Category Archives: Community relations

#copchat January 9: Policing people with mental illnesses

Mental illness is a hot topic in the news right now, thanks largely to mass killings, domestic violence and violence that doesn’t fit either of those narratives. While the stories help to highlight the overall topic — that mental illness is prevalent among our neighbors, coworkers and the strangers we pass each day — they don’t do much to help us understand deeper issues, such as how to recognize and then communicate with people who have mental illnesses.

This affects emergency services more than it does the rest of us, because police, fire and EMS personnel are usually the first on the scene during or after an incident. They often don’t know how to respond appropriately, for a variety of reasons. As a result, things can go very bad very fast. The subject gets hurt or killed, the cops look bad, and community trust is broken. It should follow that you can’t have an effective social media program if you don’t have effective communication to start with.

On Wednesday night, we explored some of these issues in #copchat. Mostly in order, the transcript follows below. Click “Read more” on the bottom right of each segment to continue.


#copchat 01/09/2013

The #copchat community discussed how police relate, and could better relate, to people with mental illnesses.

Storified by christammiller· Sat, Jan 12 2013 07:16:33

RT @TPSChrisBoddy: MT @christammiller: Good morning #copchat friends. Topic tonight: police response to ppl w/ mental illness, 9pm @wazaname @Org9 @steelhoofKristen Rose
@christammiller @Org9 @steelhoof #copchat : 1A) http://pic.twitter.com/DXCxU2xpblahhZ
Going to post 1 last twit pic on behalf of a coworker #copchat http://pic.twitter.com/NuvCnzvXblahhZ
@christammiller @Org9 @steelhoof #copchat – 1C) http://pic.twitter.com/4nqKN9IpblahhZ
@christammiller @Org9 @steelhoof #copchat – 1D) http://pic.twitter.com/8yl4cg1nblahhZ
@christammiller whomever i spoke to (have badge #’s) told me that it IS controlled substance #copchatblahhZ
@christammiller too late for person who may have social phobia however #copchat ill keep badge #’s however.if they lie bout that.other liesblahhZ
Priming the #CopChat pump: Millvale PA police Taser mentally ill man in their custody http://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2013/01/08/mother-calls-video-of-taser-being-used-on-her-son-disturbing-terrible/WarOnPrivacy
Paranoid Schizophrenic man shoots/injures 2 police officers on subway and is shot/killed by them http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2013/01/06/family-man-fatally-shot-by-police-was-mentally-ill/ #CopChatWarOnPrivacy
@WarOnPrivacy#copchat this story speaks very loudly of totally untrained and as a result probably very #scared officers in the streetBill Ries-Knight
@WarOnPrivacy #copchat concur no gun & if he was paranoid schizophrenic and not medicated and treatment very likely this might not happenedBill Ries-Knight
Q1: #Police use force less when trained on mental illness issues. Where does the training/education need to start? #copchatchristammiller
RT @steelhoof #copchat I’m here to begin and let me tell you biggest thing we need is education for the police and administrators in schoolschristammiller
@christammiller #copchat the training needs to be again with getting the office to recognize what mental illness looks like in peopleBill Ries-Knight
@christammiller @steelhoof In Canada I believe the schools & police are educated but SM has brought mental issues to forefront! #copchatLeigh Buchan
@lives2talk In what ways has #SM highlighted mental illness issues? #copchatchristammiller
@christammiller It’s been a platform for parents of kids w/mental illess to discuss their concerns & issues openly #copchatLeigh Buchan
@lives2talk Do you see #police actively engaging or even monitoring discussions like that? Seems like it would be a great resource. #copchatchristammiller
@christammiller dont know about starting, but if relationships with mental health agencies are fostered – can be of benefit IMO #copchatblahhZ
@wazaname Do you have examples of existing relationships? I’m thinking of the Memphis CIT program; others? #copchatchristammiller
CITThe Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) program is a community partnership working with mental health consumers and family members. Our goal i…
@christammiller unfortunately….. no. #copchatblahhZ
@wazaname And I also agree that more education is needed in dealing with people with mental health issues. Both public and police #copchatRandall Arsenault
In Ontario, trng re police interactions w those in crisis starts before new cops even hit the streets. @christammiller #copchatChris Boddy
TPS have a MCIT program which matches a cop with a nurse responding to those suffering a mental illness. @christammiller @wazaname #copchatChris Boddy
@TPSChrisBoddy #copchat exactly what we need. Reconize MH. & look at people as helps because then they can see the nuances that matterBill Ries-Knight
