, law enforcement can better understand the public’s perspective and determine whether or not a solution is possible. Additionally, using social media as a forum for discussing legal issues could lead to a successful resolution of the case.
Subsection 1.3 How Social Media Can Speed up Trials.
When trying to speed up trials, law enforcement officers may also use social media as a tool. By sharing updates on the progress of the trial and asking for input from the community, law enforcement can receive feedback that could help speed up the process. Additionally, using social media as a platform for communicating with witnesses could lead to earlier identification of evidence or suspects in cases.
Police Strategies for Effective Use of Social Media
The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) reports that social media offers several important advantages over traditional forms of media.
Immediacy – Social media allows news to come straight from the source in real time, whereas print newspapers have to wait for the next publication and television news outlets have to get a reporter and crew to the scene.
Interaction – While most traditional forms of communication tend to be one-way, social media facilitates conversations and interactions among users.
Audience – By adding social media to the mix of communication channels, law enforcement agencies can connect with audiences that have typically been difficult to reach.
IACP also offers comprehensive resources for law enforcement leaders and departments looking to use social media as responsibly and effectively as possible. Through its Center for Social Media initiative, the organization offers strategic guidance in four key areas:
- Getting Started: A review of what social media is and what it means for law enforcement.
- Strategy Development: Determining your goals and identifying the resources needed.
- Policy Development: Policy guidance and legal considerations, including an IACP model policy.
- Putting it into Action: Tutorials and guides on setting up social media pages.
In his role as a public information officer, Capt. Carlson emphasizes understanding exactly what you are trying to accomplish with any given post and understanding which social platform or combination of platforms will be best suited to accomplish those goals. He said that the purpose of law enforcement communication on social media typically falls into one of the following categories:
How Social Media Can Help Increase public Safety
Social media can play a major role in reducing crime. By sharing information and photos of crimes, law enforcement officers can provide a more accurate and timely report to the public. This can help reduce the number of reports received, which could then lead to an arrested suspect or solution to a Problem that was avoidable.
How Social Media Can Help Increase Efficiency in Law Enforcement
Social media can also play an important role in increasing efficiency in law enforcement. Many law enforcement agencies are using social media tools to connect with the public, share information, and collect data. By using these tools, law enforcement officers can better plan and execute patrols, investigate crimes, and respond to emergencies.
Subsection 2.3 How Social Media Can Protect Property.
One of the most important ways social media can protect property is by providing tips on how criminals are attempting to commit theft or vandalism. By sharing this information with the public, law enforcement officers can create a safer environment for both people and property. Additionally, by ensuring that citizens have access to helpful information about crime prevention through social media platforms, communities can work together to keep their neighborhoods safe from vandalism or theft.
How Social Media Can Help Increase Professional Development
The use of social media can play a big role in the development of law enforcement officers. By using social media to share case reports and photos, officers can build relationships with their followers and improve communication and collaboration between them and law enforcement agencies. Additionally, using social media to connect with other law enforcement professionals can help officers grow as leaders in the field.
How Social Media Can Help Officers Grow as Professionals
Social mediacan also help officers grow as professionals. By sharing case reports, tips, or stories on social media, officers can help build a better understanding of the criminal justice system and how it works. Additionally, by blogging about their work or providing video testimony, officers can share their experiences with an audience that is interested in learning more about the criminal justice process.
How Social Media Can Help Officers Grow as Leaders in the Field
Officers who use social media to lead by example are often rewarded with promotions or awards from their agency or government partners. By following examples of successful officers on social media, others will be encouraged to pursue a career in law enforcement. In addition, using social media to keep up-to-date on new technology and court cases can help officers stay ahead of the curve and make better decisions when responding to incidents or crimes.
Social Media can play an important role in law enforcement. By using social media to improve investigations, help speed up trials, and protect property, officers can grow as leaders in the field. Additionally, social media can help officers develop their skills as professionals andleaders in the community. Overall, social media is a great way to connect with potential customers and promote your business.