Category Archives: Reputation management

Social media and the cash-strapped agency

How are budget cuts affecting your agency?

How are budget cuts affecting your agency?

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

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

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

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

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

Image: Thunderchild_tm via Flickr

Guest post: The social-traditional media balance

Proportions may be different, but social and traditional media use balance

Proportions may be different, but social and traditional media use balance

Sgt. Tim Burrows, of the Toronto Police Traffic Services, doesn’t just think about “being on social media”—he thinks in terms of communication, the best ways to get his messages across. That’s why his mix of professional and personable is one of the best examples I’ve seen of how to “get” using social media.

Which is why his recent lessons learned about the balance between putting information out both socially and traditionally are well worth attention:

A basic communication principle

The other morning I received a phone call from a friend to tell me that a local radio station was talking about my use of Twitter. The producer of the show was essentially calling me a hypocrite for telling people to not drive distracted but doing it in a forum where people could be reading “tweets” while driving.

I was “called out” publicly. I had no choice; I had to call the station and defend what I was doing. We all know that there are multiple mediums where a person can receive their updates. On a mobile device while driving is just one possibility. There is also sitting at a desk, reading the tweet in a radio station booth on a desktop computer…which is how the host and producer received my tweets.

If I truly believed that everyone who received a tweet from me was doing so while driving, I would never tweet again. However, I find that the “know before you go” philosophy works with what I am doing.

Social and traditional media complement each other

But what happened that morning wasn’t just a great opportunity to get on a soapbox and talk about the danger of distracted driving or continue my push for road safety. What happened was an important reminder of a basic communication principal for me:

As much as I have been concentrating on expanding my influence and voice within social media, probably the same way many of you may be doing, never ignore or overlook main stream media.

It was the use of social media that got the mainstream media radio host and producer talking on the air. It was the mainstream media that gave me an opportunity to advertise what I was doing both on social media and why I was there. I was using both social media and the mainstream media to spread the message of road safety.

I told the host that when I started out using Twitter it was to let the mainstream media know what was happening on Toronto’s streets. In turn, they could let the public listeners, readers and viewers know what was happening. I could pound out a message in less then 140 characters allowing multiple mainstream media outlets get that same message at the same time.

From a time management perspective alone, this is an effective and efficient medium, but it is only 140 characters. If there is a story, at some point in time, you will have to rely on traditional media to carry that message to the many members of your community that are not using social media.

The takeaways

1) What are people saying about you and your department?
2) What opportunities does that give you to educate them (as opposed to defending yourself)?
3) Do you know which tools people are using to listen? How can you use—and integrate—them to best effect?

Tell them why, and the how comes naturally

Podcasting can be an excellent form of professional branding for law enforcement

Podcasting can be an excellent form of professional branding for law enforcement

Gen. George Patton’s quote has been one of my favorites since I was in Air Force ROTC, and it came to mind again tonight as I was being interviewed for a podcast.

“Inside the Core” producers Dave Melvin and Chris Curran, who (along with partners Reggy Chapman and Ryan Kubasiak) are computer forensic examiners specializing in Apple products. Their purpose for inviting me on the show: they wanted to know about what Cops 2.0 is all about and what I’d be covering next. As it turned out, what I do isn’t far off what they do: they’ve been called to collect evidence from social network sites for internal investigations.

I remember rambling a lot, but one thing that stuck out to my own mind—as I talked about the series on standards I just wrote—is the idea I came up with, quite out of the blue, that the more individual cops use social media in a professional capacity, the less (I’ll bet) ethics and policies will be violated.

Tell them why…

Officers in social spaces sign up with the intent, usually, just to be social. See what the hype is all about, reconnect with old high school friends, connect with other cops. Social is, in short, their goal. Little wonder that they fail to think about professional ethics when they update their Facebook status with inappropriate pictures and messages: they’re not thinking in terms of “professional.”

So it’s incumbent on their leaders to guide them, not just in what not to say, but in what they can do alternatively for themselves. While I hate the term “personal branding,” in some ways, it fits. I’ve blogged before about expert branding, and I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say regular patrol officers can “brand” themselves as such, too.

