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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Facebook Live vs. Periscope

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Image from Facebook

In August, Facebook released Mentions which opened up live streaming video for athletes, politicians, musicians and other people of influence.  Unfortunately, they did not release the app to the rest of us as individuals or as law enforcement agencies.  Instead, they decided to roll their live streaming video out slowly. 

Meanwhile, Periscope is growing exponentially, especially among law enforcement agencies.  Periscope is being used to live stream community events, press conferences, educational opportunities and a myriad of other police activities.  In August, Periscope passed 10 million users. 

Can Facebook live video streaming compete with Periscope?  I will answer that question in just a minute.

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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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Traffic Problems? Get the Slow Down Cat!

Slow Down CatI know what you are thinking.  What in the world is he talking about?  Every community has its share of motorists disobeying traffic laws.  Speeding, running stop signs and disregarding traffic control devices seem to be the norm.  In Georgia, new police chiefs are required to attend New Police Chief School.  While attending the class, one of our instructors, a seasoned chief, told us that 50% of citizens will think we do too much traffic enforcement and 50% will think we don’t do enough.  I can now testify that the statement he made is true!

As a result, every police chief is constantly trying to find better ways to make the roads safer for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians.  We use targeted enforcement but when we leave, motorists soon return to their bad habits.  We use radar signs but after awhile, they seem to loose their effectiveness.  We educate our community, but it just doesn’t seem to make a difference.

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A Periscope Oops!

screenfaceWe have come to expect people to do really stupid things and post it on social media.  For some reason, people enjoy being ridiculed, being the center of attention or are just too messed up to realize what they are doing.

In a lot of cases, people share posts about their illegal activity and end up being arrested.  The convicted felon posts a photo of him holding a gun.  Another subject sets up a drug deal on social media and is surprised when the police show up.  Illegal activity is posted online frequently.

We as law enforcement are not surprised by these types of incidents.  We have come to expect them.  Frankly, we have seen it all.  However, a recent video posted on Periscope surprised even the most seasoned veteran.

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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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Reflections About 9/11

911People on the streetPeople on the street

911People on the streetPeople on the street

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.

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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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