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.
In 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!
Nearly 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.
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?
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.
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?
In 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.