Category Archives: Featured

#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?

Now tweeting: #copchat, the new resource for law enforcement

Twitter chats can build communityIn the monthly column I write for Officer.com, I’ve referred to Toronto police Sgt. Tim Burrows several times. Back when I joined Twitter in late 2008, Tim was just one of the very few sworn police officers tweeting and blogging with a pioneering eye toward building a community, a virtual extension of the one he actually served. Eventually, his activity — rare among police active in social media, though thankfully less rare now — became the seed (and later, the foundation) for the way Toronto Police Service implemented social media throughout its service.

I’ve often wished for a way to work directly with Tim on some project, and why I’m so pleased that after months of on-and-off talk, we’ve found it: #copchat, a new Twitter chat we’ll be cohosting on Wednesday nights at 9 p.m. Eastern. Tim has posted more details on his Walking the Social Media Beat blog; one of the things I’m most excited about is the cross-section the chat represents between social media and technology use in general (including the digital forensics world I inhabit), and the chance to continue building a community that’s already pretty strong.

Join us next Wednesday night, 6/27 at 9 p.m. EDT. Use the #copchat hashtag through tools like TweetDeck, HootSuite or TweetChat. Everyone is welcome — and we look forward to learning as much from you as we hope you’ll learn from us!

Blue Light Camp: In the UK, Spotlight on social media after 2011 riots

BlueLightCamp social media unconferenceNearly a year ago, as I caught up on tweets following my talk at the Police Leadership Conference, a series of tweets caught my eye. They came from Sasha Taylor, Chair of the National Police Web Managers Group.

Sasha and I got into a good discussion about social media use in law enforcement, and although my work took me in a different direction last year, he stayed on my radar. Which was why I got back in touch with him a few weeks ago, when he tweeted about the upcoming Blue Light Camp: an “unconference” designed to discuss public safety best practices for social media.

The free, daylong event will take place on Sunday, April 15th from 9am to 5pm at Manchester Central exhibition centre—the day before British APCO’s annual event. It will focus in particular on social media use in times of unrest, drawing from UK experiences in 2011. Cops 2.0 talked further about it with Camp organizer Paul Coxon:

How does BlueLightCamp fill a hole in crisis-related discussions that other gov-related or police-related conferences left open?

BlueLightCamp is unique in that it is the first truly multidisciplinary emergency services unconference in the UK. Most other conferences would either be for the police authorities or the fire services or front-line healthcare or social care providers, to our knowledge no one has yet created an event that brought them all together. Sasha recognised that a lot of the conversations being had within the police and healthcare arenas cut across all Blue Light Services and there was learning that could be of benefit to all.

The other big difference about Blue Light Camp is that, aside from the sectors involved, we are not dictating who should attend and already we have an exciting mix of communicators, front-line workers, people in senior and strategic roles and even research scientists who have signed up to attend.

What about the “unconference” format do you feel will best facilitate the discussions you envision taking place?

I used to have a boss who loved going to conferences because, in his own words, it was an easy day were he didn’t have to do anything and could basically sleep. Unfortunately for a lot of people that is what conferences are about, but that’s not what an unconference is about. Unconferences will not work without everyone playing their part and for this reason they attract the type of people who want to engage around the topics.

The type of people who want to engage are the type of people that are likely to share their learning and experiences, the type of people who will lead positive change in their organisation and the wider sector, and that is what Blue Light Camp is about, creating the conversations that lead to positive change.

In addition to this, unconferences often take place out of work hours, those attending do so in their own time and at their own cost, which contributes to making them more willing to participate, network, share best practice and take away new ideas to their organisations/local networks.

Crisis management and mapping will be presented. Any other sessions you know of that are (at least roughly) planned?

The beauty of an unconference is you won’t really know the sessions that will be pitched until delegates begin pitching them, but we are hopeful to see examples of how 24-hour tweeting has worked for police service and council services, the ways in which Facebook and Twitter have been used to engage communities, metrics of SM channels, gamification are all topics discussed at other conferences.

People often discuss other areas of SM such as use of QR codes, Wikipedia, open data, blogging and general communications. We also have research fellows attending from the Disaster 2.0 project which is looking at use of social media during disasters and emergencies.

People come to unconferences to either share an idea or an experience so will lead a session for this reason; others will have barriers/questions that they would like discuss with others that have experienced the same issues or have the expertise to find a solution. Sharing at its best.

How many of your participants will also attend BAPCO, and what do you hope they will bring with them from BLC?

One of the perks of signing up with Blue Light Camp is membership of British APCO, who are our venue sponsors, we would hope as many BlueLightCamp-ers as possible will stick around for the BAPCO Annual Exhibition and Development Sessions, but more than this, we hope they will carry on the BlueLightCamp conversations with those BAPCO members who were not able to attend.

Paul, David and Sasha will also be on hand throughout the BAPCO event to continue any conversations from the BlueLightCamp event and to help with any social media surgeries to continue the sharing experiences  and best practice.

Will you make available content for people who were unable to attend BLC?

We will be making BLC content available across a number of channels before, during and after the event, from videos, blogs, podcasts, and live-tweeting. The main source of information will always be the BlueLightCamp site:  http://bluelightcamp.wordpress.com/

Participants are expected and encouraged to tweet throughout the event and people often blog about their experiences post event. Many of the new connections people make continue well beyond the closing speeches at the event.

Anything else you would like to mention? 

So far, the response  to BlueLightCamp has been very positive with 75% of the 170 tickets going within three weeks of our launch. We have a variety of brilliant sponsors that have the vision to support these events and thus making them free for the attendees. Without the sponsors unconferences would not be so easy to put on.