That isn’t to say that officers cannot have online personal lives, as the Washington Post’s policy (noted in a scathing blog entry) suggests. But it does need to take into account the ideas discussed here:

[T]he reality is that in a sense, none of us is ever really off the clock anymore. Because of advancements in technology, the line of distinction between our professional and personal lives has been blurred. We use our cell phones and laptops to make dental appointments for our children one moment and communicate with a business client or a co-worker the next.

…and the how comes naturally

Back to “Inside the Core.” Until very recently, co-producer Curran, a civilian member of a municipal law enforcement agency, flew under the radar. Way under. His Twitter handle had nothing to do with his real name, nor did his e-mail address. It was months before he disclosed his identity to me, and then only because of my involvement with the digital forensic community.

Recently, however, he’s started to tweet forensic information as @TheChrisCurran, reserving his other account for more personal tweets. I asked him why the switch? His response:

Flying under the radar was the initial point as I felt out Twitter. Using my real name now is important as I try to branch out with “Inside the Core” and with the teaching side of my career. I felt that it would be a more appropriate “professional” angle, as on Twitter I have made a great deal of connections within the industry and outside the industry.

I want to isolate my career from my side stuff. I enjoy the use of social media but I limit it. For work purposes, I have my [undercover] Facebook, MySpace, and other accounts. Those that have no ties to me or work. My personal life, I keep a tight lip on. With privacy settings and monikers I do not make information available.

Likewise, recent incidents involving professionals making gratuitous mistakes with their social media accounts, reminds me daily to think twice before hitting that “enter” key.  One bad sentence can ruin your whole career.

With that in mind, it is important to always be a true professional. It is never outside the realm of possibility that you will be tied to a statement. On the flip side, idle thoughts should still be allowed, otherwise we have no starting points for spirited discussions.

And if patrol officers are not technically “experts”? Actually, I think you’d be hard pressed to find a cop who doesn’t have a professional passion. Whether something from their background or something they encounter daily, issues like traffic safety, domestic violence, child abuse, property crimes, gangs, and so on all resonate in different ways with different officers. They might also choose to be generalists, blogging on a range of topics.

The point is, the personal experience informs the professional information, makes it easy for the public to relate to the officer. To get to that point, however, leaders within an agency must be prepared to mentor officers who choose to be involved with social media.

And no, I don’t think leaders have a choice. These are not the days of being able to deny an untoward comment made in a bar. Everything is archived on the Web—everything, including deleted pages.

Failure to understand how the tools work, or forbidding them outright, means the department opens itself to liability from officers who (for instance) tweet about calls to which they’re responding—without their supervisors ever knowing it. Better to learn, understand, then train and guide in appropriate usage; not just for officer safety, but for all the potential social media carries.

How can you help your officers brand themselves as professionals?

Image: brainblogger via Flickr

What, exactly, is the standard?

A "higher standard" requires police officers to think about what they are doing.

A "higher standard" requires police officers to think about what they are doing.

My commenters on the last post got me thinking: police departments (and other professions) demand officers hold themselves to a “higher standard” of conduct. So what’s that standard? What does it mean? How are officers expected to know where the lines are?

The “higher standard” is subjective

These are not easy questions to answer. Young people have, as in previous generations, different standards from those that came before. As commenter H. Carvey pointed out in a follow-up e-mail exchange, he has seen teenagers share Facebook passwords with each other so they can update each other’s statuses, share photos of each other without obtaining permission (sometimes with rude comments attached). And we all know the debate about sexting.

In a police context, officers are now surrounded online by people calling other people stupid. A young recruit may believe that saying “people are stupid,” for instance, is “not as bad” as calling them “stupid redneck bimbos.” And there’s the old freedom-of-speech issue.

But as Carvey, a former Marine, says, “Obtaining a position of authority does not remove your freedom of speech… it simply places you in a position of greater responsibility of the use of that freedom.”

