Policing Turned Upside Down

Upside Down Police Car PIn 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.  

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Wearing Body Worn Cameras Should be Mandatory

Body cameraIn 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.

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The Watchful Eye of Social Media

The proliferation of social media has resulted in a complete transformation in the way many police departments communicate with their communities.  Large and small departments across the country have embraced the use of social media as a way to build community trust and demonstrate transparency.  As much as social media has benefited law enforcement, there has also been a downside.

Members of the public are armed with smartphones and are prolific users of social media on a daily basis.  They are driving, walking and interacting with police officers on a daily basis.  Unfortunately, some police officers do things occasionally that are less than professional.  When that happens, there is a good chance that someone is there to record it for posterity.  Usually, the indiscretion shows up on social media.

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A Good #SM Policy Protects Officers & Departments

According to a 2014 survey completed by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), over 95% of agencies that responded to the survey say they use social media.  This percentage has increased significantly since the beginning of the survey several years ago.  However, only 71% of departments say they have a social media policy.  In 2010, the year of the first social media survey, this gap was even wider.  At that time, only 35.2% of departments had a social media policy.  Although the percentage of departments that have a social media policy has risen dramatically, one question still remains:  Do the departments that have a social media policy have a good one?

This can be a difficult question to answer.  There are many law enforcement agencies with good social media policies.  Although good social media policies vary in length and content, there are at least three parts that should be in every policy.

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