@TPSChrisBoddy Tell us more — what does the training look like & what does it involve? #copchatchristammiller
@TPSChrisBoddy the MCIT program is very effective in Scarborough. The Officers choose to be there. #copchatRandall Arsenault
@TPSChrisBoddy Gotta ask – @TheRealDamany posted earlier abt Michael Eligon shooting. MCIT in effect then, or after? #copchatchristammiller
@PCArsenault8074 2/2 and explain the situation…doing best to calm said person down #copchatblahhZ
@wazaname No worries. So what would those relationships look like? Where would a PD start in developing them? #copchatchristammiller
@wazaname Considering that many times the relationships don’t start until after a crisis/incident. #copchatchristammiller
@christammiller @TPSChrisBoddy does..very useful.. Not enough resources to be able to be on ALL calls where could be of benefit #copchatblahhZ
Sure. How to triage calls then… MT @wazaname: Not enough resources to be able to be on ALL calls where could be of benefit #copchatchristammiller
@christammiller @TPSChrisBoddy is DEFINITELY positive when can accompany police #copchatblahhZ
@christammiller We don’t have resources for MCITs 24/7 however EVERY TPS cop receives training every year in this. @TheRealDamany #copchatChris Boddy
@christammiller @TPSChrisBoddy I wasn’t aware of that. Very good idea! But sometimes mental illess isn’t obvious #copchatLeigh Buchan
GREAT point. How to educate on recognizing potential? MT @lives2talk: Very good idea! But sometimes mental illess isnt obvious #copchatchristammiller
@lives2talk Great point! Mental illness isn’t always obvious, some people don’t even know the signs. Major issue for teens too #copchatRandall Arsenault
@lives2talk @christammiller @TPSChrisBoddy isnt and it presents itself like night and day at times #copchatblahhZ
@christammiller participate in mental health agencies’ AGM’s is one thought? #copchatblahhZ
@christammiller annual general meetings.. Most non profits have them..all are welcome #CopchatblahhZ
@christammiller agencies that work w/ populations such as addictions / mental health / homeless are frequently dealing with crisis’ #copchatblahhZ
#copchat we have to convince people that control the purse strings that mental health is cheaper to deal with when it becomes a commodityBill Ries-Knight
#copchat. When an illness becomes a commodity early treatment becomes apparently important. Keep them out of the emergency room & jailsBill Ries-Knight
#copchat on Talk of the Nation today. it has been pointed out that far more is learned from people under treatment than shootersBill Ries-Knight
#copchat when mental health can be dealt with from the school level that early intervention makes a huge differenceBill Ries-Knight
#copchat 1 suggestion that made sense was to go back to the days when students actually saw counselors on a regular basis.Bill Ries-Knight
@TPSChrisBoddy What kind of training… classroom, scenario-based? Mental illness is so individual. #copchatchristammiller
Scenario & classroom w a focus on de-escalation. Use of force is always a last resort. @christammiller #copchatChris Boddy
@christammiller Classroom, scenario based, guest speakers, all good methods of training. #copchatRandall Arsenault
@TPSChrisBoddy @christammiller *should* be a last resort. Less than yr ago.person wearing hospital gown in east toronto.shot by TPS #copchatblahhZ
@wazaname That was the shooting of Michael Eligon — I RT’d an article about that at the start of the hour. Very sad. #copchatchristammiller
@TPSChrisBoddy What are some de-escalation techniques you are taught to use? #copchatchristammiller
@TPSChrisBoddy @christammiller @TheRealDamany I would think that in Canada it’s most frontline officers would be trained #copchatLeigh Buchan
#CopChat Think I see one prob – lumping mental illnesses together. Schizophrenia is not BiPolar is not BPD.WarOnPrivacy
@WarOnPrivacy Yes. & also w/ bizarre behavior, assuming substance abuse which may or may not be a factor in crisis. #copchatchristammiller
@WarOnPrivacy exactly, lumping all mental illness together makes it harder on people to fully understand, and almost more scary. #copchatRandall Arsenault
#CopChat to clarify: Borderline’s don’t appear MI – can seem more competent than average folks. However, they can be highly manipulative.WarOnPrivacy
#CopChat Some MI easy to spot like manic BiPolar high or Schitz psychosis. I’ve seen BPDs manipulate officers. @christammillerWarOnPrivacy
@TPSChrisBoddy Are there any news articles about MCIT successes? #copchatchristammiller
Last Feb, we had the media at out College to witness how we train our officers to respond to those in crisis. @christammiller #copchatChris Boddy
.@TheRealDamany The TPS includes consumers survivours is the development of our training. #copchatChris Boddy
@TPSChrisBoddy @christammiller case in ? http://m.thestar.com/news/gta/crime/article/1125770–toronto-police-involved-in-east-end-shooting (no i wasnt there so wont pretend 2 knO full stry) #copchatblahhZ
