Social Media CAN Make a Difference

SM LightbulbI 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?

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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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Transparency: A Must Have for Law Enforcement

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.

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Public Shaming on Social Media

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.

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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?

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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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#WhyIWearTheBadge Campaign for National Police Week

The week of May 11-15, 2015, was National Police Week.  A time set aside by President Kennedy and established by a joint resolution of Congress in 1962 to remember those peace officers who have made the ultimate sacrifice and to celebrate the few and brave members of our society who have dedicated their lives in service to their fellow man.

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Leadership Matters

The news lately hasn’t been very good.  Every day brings a new controversy with the police squarely in the middle.  A questionable use of force, a controversial arrest or an unfortunate death seems to be the rule.  Lately, several uses of force have resulted in widespread riots in various communities and police officers being arrested.  How can we address these widespread issues locally?  The answer is by demonstrating leadership.

Leadership matters.  Many of these incidents share one thing in common; a lack of leadership.  In many cases, a lack of leadership on the part of the political leaders and in some cases a lack of leadership on the part of the police department.  No matter the situation, leadership does matter.

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Reputation Management: Where do the Police Draw the Line?

If you watch the news on any given day or search through social media, you might get the view that law enforcement is doing a terrible job.  It seems like police departments are doing a terrible job hiring, training, disciplining and firing officers or at least some would have the public believe that is the case.  How does a police department combat this constant barrage of misinformation?  How can a police department effectively manage its reputation?

Recently, one department took a unique approach to this issue.  It is alleged that the New York Police Department, or at least someone accessing IP addresses on their network, made a number of changes in their favor to stories posted on Wikipedia.  You can read the full story at http://nypost.com/2015/03/13/nypd-computers-used-to-change-police-brutality-wikipedia-pages/

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