The SMILE Conference
Social media for PR and marketing is a force multiplier, and it's an absolute necessity in investigations. (Photo iStock)
The SMILE Conference
FEATURED IN TECHNOLOGY AND COMMUNICATIONS
There’s a stereotype about cops: They’re mistrustful, hence, not the types to engage actively in social media. Increasingly—and necessarily—that stereotype is wrong, a point driven home at the Social Media in Law Enforcement (SMILE) Conference held in Washington, D.C., last month.
Several presenters made the same point independently: Social media is the new face of community-oriented policing. It’s often where criminals gather, plan and document their crimes. The Web is also overwhelmingly where your community goes for information. The point: If a department isn’t actively engaging social media, it isn’t fully engaged with its community.
Social media is a great means for departments to increase drastically the impact of their marketing and public relations efforts. “PR is getting the facts out there,” explained Chief Dan Alexander of the Boca Raton (Fla.) Police Department. “That ensures we get the resources we need to do our jobs. Getting the community involved in their own safety and working with police, that’s marketing.”
Social media offer a trove of information about your communities as well.
“Gangs love Twitter,” said “Cook” Barrett, a gang prevention specialist. “They tweet all the time. Everyone says, ‘Stop snitching, stop snitching.’ What are these kids doing on MySpace? They’re snitching! And don’t tell me they’re wannabes. A wannabe is a gonnabe, if you don’t do something about it.”
Barrett shared how the police departments in his area are able to anticipate gang violence by monitoring social Web sites. They also use it to solve crimes. “If there’s a fight at a club at 2:15 a.m., it’s on YouTube by 2:30,” says Barrett.
A major area of concern for departments is a lack of policy and guidance in creating policies regarding the use of social media—personally, as departmental marketing and PR and for investigations. These issues aren’t clear in the law.
“Think about how these laws get made,” says attorney Frederick Joyce. “The worst cases on the Internet are brought before a judge who then needs to look at laws that make no reference to the Internet—that were made maybe 20 years ago—to determine the legality of online behavior.”
Hopefully, these issues will file through the courts in the coming years and become clearer. In the meantime, consult a lawyer as you develop a policy. And when in doubt, get a subpoena, says Joyce.
Covert investigations on the internet were also prominent in the conference. “This is just like other detective work,” said Chris Duque, a retired detective from Honolulu. “It’s like fishing. Do you want to be in a row boat with a single pole going after just one fish? Or do you want to chum the water? Do you want to cast a large net and choose the fish you want to take?”
“If you play role reversal,” says Barrett, “you gotta be hip. Social media is sexy to these kids. They are on to you.”
But use it well, says Scott Mills of the Toronto Police Service, and you can turn a potential enemy of the police into an ally. A YouTube video they shot of a cop spraying a legal graffiti mural received 450,000 hits, most of the comments are positive. “Use this technology to prevent crime, not just to solve it,” Mills says.
Sites of Interest
For a sample social media policy:
To discover the meaning of a Twitter hash mark:
To map social networks:
To learn about a person:
To connect with other cops on the Web:
An example of a great police Web site: