I thought it might be useful to provide an example of what I am talking about when I say that law enforcement agencies can do more – a lot more – with social media than they currently are.
First, Joe the Cop
Joe’s latest blog post concerns the beatdown of a compliant motorist by a police officer. A defensive tactics trainer, Joe provides an excellent perspective into why this might have happened:
Ofc. James Mandarino, “amped up from a vehicle pursuit and believing he was about to confront 2 possibly combative drunks, prepared for the worst as the car pulled over” and ultimately committed himself to use of force. The reason? Possibly, fear. More on that in a second.
A not unrelated blog post by Gerald Baron:
If you or your senior execs think that you are at a neutral starting point in public perception when an ugly situation hits, and your goal is to keep at neutral or above, you deal with the crisis in one way. But, what if you are starting the crisis from the perspective of a deep hole–that you are not neutral but public perception is already very negative, how does that impact how you deal with the crisis?
Taking it a step further
What if Joe were the chief of Ofc. Mandarino’s department? He’d be in the position Baron wrote about. He’d be on the defensive. He certainly wouldn’t want to explain his officer’s actions as the product of fear. What member of the public wants to know its chief hires scaredycat cops?
Unless Joe was going to put together a comprehensive argument for why his agency needs a better training budget, and better training.
The Force Science Research Center has published information showing that a police officer’s fear response can actually be rewired with practice, overriding that instinct and replacing it with the instinct to act rather than react.
Joe the Chief, then, might use his blog to publish a graph showing how the recession has impacted his training budget. This might show one of several things:
- A decline in money allocated to training, and a corresponding drop in training.
- A decline in money, but an increase in certain types of training.
- An increase in training money, corresponding with increases in certain types of training (at the expense of others?)
- An increase in money, and an increase in training overall. This might indicate a problem with the officer.
This takes guts
Decreases in money are easy. Joe the Chief can use them to show how his agency needs more funding, which might inspire one or more local businesses to donate money, for instance. Even if the donation must go into the city’s general fund, the city is already under pressure to provide better training for the police department. (Joe the Chief might even work together with Bill the Fire Chief or others to ask for better overall public safety training and education.)
Increases in money are harder, because then it comes down to the chief’s own decision-making. The chief might have decided to allocate funds to training as a response to some other problem – digital evidence, for example, gangs, or narcotics.
This is what we mean by “transparency.” An agency that has communicated its problems all along will be more credible when an officer does something bad; the chief can say, “Clearly we need to devote more to defensive tactics training.”
Of course there are other issues in play. Training is sometimes a matter of officer motivation, as this PoliceOne.com article (more from the FSRC) points out. Officer motivation is a matter of hiring and retaining the right people. Personnel issues sometimes don’t come to light until after the officer has been at work for several years. And no chief wants to, or should, throw his or her personnel under the bus.
Transparency via social media demands a delicate balance between information sharing and leadership. The public and the officers need both. Ideally, the department’s leaders are communicating both internally and publicly.
Yeah, that’s a lot of work. A lot. As Baron wrote in a separate blog post:
We are still fighting today’s public information battles with old strategies and outdated technologies. Until communicators and their leaders understand how much the world has changed, the same mistakes will be repeated.
The job of the crisis communicator today isn’t so much put out a press release and then do some on camera interviews. It is much more about listening, evaluating, advising, and participating in the swirl of information and discussion about the event.
It’s scary. But it can be done… and needs to be done.
What assumptions are you prepared to change about public communications?
Image: Intersection Consulting via Flickr