After a, hopefully, successful event this year planning will start again for 2013 with the aim of making this a regular calendar event for Blue Light Services.

Blue Light Camp will be open to all UK Blue Light Services and those people who work with them. Join them in Manchester on April 15; if you can’t make the event, be sure to follow along with the #BlueLightCamp hashtag on Twitter! Vendors may also want to consider sponsoring the event.

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?

Catching up with Cops 2.0

Futuroscope10 (92 of 107)Over the past few weeks I’ve posted a couple of articles about the police role in the Occupy movement. After my borderline hiatus from Cops 2.0 this year, you might be wondering: why come back now?

After I spoke at the Police Leadership Conference in Vancouver last April, my public relations work took off (coincidentally rather than causally). I moved with my family to a new apartment, got ingrained with some big client projects, and experienced some instability in my personal life that led to a process of filtering what — and who — is important from what isn’t.

Over time, although I wasn’t sure what I could say here that I hadn’t already said, I kept feeling as if there was, indeed, something more. That’s reflected in the projects I’ve been involved with this year, including:

A book chapter on bringing “digital natives” — members of generations who have never known a world without technology — into law enforcement. Coauthored with my colleague and friend Lt. David Hubbard of the Eustis (Fla.) Police Department, the chapter discusses recruitment, retention and management issues. You can find it in the book “Dancing with Digital Natives,” published by CyberAge Books.

Following on that chapter, I wrote a short blog post at the DwDN blog about “social rioting,” and a likewise short piece for FUMSI about police taking responsibility for the vast new powers which technology brings them.

Perhaps more salient is my new column for Officer.com. I’ve spent six previous columns talking about various aspects of social media, including strategy, metrics, whether social media is all that much of a force multiplier, and related issues. That led to editor-in-chief Frank Borelli inviting me on Officer Radio (11-17-11) to talk broadly about social media and law enforcement, and I hope to be back soon to discuss further.

I can’t promise that I’ll return to weekly blogging — things are still in flux in my professional life — but Cops 2.0 is still important to me, and as always I welcome suggestions, questions and comments.

What do you think is most important for police to learn about communicating at the intersection of technology and service?

Creative Commons License photo credit: jez.atkinson

Help is not a (dirty) 4 letter word

Hand of HelpIn the rush to understand all the high tech getting thrown at us on a pretty much constant basis, I think we often forget what the tech is actually for: to connect. With other human beings.

Back in the ’80s and ’90s, the promise of computer technology was better efficiency. We’d be able to automate rote tasks such that we’d be able to spend more time, better time, with friends and family.

That hasn’t happened. We automate a lot, but we’ve also found new uses for the technology, ones that require us to spend the same number of hours at work. In many cases we’ve made connections with people that never would’ve been possible without the tech; we’ve formed friendships, made a real difference in others’ lives.

But in other ways, we’re more disconnected. Maybe not more so than before, but not in lesser proportion, either. And just like always, including before high tech, we don’t always realize it until something goes wrong.

This afternoon I found out that a man I knew and very much respected had committed suicide just a few hours previously. Trey Pennington was a wonderful, engaging person, one of the first to welcome me to Greenville’s professional community, and who always inspired me with his kindness and graciousness.

I watched the condolences and memories and expressions of grief spill over his Facebook page, my Twitter stream. Among them: “One of the worst things about social media is we can be surrounded by so many and still feel completely alone.”

Trey wasn’t a cop—he was a marketer who understood the great potential of social media and human relationships to marketing—but I’m writing about his death here because his depression and suicide mirror the pressures experienced (disproportionately so) in the law enforcement community.

Building the line stronger

Helplessness carries stigma. Especially for those sworn to protect and serve, to be a rock for people who have none, to admit weakness is to weaken the thin blue line. At least, that’s what a lot of people believe (including the officers who are afraid they’ll be fired, censured, reassigned or otherwise chastened for disclosing their problem).

Even apart from that, to ask for help is a risk. The risk you take that you’ll be rejected by those who are “more successful” or “too happy for me to bring them down” or “going places” or even simply “got enough to worry about” can seem unbearable. You don’t want to trouble them. And yes, there are some who will feel troubled, and will let you know.

But the fact is, leaving the weak to fend for themselves is what weakens the line. There are others, true friends, who will stand up and be the rock you need. They deserve the chance to do that for you.

We can do better, people. All our social connections mean nothing if we can’t come together and share our burdens, however heavy they are, and do it in a real and meaningful way. Meanwhile, for those who don’t have those connections, or can’t bring themselves to ask them:

If you’re in law enforcement and you feel suicidal, Safe Call Now was established specifically for public safety personnel, by public safety personnel. Call them. Especially if you don’t feel you can rely on those you’re closest to.

If you know someone in law enforcement (or any public safety profession) you are concerned about, contact Safe Call Now to find out how you might be able to help. Be brave. It can take a lot to help someone who is depressed. But it can mean a lot, too.

If you are a non-public-safety person reading this and you feel suicidal, but don’t feel as if you can reach out to those in your immediate network, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

(I know it can be hard to reach out to strangers. But in many ways, talking to a stranger who has no ties to you, no history and therefore no baggage, can help in ways you may not realize. It’s a different perspective, and their caring comes from a different place. So please call one of the above resources if you need to.)

None of us has to go through life alone, and none of us should die because we felt too alone to go on. Love social media or hate it, be the connections your friends and family and colleagues need—even if it doesn’t seem like they do.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Alex E. Proimos