Social networking is a new take on old human interaction. And if communication is, at least in part, about pushing the boundaries with each other, then social networking magnifies this tendency. The trick for police managers is in learning how to help cops push the right boundaries.

Training officers to think first

Good ethics training teaches what and why and how: as Carvey says, the purpose behind the standard, the need for it to exist. Good ethics training starts at the police academy and continues on through field and in-service training. It’s not just left to a policy or set of policies, but is incorporated into every piece of training an officer attends.

That covers the department’s butt in the event of misconduct. But it doesn’t necessarily solve the problem of teaching officers to think about what they are doing and saying.

Case in point. Last year, one of my sources (Lt. David Hubbard of the Eustis FL Police Department) conducted an internal investigation of one of his officers for Tasing a 14-year-old at a birthday party. Not because the teen was out of control or attacking anyone—but because he asked the officer, a personal friend, to Tase him.

Several things stand out about this incident, which ended up on YouTube:

  • EPD had conducted a thorough background check of the officer, who before he was hired had been a nonsworn bailiff at a nearby sheriff’s department.
  • His Taser training had included rules of conduct, including “don’t Tase your friends.”
  • Just off probation, he had never had any other disciplinary problems, and was considered a good officer.
  • The video shows him essentially “training” the teen on what to expect.
  • He took full responsibility for the incident, not even trying to blame it on drinking too much.

Ultimately, the officer quit before being fired; because he’d not only Tased a juvenile, but also failed to do enough to stop underage drinking, termination was the only possible outcome. As Hubbard told me, “The ethics were there—he just exercised poor judgment.” And therein lies the rub.

So the challenge to police administrators is not just to teach according to policy about unofficial use of government property, or liability, or the other usual suspects. It’s also how to teach people to empathize with those who feel wronged by an action, when 1) they themselves would not feel wronged if the same action were done to them, 2) they “got consent,” or 3) when the sense of feeling wronged is a normal part of life for them.

It’s not, in other words, enough to ask officers to “maintain the professionalism of the department, and to nothing to bring shame or disgrace upon yourself, your fellow officers, your department, or your profession” because when people don’t even get that certain conduct (like sexting) is shameful—because they don’t see it that way for themselves—they’re not going to think about professionalism in the same way their supervisors are.

Constant, continuous ethics training

To get officers out of their own heads and into what civilians think (and why they should care) will take commitment: “…more training and education, more mentoring and working more closely with some folks, and a lot more oversight,” says Carvey.

Best way to accomplish this, when training budgets (as in Eustis PD) are being slashed? There, ethics are being worked into the high-liability training the agency must focus on. Hubbard is also a proponent of career mentoring for young officers, helping them move toward careers in law enforcement rather than just a job at an agency.

As Carvey notes, instilling professionalism in young officers is no different than instilling anything else they don’t bring to the job. To use a street example, you can’t assume that just because an officer can run five miles means he can chase and tackle a suspect safely; he needs training to put his physical abilities in context of his job.

Carvey rightly points out: “Why does a standard have to be objectively defined? Doing so basically says that we as individuals and adults simply aren’t capable and mature enough to make our own decisions…. A lot of folks want to be cops, so they are willing to learn… if they aren’t, then they need to go.”

Taking responsibility for mistakes

One last point, something that ties directly to social media usage: as Hubbard noted, his officer took responsibility for his mistake, as did the Bozeman officer, both resigning their positions.

While an agency may bear no responsibility for its officer’s bad decisions, it does have responsibility to regain public trust. Social media cannot “save the day,” but properly applied, it can show an agency willing to take a look at itself—hiring, training, and related practices—and either to make changes when needed, or to show the public how it fulfilled its responsibility.

Eustis, incidentally, is using social media. You can find them on Twitter and Facebook. While Hubbard acknowledges that the agency is still working out how to use it, his view of how to handle bad PR fits with the “be honest” strategy:

When the news breaks, post a message from the chief. Link to all news accounts—good and bad—about the incident. Let people talk about it on the department Facebook page and other venues.

