Anticipating the critics

April 21 2001: Police fire CS gas at protester...
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Officer “Smith” has a blog entry up about a hypothetical “excessive force” situation. His sentiments have been echoed by many law enforcement officers:

When the general public sees any such police action on the news, they need to make sure they know all the facts before they cry murder or excessive force. I can’t charge someone with murder just because I saw it on TV. I have to investigate and obtain more information before I can claim murder.

Then he says:

Unfortunately, a large segment of our local population is uneducated or poorly educated, and cannot come to such educated conclusions. As a result, any action that looks even remotely excessive will be decried as excessive.

So what can a blog or other online interactive presence do to defend police actions to people who probably don’t read the blog, and even if they did, would dismiss it as just so much propaganda?

As long as there is a human being behind it, trying to make a solid connection with the community, the people who do read it and respond positively will help defend the agency.

Think about it: a chief who is open-minded enough to encourage online interaction instills that culture throughout the department. The department working to improve community relations is perceived to care about the people it serves–not to have a “loose cannon” culture eager to smack down any and all dissenters.

Even if the local news outlets pursue arguments against excessive force, the department that uses social media is in a better position to offer its own outlook on what happened, to balance the negative opinions and thus to ensure citizens can make informed decisions–about officials, bond issues, and other poll items affecting law enforcement–on election day.

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4 thoughts on “Anticipating the critics

  1. Joe Manna

    A police department who actively maintains a blog or other social media presence, who doesn’t silence comments or moderate disagreeing perspectives is one I would be preferential to hearing.

    I’d love to live in the shoes of a Public Information Officer for one week just to try social media and connecting with citizens. I can empathize with departments over fears of polar-opposing opinions, but they need to understand they have the upper hand if they respond to criticism professionally, equitably and honestly.

    What police can do when describing hypothetical situations on the Web is to state that clearly, bolded and provide context into why they are having such a discussion. Whether that’s the use of Tasers, crowd-control, traffic control, etc., it doesn’t matter. One must consider the fact they are funded public officials and must answer to the public. A method of answering to the public is to anticipate their needs and talk about questionable topics.

    There is no last-voice in social media. Unlike the news papers, the “press release” lives and can be updated when more facts are obtained.

    Good entry! I love reading about this. Keep it up, I love the blog theme, too. :-)

    ~Joe

  2. Christa Miller Post author

    Hey Joe! All your points go toward the criticality of selecting the right officer(s) to blog, not just someone who is enthusiastic or understands the technology but also someone who can adequately manage dissent (and have time to do so). Hmm, I think there’s another blog entry in there!

  3. anonymous.good.friend@gmail.com

    Good Stuff here

    Just wanted to let everyone know Tallashee City Police in Florida by fsu.edu,
    I rate five out of five, I am not an officer just very private citizen

    Personally saw more than seven incidents & Five arrests all police were all professional, no excessive force even though in one incident the individual should have been taken down harder than necessary, but this is exactly why I can not be a cop.
    tactics on the street were very crisp, and 4 out of 5 since compared to how full time SWAT guys move. this is a well trained department that should be proud of that,
    truth plain and simple spoken
    Thanks
    anonymous.good.friend@gmail.com

  4. Christa Miller Post author

    Good.friend, Thanks for stopping by, and for leaving a comment. You bring up an interesting point: if police arrest tactics are “obviously” well-coordinated and the result of good training, are people less likely to film it and claim excessive force? Certainly, research has shown that regular, consistent, realistic training can “rewire” officers’ brains so that they become less likely to react emotionally under duress. Any thoughts (from anyone) on how this affects public perception?

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