@TheRealDamany @TPSChrisBoddy @christammiller In many of those cases, the mental illness is not obvious! #copchatLeigh Buchan
Q2: So TPS police get annual training on mental illness. W/ limited resources, how can PDs make tng regular & consistent? #copchatchristammiller
Perhaps more to the point, how can #police ingrain sensitivity to mental illness in their overall situational awareness? #copchatchristammiller
I would suggest a constant community liaison you bring the subject up on regular basis almost to the point of being tiresome #copchatBill Ries-Knight
#CopChat Local PDs should consider reaching out to NAMI and other local resources. Local Mental Health centers may help. @christammillerWarOnPrivacy
@christammiller @WarOnPrivacy What is NAMI? #copchatLeigh Buchan
@lives2talk National Alliance on Mental Illness #copchatBijou Chevalier
@christammiller Have seminars held by professionals in the various areas of mental illness #copchatLeigh Buchan
Need to be high quality RT @lives2talk: @christammiller Have seminars held by professionals in the various areas of mental illness #copchatchristammiller
@lives2talk For maximum absorption of information. Seminar attendees have to care. #copchatchristammiller
@christammiller It’s sad if there are frontline workers who Don’t Care #copchatLeigh Buchan
#CopChat ‘Have to care’ -> That suggests core groups of appropriately trained officers. @christammillerWarOnPrivacy
#CopChat ..cont. That is leading w/ the heart is actually helpful here. But NOT with BPDs – they’ll take your heart and run w/ it @wazanameWarOnPrivacy
MT @WarOnPrivacy: In figuring out whos a good fit to work w/ MI, it helps to know that compassion/empathy -> directly into wisdom #copchatchristammiller
#CopChat cont Maybe better said for BPDs -> Compassion yes, Empathy no. @wazanameWarOnPrivacy
@WarOnPrivacy BPDs not the only ones who manipulate. How can police recognize manipulation & head it off or deal w/ it? #copchatchristammiller
@WarOnPrivacy better my <3 than their life/someone else’s.there is always certain cases where PD have no choice but 2 take a person #copchatblahhZ
#CopChat I get that. I posted two opposing stories earlier. In one the officers really didn’t have a choice. @wazanameWarOnPrivacy
@WarOnPrivacy and realizing that there is never a point where learning is complete..various MI various ways of presenting itself. #copchatblahhZ
@WarOnPrivacy exactly. Fear of danger is relative when there is a difference in rapport w/ #copchatblahhZ
I think they just become cynical. RT @lives2talk: @christammiller Its sad if there are frontline workers who Dont Care #copchatchristammiller
@lives2talk Lack of education/training & cynicism leads to misconduct & even abuse/excessive force. #copchatchristammiller
@christammiller Those like that need to be weeded out and dealt with! #copchatLeigh Buchan
Going back to @steelhoof’s 1st point abt educ MT @WarOnPrivacy: Have to care -> suggests core groups of appropriately trained ofcs #copchatchristammiller
Absolutely! But may be systemic in spots. RT @lives2talk: @christammiller Those like that need to be weeded out and dealt with! #copchatchristammiller
@lives2talk In other words can you fire an entire or majority of police force when cultural cynicism runs that deep? #copchatchristammiller
@RocheJacqueline @TPSChrisBoddy @christammiller yes..even tazers can be deadly #copchatblahhZ
@WarOnPrivacy This is done as part of Memphis Crisis Intervention Team model: http://ow.ly/gGwsw but uptake around nation spotty. #copchatchristammiller
#CopChat Based on my experience, there are plenty of Mental Health pros who wouldn’t hesitate to help. Big reward in defusing situations.WarOnPrivacy
Volunteer? MT @WarOnPrivacy: Based on my experience, there are plenty of Mental Health pros who wouldnt hesitate to help. #copchatchristammiller
@TheRealDamany TPS have literally 1000s of contacts every year w those in crisis; very few result in injuries. @christammiller #copchatChris Boddy
@christammiller @WarOnPrivacy No local mental hlth ctrs in Ajax/Pickering #copchatLeigh Buchan
#CopChat – I’d offer that whoever 1st responds to someone w/ MI will have the same task to do – no matter their professional background.WarOnPrivacy
@christammiller @TPSChrisBoddy r those ‘reported’ ? 1 mishandled is 2 much.sry again.i wouldnt wanna do ur job.not saying it’s easy #copchatblahhZ
@wazaname I agree, one injury is 2 many. We recognize that. #copchatChris Boddy
@TPSChrisBoddy ty..and again..i recognize that the GOOD cops…are instrumental #copchatblahhZ
@TPSChrisBoddy Reported injuries….reported. #CopChat @TheRealDamany @christammillerPaisley Rae
@paisleyrae Hi Paisley! All injuries are reported. @TheRealDamany @christammiller #CopChatChris Boddy
MT @paisleyrae: @TPSChrisBoddy people who are marginalized are less likely to report, for a host of reasons… #copchatchristammiller
@christammiller Suggestion #1 – eliminate the phrase "a few bad apples" from your vocabulary. #CopChatPaisley Rae
@christammiller why? Because people are telling you what they see when they look at you & it ain’t pretty. Don’t pass the buck. #CopChatPaisley Rae
