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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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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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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#DallasPDShooting – Communicating in a Crisis Using #LESM

At 12:30am on Saturday in Dallas, Texas, the sound of gunfire shattered the quiet night as a gunman opened fire on the Dallas Police Department Headquarters.  Although a surprising act, it is not unheard of as gunmen have attacked police officers at their departments across the country on several occasions.  Check out this video from an attack on police officers with the Detroit Police Department in 2011.

Fortunately, no officers with the Dallas Police Department were injured.  Of course that wasn’t because the suspect didn’t try to kill them.  After all the suspect arrived in an armored van with gun ports and was heavily armed with explosive devices and firearms.  The entire event lasted for over 12 hours and ended at 12:50pm with an announcement that the suspect was dead.

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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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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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Law Enforcement Leaders Must Embrace Social Media

In the last five years, the number of law enforcement agencies using social media has risen dramatically. Today, a majority of departments use social media in some way to engage their communities, market their departments and solve crime. I don’t believe social media would be so widely used and accepted by law enforcement if our leaders had not supported these efforts.

I have met many law enforcement leaders from across the country that have embraced the use of social media by their departments and have taken it another step further and now use it themselves. I always saw a great benefit from a law enforcement executive connecting with their community through social media. However, I never really thought it was a necessity. I never thought of it as a must have. All of that changed yesterday.

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Television Fast

Three weeks ago, Vertical Life Church began its annual fast.  Partners were encouraged to do a fast related to food and a fast from something else in our lives.  I thought about what I could fast from.  I guess I wanted to pick something I would miss but also something that wouldn’t be too painful, so I decided to fast from watching television.

I don’t think I watch a lot of television.  I watch the news most days and a few shows each week.  Most of the shows I watch are recorded on my DVR so I can watch them at my convenience.  Still, I was a little nervous about this challenge.

During my fast, I found I had much more time to focus on more important things and stuff I had been putting off.  In fact, I began some projects that I had been kicking around but hadn’t made time to begin.  As I thought about it, I realized all us have stuff in our lives that take up a lot of our time and we don’t even realize it.  Continue reading