As I woke up on September 11, 2015, I couldn’t help but think back 14 years ago to that fateful day none of us will soon forget. I remember it like yesterday as I am sure most of you do. At that time, I was working at the Marietta Police Department and we were in a Command Staff meeting. Once the first plane hit, the meeting ended and all of us were glued to the television for the next several hours in disbelief.
Policing changed forever that day.
The image that I remember most is the firefighters and police officers running toward the danger, climbing the stairs and doing everything they could to save as many people as possible. In the end, many of them sacrificed their lives in service to others. In total, 343 firefighters and 60 police officers died that day.
The unthinkable happened recently. A reporter, a cameraman and an on-air guest were gunned down in Roanoke, Virginia by a disgruntled employee. Unfortunately, the killing of two people and wounding of another in and of itself is not that remarkable. What made this incident so shocking was the fact it was the news media that was targeted and it happened on live television.
In what can only be described as very disturbing, the suspect used a camera, recorded the shooting and uploaded it along with various comments to Twitter and Facebook. The suspect not only had a desire to kill people, he also wanted to make sure the world would see what he had done. Fortunately, both Facebook and Twitter closed his account quickly but not before the video was viewed and shared by many.
In light of the recent discourse about police use of force across the country, one of the biggest fears that I have is that one of the officers I am privileged to work with will hesitate to use force when it should be used and that failure to use force will result in the injury or death of the officer or another person. I am sure other Police Chiefs across the country share a similar concern.
Recently, a disgusting photo surfaced on social media which showed a Detective with the Birmingham, Alabama Police Department knocked out on the pavement after having been pistol whipped by a suspect after a traffic stop. What made the situation even worse, if it could be worse, was that these photos were posted on social media mocking the officer. I couldn’t help but think about this officer’s family and how those photos affected them, especially since they saw the photos before the department had time to contact them about the incident.
In general, law enforcement agencies have resisted reforms even when those reforms have been proven to be effective in saving lives, providing better service or improving inefficiencies. Resisted might be too strong of a word. We have been slow to adopt changes even though these changes are for the better.
As an example, only recently has most agencies adopted a mandatory seat belt policy for officers. Even today, some departments do not require their officers to wear a seat belt even though it has been proven that wearing a seat belt saves lives; even though most departments work to educate the public about this life saving device; even though all states have a mandatory seat belt law.
Similarly, body armor is a lifesaver for police officers, yet many departments do not provide this equipment for their officers or have a mandatory wear policy. A recent survey suggested that over 90% of police departments now require officers to wear body armor compared to 59% in 2009, which is a big improvement.
In years past, many police departments operated in almost complete secrecy. The community knew very little about what the department was doing except in the most extreme cases involving terrible tragedies. The culture of law enforcement perpetuated this belief that citizens were better off, and so were police departments, if citizens were kept in the dark. As times changed and the thought process of law enforcement leaders evolved, we began to see the value of community involvement and partnerships. The birth of community oriented policing and all of the off shoots of that movement opened up communication with citizens like never before. Law enforcement held community meetings to talk about crime, disseminated information via email lists and was more open to sharing information than ever before. Today, thanks to social media, information sharing and transparency have become synonymous. This transparency is truly law enforcement’s best friend.
The use of social media by law enforcement has never been more important than it is today. At a time when the relationship between many communities and law enforcement is strained, social media can be used as a bridge builder, a force multiplier and a digital expansion of an agencies community policing efforts. Social media can be a true difference maker!
The #LESM Conference provides a great line-up of social media subject matter experts providing a wide range of important topics of benefit to any agency using social media or considering using social media.
I ran across an interesting article about the Bengarulu Police Department in India deciding to use Periscope. That part of the story was not noteworthy. In fact, many departments are using Periscope to broadcast press conferences and various community events. The Dallas Police Department recently used Periscope to broadcast their press conference about the gunman who attacked their department. Check out this video about the Boca Raton Police Department using Periscope. In an interesting turn of events, the Police Commissioner of Bengarulu, M.N. Reddi, would like citizens to use Periscope to live-stream crimes in progress via Periscope. Is this practical or should it even be considered?
Commissioner Reddi is a #LESM influencer in his country and has over 290,000 followers on Twitter @CPBlr, so when he speaks, people listen. But, does what he says have any practical value? Law enforcement has always asked our citizens to be good witnesses without putting themselves at risk. The question is would using Periscope to live-stream crimes in progress put citizens at risk?
Over the last several years, Social media has evolved and is now being widely used to “out” people or “shame” them for various infractions or perceived transgressions. Husbands shame their wives; wives shame their husbands; and parents shame their children. One of the most infamous shaming of a teenager happened in 2012 when a dad read a letter and then shot his daughter’s computer. Sadly, a 13 year old teenager recently killed herself after her father posted a video of him punishing her on YouTube.
Racists Getting Fired on Tumblr has a mission to bring attention to racist comments on social media and contact the employer of those who made them. There is a widespread trend in California by many to shame those who are using excessive water or violating the water restrictions in the state. The hashtag #droughtshaming has been used extensively
CNN had a good piece identifying numerous examples of social media shaming. They identified some of the long term consequences affecting the offenders. In most of these cases, individuals are the ones doing the shaming. What happens when the one doing the shaming is the local police department?
I have talked about law enforcement using Twitter for critical events and breaking news on several blog posts and during several presentations I have made over the last year. Twitter is a great platform to push information out because people typically gravitate towards Twitter when something big happens in their community. Heck, our world is so small today. It really doesn’t matter where something happens geographically. People from across the globe will immediately search Twitter for the appropriate hashtag so they can follow the event.
I recently spoke at the International Association of Chiefs of Police PIO Section Mid-Year Conference in Arlington, Texas. The conference had many topical presentations of interest to PIO’s across the country. Several PIO’s and police officers presented case studies about incidents they had experienced in their jurisdiction and their response to and management of the media.
I woke up on Father’s Day today and thought about both of my children and how thankful I am to be their dad. Nothing can really explain how being a father makes you feel except being a father. There is no feeling like holding your son or daughter in your arms for the first time. As your children grow, they move from being totally dependent on you as a father to independence, or at least that is the hope!
As time moves forward, you take pride in all of their accomplishments as they learn to drive, graduate from high school and college, get married, and serve others or a million other things they do, achieve, win, find and have over their lifetime. As a dad, you celebrate with them no matter their age, child or adult.