#CopChat In figuring out who’s a good fit to work w/ MI, it helps to know that compassion/empathy translates directly into wisdom @wazanameWarOnPrivacy
In terms of TPS training, does everyone get basic training with some getting more advanced training? #copchatBijou Chevalier
Or in addition to all the other roles, are individual officers expected to be mental health para-professionals as well? #copchatBijou Chevalier
@Mlle_Bijou that’s a good point as well, mental health is just one of the many issues Police deal with on a daily basis. #copchatRandall Arsenault
#CopChat ‘Various MI Manifestation’ -> This includes the Developmentally Disabled. Though not MI they do need special handling @wazanameWarOnPrivacy
@christammiller R thr repercutions if PD treats person as having mental illness when they don’t? #copchatLeigh Buchan
Interesting! Don’t know. @TPSChrisBoddy? MT @lives2talk: R thr repercutions if PD treats person as having MI when they dont? #copchatchristammiller
@lives2talk How can it be bad though? De-escalation is de-escalation, no? @TPSChrisBoddy #copchatchristammiller
.@christammiller @lives2talk Short answer, we must treat everyone fairly and w respect regardless. #copchatChris Boddy
#CopChat Do you mean where someone has been involuntarily committed and does not have a Mental Illness? @lives2talk @christammillerWarOnPrivacy
Good point, didn’t think of that. RT @WarOnPrivacy: Do you mean where someone has been involuntarily committed & does not have MI? #copchatchristammiller
@christammiller @TPSChrisBoddy I know ppl with physical disabilities that have been misinterpreted as MI. They get ANGRY #copchatLeigh Buchan
@WarOnPrivacy indeed #copchat http://m.thestar.com/news/gta/article/1142137–toronto-police-settle-g20-human-rights-case-against-quadriplegic-man story makes me..a lil sick #copchatblahhZ
@WarOnPrivacy physically disables in prev reply #copchatblahhZ
@lives2talk @TPSChrisBoddy For that matter, ppl w/ autism spectrum disorder – not MI but need sensitivity too. #copchatchristammiller
@christammiller @lives2talk We train on autism also. #copchatChris Boddy
@TPSChrisBoddy @christammiller I was thinking more of MD and MS #copchatLeigh Buchan
#CopChat I’d think descalation training would benefit those interactions. It’s offered more and more often @lives2talk @christammillerWarOnPrivacy
@lives2talk MD & MS… sounds like disability in general is poorly understood & also feared, mental OR physical… #copchatchristammiller
@christammiller @WarOnPrivacy Would think that hosp’s psychiatrist on call would make the final decision B4 commitment! #copchatLeigh Buchan
#CopChat Usually true but there are boneheaded psychiatrists out there. @lives2talk @christammillerWarOnPrivacy
@WarOnPrivacy @lives2talk Boneheaded & also those not well versed in certain types of MI. Seems to be a shifting subject. #copchatchristammiller
@christammiller i am not in #Copchat but I’m my area there was a nice partnership between local pd and mental health professionalsCorey Harrell
@corey_harrell Hey Corey! Thanks for jumping in. What size area? Just curious whether rural/suburban/urban. #copchatchristammiller
@corey_harrell great to hear! We have an excellent relationship/partnership with our agencies as well. Very important. #copchatRandall Arsenault
@corey_harrell Sounds like the Memphis Model? #copchatchristammiller
@corey_harrell I’m just wondering how easy it would be to translate that model to an area w/ fewer resources… #copchatchristammiller
If anyone has some questions u can ask My wife is mental health pro who trains NYSP recruits and used to work wit local PD on calls #CopchatCorey Harrell
@christammiller Easy. It is really about training officers how to recognize, appropriately handle situations 1/2 #copchatCorey Harrell
@christammiller & be aware of local MH resources and local mental hygience law 2/2 #copchatCorey Harrell
@corey_harrell Dunno. Training budgets being cut left & right. That makes it not so easy IMO. #copchatchristammiller
@christammiller She don’t know. The programs here are state and grant (CIT) funded. The PD doesn’t have to pay for it. 1/2 #copchatCorey Harrell
@christammiller Partnerships between PD and local mental health agencies could reduce cost if both work together 2/2 #copchatCorey Harrell
@corey_harrell Ahh that makes sense. So I wonder if PDs are not educated enough on grant resources…. #copchatchristammiller
Deep gratitude to @YourAnonNews for not trolling #copchat this week. It was a good conversation & starting point for more. Thank you.christammiller
I am seriously/personally thanking @YourAnonNews for not spamming #copchat. U could have..lord knows.. ‘ucoulda’ #WhyDidntYou?blahhZ
Bedtime reading as #copchat comes to a close: liability for failure to train -> constitutional rights violations? http://ow.ly/gGzx7christammiller
Good job @christammiller for bringing up an important issue last night. That conversation needs to continue for a long time. #copchat#FreeSpeechForPolice

