Social media and the cash-strapped agency

How are budget cuts affecting your agency?

How are budget cuts affecting your agency?

I’ve been reading a lot, in the news and in emails from friends, about how budget cutbacks are affecting law enforcement agencies. One friend up in Massachusetts told me that too few cops were working shifts with too many calls. Backup isn’t always there when officers need it, and the tension is wearing on everyone’s nerves.

It’s tempting to say that social media could cure a lot of those ills. Get cops talking to civilians, discussing crime problems and ways to solve them. But in many communities, this is unrealistic.

It would take a lot of work. Even with an ad hoc arrangement—no research or policy-making or strategizing, just trusting officers to do the right thing—the trust-building with the community would take months.

And if officers are already pushed to their breaking point, if they have no time to blog and tweet when they’re on duty and want to spend all their off-duty time forgetting about work, what good could they do using tools they’re suspicious of to start with?

What do you think? Is this a problem that will have to work itself out once agencies get around to re-hiring layoffs and replacing retirements? Or are there interim solutions that agencies can start to deploy now?

Image: Thunderchild_tm via Flickr

8 thoughts on “Social media and the cash-strapped agency

  1. Scott Baldwin

    Nearly every agency has an administrative person of sorts. Officers could submit their tweets and facebook post ideas to this person. Moreover, there is an emerging trend in “text a tip” for anonymous complaints or crime tips that could be easily implemented. I agree that social media is the next step for community policing, and we need to find ways to stay in touch with the community.

  2. Christa Miller Post author

    Thanks for the comment, Scott! Is it your experience that the admin person is able to fit the tasks to the job? My impression is that more calls for service + fewer cops = even admin people being stretched too thin, as they are asked to do more at the station (including traditional press materials for at least some of those additional calls). Would they have time to sift through tweets and Facebookings?

    I agree about “text a tip” which may prove to be even more convenient than simple tweeting — and more direct too, if it goes right to Dispatch. Plus with better context; don’t some services allow video to be sent along with the tip?

    Thanks again for stopping by. Good luck with your campaign!

  3. Greg Friese

    Christa, I often advise emergency response professionals to think about something they can stop doing so they can add social media creation to their to do list. To just keep adding more to do the list means a lot of things are not going to get done.

  4. Christa Miller Post author

    Greg, that’s great — so many administrators get caught in the trap of “the way it’s always been done” that they don’t stop to think about alternatives, including just losing outmoded and outdated processes.

    What are examples of things you have seen given up, and what are good ways to identify them?

  5. Laura Madison

    I have also, just as another aspect to this discussion, noted policing and/or 911 reps that have twitter accounts that do a terrible disservice to their prospective professions. One woman @funny911calls is a good example of confidentiality going out the window, not to mention professionalism. I think its extremely important for agency’s to not just utilize and/or promote the use of SM ad hoc but to formulate streams and policy around the use of SM. Of course, i believe most people would have more sense then this particular person. So take that as more cautionary then a generalized negative.

    I think SM is valuable in terms of setting the stage for potential further discussion with communities and citizens, but i do not encourage tip sharing via 3rd party platforms. There are many examples i could give of where police have attempted using for example BBS and it went terribly sideways for them. So, i think there is a lot more to be done, informed policy to create in order to satisfy the questions agencies may have about SM as a platform for affective policing. Canadian police agencies thus far are using it mostly as a feed for already established lines of communication. Proactive policing should include SM, of that i am 100% sure. Reactive policing on SM i believe will be confined to continued and more wide reaching communications & “collar a perp” objectives. We all know one thing…that is the more people that *see* information, then the increased potential for them to act upon it exists. That’s a positive for all concerned. Thanks and i hope you all make use of my lists that are officially listed and organized by Intl.and US domestic agencies etc..


    I am a Canadian Criminologist and am very happy to have found your blog :)

    Thanks and best wishes.

  6. Christa Miller Post author

    Laura, thanks for the comment. I’m glad you found my blog too! :)

    I completely agree with you about forming policy and procedure — my example was more of a hypothetical, “even if” kind of situation, but I don’t recommend it unless the level of trust within the agency is very high, so that administrators know their officers will do the right thing. (More typical of small agencies.)

    The only concern I have with “the more people see information, the more potential they have to act on it” is information overload. I’ve experienced this myself, not with regard to crime but with PR/marketing — when I’m overwhelmed, I pass on things like webinars, only signing up for them if they appear to be truly outstanding (i.e. not regurgitating the same information).

    And I think ultimately this is what’s going to make the difference between proactive and reactive policing online. The argument can be made that reactive presences online can take the mystery away, make it “safe” for future proactive strategies. But if citizens constantly see “we need info on this bank robber” or what have you, they’ll learn to tune it out… so that they’ll likewise ignore proactivity. Preferable is a mix, really — conversation intermingled with “we need your help,” so that the public is asked to make an investment in this relationship.

  7. Laura Madison

    I think geo-specific SM will take care of overload in some instances. People generally will pay attention to info specific to their areas. There are many apps for iphone/smartphones etc, not to mention feeds that can be set to geo-specific targets. Crimestoppers worldwide is an example of successful proactive policing online and otherwise (their stats prove this fact). As a researcher i view SM as an extension of reach and easier to maintain for agencies. For example RCMP -British Columbia are just using a feed..i think that’s a good approach until as i mentioned specific policy around such use can be formulated. I do not agree with officers/agencies blogging or tweeting for the sake of doing so. I think after viewing many of the police service people who tweet and the potential legal issues that may arise from talking about arrests, events or cases before they reach court has me viewing this perhaps from a different angle. Of course remember that in Canada, we are very careful (publication bans) about pre-court disclosure and protecting an accused and his/her fundamental rights, until a judge or jury determines his/her legal disposition. Not saying that this is not standard in the US or otherwise but there is a penchant for *some journalists* to report in slanted ways in the US, which i feel does not assist Criminal Justice objectives. Anyhoo, i do research in and around missing/murdered/unident in Canada and also studied psychopathy for 10 years. For the last two years i have been keeping notes on sm 2.0 and Crim/social science potential with the new tech zeitgeist. I also have a few studies completed about online media coverage and unsolved homicides (among other studies). Let me know if i can contrib to your blog or anything anytime. Not much of a blogger but thinking a lil’ posturous blog may be fun and give me a chance to pub some stuff online.


    ps-you can now access my twitter acct if ya like :)

  8. Pingback: What budget cuts mean to online public safety | Cops 2.0

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge