Why aren’t more cops implementing social media?

Could more cops be social on social media?

Could more cops be social on social media?

Writing a blog entry, I began to speculate about why cops aren’t as involved with social media as, well, I think they should be. Was it the technology? The personal interaction? The anonymity? Or simply that they don’t yet understand it well enough? I didn’t have the experience to say authoritatively. So I opened it up to the field: Twitter.

LE tweeps: do you think more LE don’t get on board w/ social media b/c they fear the inability to size ppl up as they would in person?

@ikepigott:
Might be because they often associate them with anonymity and crimes. (Think ‘To Catch a Predator‘)

I was presenting at a conference for EMA types, and one guy told me that using Social Media during disasters only legitimatized the medium, and he wouldn’t sink to giving an appearance of truth to those websites.

@sheephogan:
Personal & professional sides dont seem 2 mix for LE, I seem 2 recall a fear of having my weaknesses discovered. It’s like this.. You know the badge and Officer, or you know me, not both.

CMM: So it was sort of a “tactical advantage” thing?
More like “Taboo”, a status offense 2 commingle outside ur peers. Retirement is a release, a permit to be true to yourself.

CMM: Is it still a status offense? I was under the impression this generation of ofcs felt differently, tried to keep w/ peers.
Many factors can make a difference. Size of the department is one, population of the city, etc. Large is probably more loose.

@ICT33:
i think because admin is against it. Some cops have posted dumb/embarrassing stuff to dept/officers
[such as] photos/comments like them drinking, partying hard, risqué photos or crime scene photos

plus it protects them from inappropriate comments;/relationships, particularly in HS range

(There were other responses. But I’m saving them for the next entry.)

But that wasn’t all…

Cops 2.0 partner Scott White wanted to take the question more in-depth, and we ended up with a Q&A. Following:

CMM:  Original question: Do you think more LE don’t get on board w/ social media b/c they fear the inability to size ppl up as they would in person?

SW:  There is a stigma about being too open and public. Many see it as an officer safety thing… I agree to a point.  I, and most of our friends here, are the exceptions by far… not the rule.

I think some [use] officer safety as an excuse not to use social media, others are hyper vigilant.  Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they AREN’T chasing me.

CMM: Which “folks” warn LEOs off using social media — administrators, other cops? Do they know people personally who have had damage done due to false allegations made on social sites?

SW:  Other cops generally.  In my experience, it has been old school officers more so than younger, less about their particular positions or rank. (admin, leadership).  They express concern about “bad guys” learning too much about an officer and showing up at their front door, following them out in town when off duty.

Another issue with this would be the fear of talking out of school by the officer.  Where do agencies draw the line and open discussions of “work”?

We recently had an incident where an officer posted a video of other officers being hit with a Taser.  It’s part of the training, and is voluntary.  The officer would video another officer being hit and their reactions.  All of the officers shown in the video were ok with it and gave permission for the videos to be posted.

An administrator had a problem with it.  The admin didn’t feel it was appropriate to post our internal training videos.  And we had no direct policy in place to deal with the situation.  The posting officer did nothing wrong according to department or city policy but it did raise enough of a concern to warrant ongoing discussions and set out the groundwork for a social media policy.

(We don’t HAVE a social media policy.  Which is why I can do what I do.  LOL  We are working on one that I am on the committee for.  The skeletal beginnings will allow for officers to participate and provides only guidelines.  We’ll see what the end product looks like.)

CMM:  Training like Verbal Judo teaches officers how to maintain tactical advantage even when being friendly. How does this extend online, and is it easier for some officers than others? Can it be learned?

SW:  Verbal Judo, or as we love to call it, Tongue Foo, is a serious tool to have in one’s bag.  It is VERY effective.  A lot of what Verbal Judo is has to do with tone, body language and words.

You lose the first two online immediately.  Some “tone” can be injected into the message but it’s limited to emoticons and use of online slang and colloquialisms.

I think it plays a less than important role online.  Yes, some officers adapt to it more readily than others, it can be learned, and even applied online to a point but its a skill that must be practiced and will have limited impact online.

CMM:  What makes ofcs who are online different from those who shy from it? Is it the same as the difference between the open, friendly community relations officer vs. the patrol cop who sticks to his cruiser?

SW: This is a tough question and will have a lengthy answer.  We need to separate this question into different columns or sections.  Officers online for the sake of social purposes, officers online for investigations, and officers online to promote or communicate with the citizens (information).

I personally, fall into the first and last.  I don’t, or haven’t, conducted investigations online as yet.  This is always subject to change.

In some ways, this question is answered above with the “old school” vs. “new school” remark.  Most officers that I know and work with who are “online” are the same officers that DO get out of their police cars and talk with people.  They are social by nature.

Online they tend to be as social as they are in “real life” personally and professionally.  They recognize and appreciate the social aspect of social media, and tend to move together in a group.  Officers are online friends with other officers.  There may be a few stray “civilians” in their lists but by and large it will be other law enforcement professionals or those who can relate.

There are many reasons why this happens.  I teach a course at my department called Surviving the Job.  I reference a book by Kevin M. Gilmartin, Ph.D, called Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement.