What can you add to this conversation?

Don’t just tweet—curate

curating content for successAt Officer.com this week, I wrote a back-to-basics column on using Twitter. The article ran long, so I didn’t get a chance to include a segment about a trend I’ve been noticing (and taking part in): the increasing importance of content curation.

Last month, the news that Twitter had acquired curation service Summify generated quite a bit of news. “Like some other services such as News.me, Summify filtered a user’s activity streams, then used an algorithm to produce a daily e-mail with links to the most-shared content in their social networks,” Bloomberg BusinessWeek explained.

In other words, Summify helped Twitter users determine what was important without their having to filter tweets manually. And with Twitter building this capability into its service, think about what curation might mean to a law enforcement Twitter account.

Remember: people share what they think their followers will benefit from. At this point, relevance is in the eye of the beholder—not the content originator. How can you help them?

First, put high quality content out there for sharing. Well-written blogs and web pages, well-edited video, carefully chosen images will get your followers’ attention. What about your agency’s police work do you want people to focus on? Communicate it clearly, and you’ll improve your chances that they’ll notice it and share it among themselves.

Second, curate content that supports what you’re doing. Sgt. John Jackson of the Houston Police Department presented me with an idea: use a curation service like Paper.li (or Scoop.it, my pick for Cops 2.0-related content) to package their various social streams for their audiences.

“Even better,” he wrote, “they could use it to bring some of their partners on board too. Crimestoppers, groups working with the mentally ill, homeless, veterans, etc.” Nonprofits, victim services advocates, community centers and others would be natural additions to a newsletter or curated stream. So would news articles highlighting a local-turned-broader issue across the nation.

This has been exactly the experience in the Hampshire (UK) Constabulary, Portsmouth City Centre Unit. Its Paper.li, The Daily Ninah – named for the unit’s police transit van, which (in a nice example of less formal engagement) got its name from the CCU’s Twitter followers — has been running for about two weeks. Unit leader Sgt. Robert Sutton says:

I chose paper.li due to the format being easy to use, it self populates, you can add content and it looks like a newspaper! It is also easy for the reader to digest and navigate through.

“Naturally I draw from local Hampshire Constabulary Twitter accounts but also from others across the county that I find are interesting and who promote useful crime prevention information/advice by thinking outside of the box.

“I also like to draw from partner agencies who we can promote (for example @actionfrauduk @Directgov @ASBACTIONLINE @HantsCrimestopp) and encourage followers/readers to explore these websites for further useful information.”

It is, along with the unit’s Twitter account, a tactic that supports a strategy: as Sutton describes, “to communicate crime prevention advice and encourage engagement with the public…. What we want is to break down the stereotypical barriers about what people think of the police, open up and explain what we do and show that we aren’t just a uniform; there is someone there for you if you need us.” Curation is just one of the ways the Portsmouth CCU is translating those words into action.

Are you curating content for your agency? What services do you use, and what kinds of articles do you include?

Creative Commons License photo credit: Manchester Library

Victoria Police Department: Strategic planning that integrates social media

In my last post, I blogged about how public opinion—and trust—is formed according to the way police use (and communicate their use of) technology. This week’s post isn’t a direct sequel, but more of an exemplar: how one agency has implemented a strategic plan that integrates social communication.

Having participated in a client’s strategic planning process this past summer, I took notice of a tweet from the Victoria (British Columbia, Canada) Police Department in mid-November:

Strategy that involves public opinion

To some degree, VicPD’s strategic plan reminds me of Boca Raton’s VIPER program. Visibility, Intelligence, Partnerships, Education, and Resources are, however, more public relations-focused than VicPD’s five-step plan, which takes into account both internal and external issues: operation effectiveness, recruitment and retention, communication improvement, regionalization, and partnerships with other community groups.

Constable Mike Russell, VicPD’s public affairs media spokesperson and social media officer (as well as a former community resource officer with Edmonton, Alberta Police Department), says the plan had been in the works for nearly a year before its launch.

The result: a strategy that spans 8 years rather than the typical 3 to 5. Developed into a 16-page, image-driven brochure, the plan is “a living document,” its online counterpart a bare-bones microsite. That’s because it seeks to crowdsource direction: for community members to collaborate with the agency, helping to determine how their police will function.

To that end, Russell says, the agency intends to use QR codes and social media to establish an ongoing dialogue with the public. They will also update the microsite’s videos, goals and action steps four times a year.

Brainstorming ideas that lead to action

“Our chief and the planning facilitators took us on a different journey than we’re used to, a peer to peer process where rank doesn’t matter,” Russell says. “It was about the questions rather than the answers, so we were given carte blanche for brainstorming.”

Indeed, Russell says the feedback has been made intentionally informal in the plan’s early stages, in order to encourage relationship-building and to avoid bureaucracy within the public forum. “We divided our community into sectors, with people made responsible for each,” he explains. “Then, we began to encourage the citizens to bring their ideas to the working groups.”

Each working group has a lead manager who oversees four police officers and one civilian. The managing inspectors are ultimately responsible for implementing action items, but act as facilitators for their groups to find the right avenues to go down.

Part of that is police differentiating between service provision, rather than delivery—and asking citizens to think in the same terms, basing their ideas off that distinction, which puts police in much more of a “helping” rather than transactional frame. This allows everyone to talk about problems in terms of solutions.

Finding community-specific solutions

For example, within three days of beginning the planning process, Russell says certain themes had begun to emerge. “Regionalization [Step 4] was the biggest,” he says. “And while we didn’t set out to create silos, we found ideas running up the middle with outliers on either side.”

This is particularly important in a community where demographics are shifting. Baby boomers, who are retiring from the workforce in greater numbers, will shift their public safety priorities accordingly. Meanwhile, young people need a format in which to participate effectively.

That’s why planning involves best practices research, including who should do it and how to adapt, train on, and implement their recommendations for police.

Another important piece: recruitment and retention of people who can mirror the community itself. As Russell says, “The organization’s makeup hit a bubble where 1/3 of the people are all retiring in a short timespan. When that happens, all their experience goes away.”

VicPD seeks to hire and train people with many different communication styles, the better to move public relations forward. And, because the agency wants to ingrain social media throughout its operations, it wants people who can focus on taking part in conversations (rather than being technically savvy), which Russell says “brings empathy” on all sides.

Publicizing VicPD’s new focus

Russell says that in lieu of a traditional ad campaign, news media have been helping to generate awareness around the plan—but that word of mouth and social media have been especially crucial in spreading the plan’s content around.

“We’ve changed the way we’re doing social media from a newsfeed, to tweetups and other ways to create personal connections,” Russell explains. “Some of the best conversations happen off hours, in the evenings and weekends.”

VicPD has not yet seen these conversations translated into an offline space; coffee dates, announced on Facebook and Twitter, have not gotten much response.

Finally, Russell says, although VicPD plans to learn from police in other countries, “We’re not looking to do the same thing as everyone else. For example, we’ve seen both right and wrong examples of how to handle the Occupy movement worldwide. The key is to be open and honest with people, not contrived, which many people find offensive.”

Has your agency ever participated in strategic planning for its future? What did that process look like for you?

The future of policing: Public trust

Before I go into this week’s post, I want to draw your attention to a new project being undertaken by a college professor acquaintance who, like me, has worked extensively with law enforcement. In his Jan. 1 blog, he writes:

Seeking LE organization willing to work virtually with supervised university students.

The goal is to give students more exposure to real officers and police administrators and fewer TV cops.

Are you willing to partner with a handful of students with retired-LE professor oversight on a small project tailored to your department/team needs? All project ideas considered, prefer those reated to mobile technology, with no anticipated cost to your organization.

I got excited about this even before Carter referred his readers to Cops 2.0, so please head on over, read the rest of his post and let us know if you’re interested. Thanks!

Policing for a future generation

Carefully balanced, technology can lead the wayI find Carter’s work — bringing younger citizens into active law enforcement research — especially important because, as 2012 begins, I think we need to take stock of where policing currently sits. In recent months I’ve seen a couple of opinions that indicate community policing, as we knew it in the 1990s, is dead; meanwhile, technology provides police with ever-increasing amounts of data about private citizens. Law enforcement, along with the societies it polices, is clearly in transition as technology and privacy collide at unprecedented rates.

This is not just true of the kinds and amount of data an investigator can glean from social media, surveillance video, license plate readers, and so on. It will also increase as law enforcement becomes comfortable with technology such as:

How police use these technologies, the extent to which they use them, and what they do with the data will face intense public and legal scrutiny, as they should. Now’s the time to get comfortable with transparency; if you’re worried about the bad guys finding out how you use technology, then you need to get creative about understanding 1) what the public needs to know and 2) how to communicate it to reduce privacy fears without giving away too many details.

