Over the last several years, officer use of force incidents have become the center of attention across the United States. With the widespread use and availability of video, hardly a day goes by that a police use of force incident is released to the public. Video recorded on cell phones has become the norm and as more and more police agencies begin using body worn video, this trend will continue to expand.
Once you have an officer use of force incident, especially if it is a shooting, all of the attention of the community, media and social media will laser focus on the officer. Numerous parties will dissect his or her life, work history and personal opinions. The media, the public, and haters across the globe will search for any information they can find, hoping to get more information about the officer in question. Some of these individuals searching hope to confirm some predisposed opinion of the officer that may or may not match the reality of the incident under scrutiny.
Three precautions can be taken to help protect an officer if he or she is ever involved in a use of force incident that garners such widespread attention.
Equally important, but not mentioned often, is the ability for a fan to rate a Facebook page and write a review. This action must be monitored and addressed appropriately by Government Facebook page administrators or the reputation of the department may suffer.
Facebook provides an opportunity for fans to rate a Facebook page between one star and five stars. In addition to the star rating, fans can leave a written review. According to Facebook, the review should focus on the product or service offered by the page and must be based on personal experience. Those fans leaving reviews must abide by the Community Standards of Facebook. What does this have to do with a law enforcement Facebook page? I am glad you asked.
In August, Facebook released Mentions which opened up live streaming video for athletes, politicians, musicians and other people of influence. Unfortunately, they did not release the app to the rest of us as individuals or as law enforcement agencies. Instead, they decided to roll their live streaming video out slowly.
Meanwhile, Periscope is growing exponentially, especially among law enforcement agencies. Periscope is being used to live stream community events, press conferences, educational opportunities and a myriad of other police activities. In August, Periscope passed 10 million users.
Can Facebook live video streaming compete with Periscope? I will answer that question in just a minute.
As governmental entities moved into the digital age and began using social media, they pushed out content to their citizens in hopes of educating and informing the public about items of interest. As this practice evolved, more and more agencies began allowing comments on some of these platforms like Facebook, on their blog page or even on their website. Public comments have become common for most agencies that engage with their community. In fact, it is a best practice taught by many social media experts.
What happens when the comments are laced with profanity or hate speech? What happens when the agencies platform is flooded with comments critical of the very agency allowing those comments?
These are good questions that have not been fully answered yet by the courts. However, there are some principles, guided by a ruling from the US Supreme Court, which shape this debate.
I know what you are thinking. What in the world is he talking about? Every community has its share of motorists disobeying traffic laws. Speeding, running stop signs and disregarding traffic control devices seem to be the norm. In Georgia, new police chiefs are required to attend New Police Chief School. While attending the class, one of our instructors, a seasoned chief, told us that 50% of citizens will think we do too much traffic enforcement and 50% will think we don’t do enough. I can now testify that the statement he made is true!
As a result, every police chief is constantly trying to find better ways to make the roads safer for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. We use targeted enforcement but when we leave, motorists soon return to their bad habits. We use radar signs but after awhile, they seem to loose their effectiveness. We educate our community, but it just doesn’t seem to make a difference.
You may or may not have heard of Facebook Safety Check prior to the attacks in Paris. This feature was first available in 2014 and has been activated a number of times by Facebook for natural disasters. The first time Safety Check was used by Facebook was at the earthquake in Nepal. Since then it has been used several other times for natural disasters all over the world. However, the attack in Paris was the first time Facebook used it for an act of terrorism.
The Facebook Safety Check feature is not visible to users under normal conditions. Instead, it must be activated by Facebook. In case of a natural disaster, and now a widespread terrorist attack, Facebook detects users who have activated their location services for Facebook. In addition, they can detect location by the city in your profile and other factors such as the location of the Internet service you access. If you are in the affected area, you will receive a notice from Facebook asking if you are safe. If you are safe, simply click the button “I’m Safe.” Your friends and family will be able to see that you are safe. Follow this link to read more about this feature and see several screen shot examples.
Recently, I had an opportunity to travel to the 2015 Police Innovations Conference in Cambridge, MA. The organizers put together a great conference with some informative panels discussing cutting edge technology. I even had the opportunity to participate in two panels; one about public comments on social media platforms and the other about body worn cameras. However, one of the most interesting parts of the trip happened outside of the conference.
I had the good fortune to meet retired Chief Ed Deveau who recently retired from the Watertown Police Department. Chief Deveau now works for one of the vendors at the conference and I had the opportunity to get to know him at a reception one night. We swapped a lot of stories about our 30+ year careers. Chief Deveau then shared the story of the Boston Bombing and specifically the details about the gun battle his officers engaged in with the Tsarnaev brothers four days after the bombing. He shared the call he received in the middle of the night, his response and the heroic effort of his officers during the shooting as well as during the capture of Tamerlan.
We have come to expect people to do really stupid things and post it on social media. For some reason, people enjoy being ridiculed, being the center of attention or are just too messed up to realize what they are doing.
In a lot of cases, people share posts about their illegal activity and end up being arrested. The convicted felon posts a photo of him holding a gun. Another subject sets up a drug deal on social media and is surprised when the police show up. Illegal activity is posted online frequently.
We as law enforcement are not surprised by these types of incidents. We have come to expect them. Frankly, we have seen it all. However, a recent video posted on Periscope surprised even the most seasoned veteran.
Ok. I have to admit the title is misleading. I am not talking about the State of Georgia. Instead, I am talking about the Republic of Georgia, formerly part of Russia. Georgia is the birthplace of Stalin and location of his museum. Georgia is the country that fired its entire police department to get a fresh start. I recently traveled to Georgia with my good friend Tim Burrows to conduct media relations and social media for law enforcement training.
The Republic of Georgia has come a long way since the days of Stalin and since they began rebuilding their police department from scratch. With the aid of the United States, the police department is now a modern, professional police department operating in a transparent manner serving and protecting their community. They have begun using social media and currently have approximately 15 different Facebook pages across many of their departments. However, their use of social media ends there.
I have often talked and spoken about the benefits of law enforcement using social media. I think most of us who use it, recognize what a powerful tool social media can be. Law enforcement uses social media for many reasons. We use it to check the backgrounds on our recruits; for investigations; to educate our citizens; to provide information; for homeland security purposes; to market our departments and dozens of other reasons.
We in law enforcement have used social media recently as a counter balance for all of the negativity directed toward us in the media and through social media. We post information about all of the positive accomplishments of our staff and provide great examples of our engagement with our communities. Are we making a difference? Are our citizens actually getting the message?