Throughout the book (which by the way, I consider a MUST READ for every law enforcement officer and their spouses/significant others), Dr. Gilmartin discusses the psychological needs behind cops socializing with other cops.

Without getting into much detail, it has to do with the ebb and flow of adrenaline and the need to “feel” it to be normal.  Some law enforcement professionals get this “fix” via social networking.

Many law enforcement professionals, will carry the same conversations online that they would if they were at the local watering hole.  They will complain about the administration, the people they deal with, the last big chase…  thus reliving the adrenaline laced moment they were in.

I can show you thread after thread after thread on Facebook, Twitter and other sites where this is occurring on a regular basis.

So what makes them different?  I don’t know but I do feel, in some ways, social media interaction is a coping mechanism for some.  They are the ones who DO talk about what they deal with.  Older officers just internalize it.

CMM:  What about the “status offense” of commingling outside your peers? Or the fear of lending “legitimacy” to social networking sites that don’t “deserve” it? (What’s the attitude behind this?)

SW:  This brings up an interesting conundrum.  With over 1200 followers on Twitter and several hundred on Facebook, and unknown numbers on the many other social media networks I update, how many folks there may fit that profile?  It is against policy for me to associate with known felons on a personal level.  But if I don’t KNOW they are felons, can I be held accountable?

The policy is questionable at best and that fact is recognized by everyone concerned.  It is not a “scarlet letter” to be thrown over every situation.  For instance, if my next door neighbor is a convicted felon, does that mean when we have neighborhood cookouts he can’t come over?

The answer is no, that’s not what it means.  But if he is a convicted felon, lets say convicted of fraud and embezzlement, can this policy come into play if I go into business with him?  Maybe.

No one knows for sure how far it can reach, but I seriously doubt it would reach into the non-tactile world of social media.  UNLESS we’re talking about an online crime of some sort.

As far as social media sites that don’t deserve it, the free market will determine that.  If it’s not “cop friendly” then cops won’t be there.  Period.

What’s your opinion of why more cops don’t get involved with social networking?

Image: D.C.Atty via Flickr

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6 thoughts on “Why aren’t more cops implementing social media?

  1. Pingback: A Generational and Social Divide Keeps More Law Enforcement Officers from Using Social Media « The Crime Map

  2. Michael Vallez

    Hello,

    I am a retired police officer, former federal background investigator, now social media guy who is going to bring social media to law enforcement.

    the reason law enforcement is not implementing (some are) is they are slow to respond to cultural changes, they don’t know how to do it, and they are some of the most pessimistic people you know.

    that being said you will see social media officers in the not too distant future.

    Mike
    .-= Michael Vallez´s last blog ..Broward County Sheriffs Office In The Social Media Conversation! =-.

  3. Christa Miller Post author

    Nice to meet you Mike! I agree — in the 8 months since I’ve been on Twitter, I have seen a HUGE explosion in the number of PDs and LEOs there. My hope is that as more young officers, those who have grown up with technology and social networking, join the force and move into supervisory positions, the more adaptable they will become: less reactive especially. This space simply moves too fast for them not to. And I agree about social media officers. Private companies already have “directors of community” and “social media editors” (at traditional news organizations) and I would love to see the PIO’s function expand.

  4. Mike

    There is definitely a stigma attached to new social media in the eyes of “old school” officers. Whether they are concerned about security issues or simply lack the knowledge of web 2.0 technologies, superiors at many police departments are reluctant to implement it. In my opinion, it is the lack of knowledge that is the biggest hindrance. Police do not know where to start, where to ask questions, and where the potential benefits lie. Hopefully websites like this can help!

    We have to remember the internet itself was spawned from the communication innovations of the US Army. Although social media, like the internet, is used for many wasteful activities and scrutinized for its security we must remember its initial intent – to make communication more efficient! And isn’t this of utmost importance for such an industry? Of course their is a downside, but the potential upside for community integration and the sharing of valuable information in real-time far exceeds any negatives. I think social media will become much more prevalent in law enforcement in the near future because the potential benefits just can no longer be ignored! However, never underestimate the stubbornness of an “old school” police.

  5. Pingback: Cops 2.0 » Blog Archive » Why cops shouldn’t use social networking

  6. Christa Miller Post author

    Mike (#4 comment :) ) I didn’t want you to think I was ignoring you — many of the points you raise, I covered in the most recent entry, based on an interview with an ICAC commander.

    I also think it’s not just the benefits of social media, but the need for everyone — police and civilians — to understand it as a new community. Cops need to understand where and how to find evidence online. And they need to be in a position to help civilians navigate it, to transmit information safely as well as efficiently.

    I do worry, as Mike noted above, that the reactiveness will take another generation to fade out… but I think policing has made a lot of strides by embracing the concept of “community policing,” not just “the old cop on the beat” like there was 100 years ago, but also implementing measurement and other protocols to make sure it’s working right. So in many ways I think they are primed to benefit from and to help others with social media… it will take a bit of extra effort, but so many other organizations are going through it as well, LE is not alone in learning!

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