Transparency sits between accountability and exposure

This may be more important than you think. As Scott Dickson wrote the other day, some agencies remain steeped in politics, manipulating their crime statistics by asking officers not to take reports. This, as Scott writes, is a double public relations whammy: not only does it look bad to citizens, who are unlikely to support budget increases for such an unprofessional agency; it also hurts the agency’s ability to see (and thus respond to) emerging problem patterns.

That’s especially worrisome given the balancing act our culture finds itself in as we begin a new decade. This infographic from the Institute for the Future has an interesting item, a “critical balance” of exposure and accountability that notes:

In the face of growing demand for accountability, public exposure will emerge as as a multifaceted strategy for disrupting existing power structures, both hidden and obvious, both criminal and socially beneficial.

There is both danger and opportunity in that balance: danger to certain law enforcement power structures, like the kind that manipulate crime stats. But also opportunity, for innovative investigators to understand and exploit how criminal power structures are being disrupted.

Indeed, Tim Burrows made relevant predictions in his recent post for the IACP Social Media Beat:

  • The ‘love-in’ experienced, “just because” the public’s local police are using social media is over and the public will demand (and deserve) greater accountability.
  • There will be less tolerance for mistakes, faux pas, and ignorance.
  • Working partnerships with individuals of influence, community groups, professional partnerships, and other police agencies will be standard.

As arms of the government, it’s incumbent on police to provide fair leadership to their communities. The law enforcement commander who doesn’t believe he has to justify his agency’s technology use — who believes crime-fighting is justification unto itself — necessarily invites public scrutiny. So does the commander who takes advantage of grant money without a long-term strategy to go with it; both COPS and homeland security programs have seen this happen.

True transparency shows strength, not weakness

This month’s Officer.com column describes using content to serve an agency’s goals, whether related specifically to social media, or more broadly to relationship-building. Besides that column, nearly two years ago (!) I wrote about one example of this kind of activity. There’s a lot of promise for communication. But also a lot of agencies that are so focused on the status quo that they can’t get out of their own way.

Digital content shared through social media can show how police are relevant and important to civil society, as well as weaknesses that need to be shored up. This is the exact opposite of stat manipulation because it’s not trying to cover over weakness; it’s leadership in asking for help to solve the problem.

Yes, the public needs to know a strong police force can competently and adequately enforce laws; but that’s during personal or community crisis. If an agency can’t provide services, in or out of crisis, because it lacks the funds to buy the technology that would enable that provision, then the public deserves to know up front, and deserves to become part of the solution. That was the promise of community policing.

What balances are you striking in your police work?

Creative Commons License photo credit: Calm Vistas

High tech roundup: December 2011

I was blinded by scienceIf you came to this blog by way of Twitter or Facebook, you know that for several months I’ve been using the Scoop.It bookmarking service to aggregate news items about how police are using high tech. One reason I like it: its magazine-style format is nicely laid out, easy to read and easy to digest.

Some highlights from this past month:

Newark police headquarters goes high tech

A “mission control” center for disaster response, a high-tech-investigations room that gives city detectives real-time access to federal crime databases — and a meeting room where community groups can meet with police leaders.

The way this story was packaged caught my eye because even with all the ostensibly “Big Brother” style high tech, some emphasis remained for low-tech face to face relationship-building. I’m pretty naive, but I’d like to think this means NPD will use that room to give adequate attention to those who are worried about the way they’re policing. It’s something for other departments to keep in mind as they move further into the realm of high tech.

Three stories on social network analytics

SAS turns social media analytics into intel weapon focuses on sentiment analysis in 28 languages, while Social network analytics saves lives in Iraq is about artificial intelligence. The SAS article is PR-heavy and the InfoWeek article is somewhat oblique (only so much can be discussed without compromising OPSEC), but both are interesting in that they look at technology police may be using in the not too distant future.

Along similar lines was an article about predictive analytics, which prompted me to post on Facebook: “Used the right way, this may be a hybrid between reactive and proactive/community policing. However, data can never replace human relationships, and police shouldn’t overrely on predictive policing.” It’s an argument I made earlier this year in writing about the value of HUMINT and community policing compared to high tech use.

A two-fer on the use of Predator drones

KXAN in Texas covered a convention of UAV enthusiasts, many of whom do help law enforcement on search and rescue missions. Just a day later, though, the LA Times featured law enforcement use of federal agencies’ drones, questioning whether the routine practice is wise. Although courts have ruled that warrantless aerial surveillance is legal — what’s done out in the open cannot be assumed to be legal — drones make surveillance more accessible to police. Once again, it’s officer safety vs. government transparency.

