Officer Use of Force Incidents: Social Media Use Before & After

Police Use of Force CoverOver 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.

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Terms of Use for Your Government Facebook Page

Facebook Terms of Use ImageAs 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.

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No Twitter in Georgia

Oktwitter-793050 (1).  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.

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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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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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The #LESM Conference

LESM Conference LogoThe online #LESM Conference is less than six days away.  Have you or your staff signed up for it yet?  If not, let me tell you why you should.

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. 

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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.

SM Blocks

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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Top 7 #LESM Tweets of the Week 5/25-5/31

Ok.  Here are some of the top #LESM tweets for this week.  I hope you enjoy!

  1. https://blog.bufferapp.com/optimal-length-social-media?utm_content=buffer00d7f&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

Buffer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.   http://thepolicepodcast.libsyn.com/ 

TimBurrowsPod

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3.http://www.searchenginejournal.com/moving-dial-curated-content/115308/?utm_content=buffer59d7c&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

mikebires

 

 

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