Predictions for law enforcement technology, community service

Finally, I didn’t bookmark this in Scoop.It but it caught my eye nonetheless, because of the predictions it made for the coming year. Most relevant:

  • A store will be where the customer says it is.
  • Augmented reality and plain old reality will merge.
  • Social traction will correlate to brand affinity.

In a law enforcement context:

If stores are going mobile, be prepared for customers to want to interact with police departments this way, too. I’m not talking just getting your text-message Nixle alerts; I mean e-government services like mobile citation payments, real-time crime mapping, crime reporting, etc. Is your website mobile-friendly? Do you have apps for citizens to use?

AR could be huge for law enforcement. The ability to layer information over buildings and faces, for instance, has enormous tactical implications. The only problem is budgetary. But if you’re fortunate enough to live near a university doing research in this area, that can be one good way to jump on the leading edge.

Finally, “social traction and brand affinity” simply mean that more people will pay attention to you online if you’re giving them information they can trust. Not what you think they should trust — but what they can rely on because it educates and is relevant to them. What they need to know, not what you want them to know.

How are you communicating your agency’s use of high tech to the public?

Creative Commons License photo credit: jumpinjimmyjava

Raw video: Tactics + strategy for a YouTube age

Police filming students during the anti-cuts demonstration in London 26.3.2011A Law Enforcement Today article recently covered the question: what do you do when a civilian starts recording you for a YouTube video?

Regardless of whether your jurisdiction’s policy is to view videotaping as Constitutionally protected free speech, or a danger to officer safety, stated author Jean Reynolds:

Criminal justice experts suggest the following guidelines can go a long way to head off liability problems arising from citizen videotaping:

  1. Always identify yourself immediately as a police officer.
  2. Speak clearly and courteously, avoiding inflammatory slang and street talk.
  3. Use positive words like “cooperate” and “protect” whenever possible.
  4. Describe what you’re doing and why.

One problem: memory in high-stress situations is a tricky thing, as the Force Science Research Center has shown. That’s compounded by the fact that online video is as easily edited as it is recorded.

Weeks following the pepper-spraying of UC/Davis student protesters — once the damage had been done to both agency’s and officers’ reputations — an “extended cut” of the incident surfaced. In fact, the officer responsible for pepper spray use, along with his colleagues, had communicated extensively with students before spraying them.

Emphasize strategic as much as tactical messaging

Telling officers to “behave professionally at all times,” regardless of what they’re doing, where they are or whether they’re being videoed, is important… but overemphasizes the tactical aspect of a situation. Department commanders should also consider strategic aspects, including:

Community culture. Watching the full UC/Davis video was almost like watching newsreel from 1968. The protesters were organized, using professional activist tactics to push the situation in the direction they wanted it to go. Police commanders need to be not just aware of activist organizations in their communities, but also in regular contact with them before, during, and following events — acting “as facilitators rather than a force to be confronted.”

The nature of journalism. Traditional journalists have argued that “citizen journalists,” who are not beholden to the same ethical standards, can edit video, text and images with impunity (among other issues). Professional media, however, are not immune; their businesses are suffering, and they’re hungry for saleable stories. So while police and media may have reached a communication standoff in many communities, helping media understand the specific agency’s point of view is key to helping citizens understand.

The messages they themselves are transmitting — intended or unintended – to their communities. After I posted the LE Today article to my Google+ stream, I received this response from a civilian:

The article alludes that there is a “problem” with the video taping of police?… Why is it a “problem” when citizens do it, but its “for protection” when the all-seeing-eye is on a cruiser’s dashboard? If you’re doing your job honorably, and following protocol, in many cases, that tape just became (or should have) “your protection”, no?… These [four items] sound like things [police officers] should ALWAYS be doing (esp. #1 & 2), regardless of any “problem” or “fear” of recording.

In other words, a “do as I say, not as I do” approach will not encourage the kind of relationship-building which most chiefs agree is essential to community policing.

Open government and officer safety need not be at odds

Officer safety is a real concern, but to my knowledge, no one has been able to point to ambushes that happened because attackers had been studying videos of police tactics. Some of the highest profile ambushes have been crimes of opportunity: four officers killed in a coffee shop, several shot as they sat in their idling cruisers, an officer killed during a traffic stop.

Governments at all levels pay lip service to embracing transparency without understanding what it entails, which is usually a path full of thorns involving personal privacy, sometimes ugly truths, and the hard work needed to fix problems (often despite tight budgets). However, many Americans, both left and right, express fear that we are sliding towards — or living in — a police state. Officer safety is as much a function of public trust as it is tactical prudence. Law enforcement agencies that champion transparency, starting with public scrutiny for their officers’ actions, will go a long way towards assuaging that fear.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Cleaner Croydon