The old saw about “an ounce of prevention” still holds, however, and standard-setting should be based on Carvey’s take: “Set the standard, then reinforce and mentor. Don’t just address those who come close or fall short, but address those that do well, those that encounter a situation and choose correctly. Create a sense of ownership and build confidence in the standard.”

Image: cambodia4kidsorg via Flickr

Just how high does the standard need to be?

stupidThinking about the Bozeman officer who resigned over his Facebook status updates made me think: What, exactly, do we civilians expect from our police officers?

Because I’ve heard comments along the same lines from dozens of other cops. Civilians, too. Take this one from one of my own Facebook friends:

“….I suffer fools not at all. Stupidity makes me so sad. Moreover, I simply cannot believe the number of people moving through life who are totally clueless.”

Or the comments on this news article.

I see this kind of thing every time the news posts something about people who shouldn’t be allowed to drive, breed, or leave the house. In fact, I’d wager, it’s a rare person who doesn’t at least think this way (or cross the line into what many would consider racist, classist, or other offensive territory).

So why do we expect different from cops?

It’s worth thinking about if you are contemplating officer participation in social media. Valeria Maltoni writes, “Many companies have written solid policies and guides to social media participation… [but as] more employees participate, there will be a need for more conversations about what staying in character means.”

Some agencies have forbidden officers from identifying themselves as police officers altogether. Not only does this protect the agency, it also protects the officer who may end up doing online undercover work.

And that’s a start, but I can’t help thinking it’s not fair to the good, responsible officers, for whom police work is an integral part of who they are. Not to mention, at least in a place like Facebook, there will always be some “friends” who know what s/he does for a living.

So why isn’t it OK for police to be as honest as the rest of us in their opinions of humanity? Quick and easy answer, straight from the Bozeman lawsuit itself: because of their authority. Anyone who carries around weapons in the course of their daily work automatically has “one up” on us. If they view us as stupid, what’s to stop them from using those weapons to “put us in our place”?

The same thing, in most cases, that stops us from using whatever weapons are at hand—kitchen knives, baseball bats, words—to put others in place whom we feel are being “stupid.” Conscience, experience. In fact, cops are even less likely to use weapons than we are, when they’re well trained. It’s when emotion and stress overwhelm training that they start to act more like—well, us, at our worst.

Yet we continue to demand better, even after things like the Stanford Prison Experiment and Stanley Milgram’s electric shock experiments prove that very few humans—fewer than we’d like to think—are capable of taking the moral high ground, that not only are some of us not better than others; frequently, we’re worse than our beliefs about ourselves.

Ego, not authority

So I think the main concern with police being allowed to voice their personal opinions is less about their authority and more about our ego. As humans, we go along in life mainly wanting to be liked. Deep down, we want to think we’re doing the right thing, that we’re smart for making the choices we made, and that we’ll be forgiven for making the wrong choices.

So when someone openly calls us stupid? What nerve. And how much worse when it’s someone we want to respect. Most of us want respect back from those we look up to. Knowing we don’t have it threatens our sense of who we are.

Pop psychology, right? But zoom back. I’m not just talking about a one-to-one reaction of citizen to police officer. It works the other way, too—when police departments join social networking sites, hoping to establish relationships with their publics.

Just as individuals tend to prefer to remain ignorant about what others really think of us, organizations find themselves rudely awakened by customers tweeting or blogging about a bad customer-service experience.

True—police departments are used to this, have been for decades. But because social media demands we listen before engaging, the new territory for police is 1) opening themselves to more criticism than usual and 2) facing the need to do something about it.

And really, that’s what causes us as individuals the ego-discomfort with criticism, too. We all want to think we’re getting it right. Seeing that we might not be scares us—because it means we will need to change our ways. Who wants to do that? When you’ve been doing something the same way for years, where would you even start to change?

To protect ourselves, we lash out. It can’t be us, we think; it must be the person doing the judging. There’s no way I could have been speeding; I’m a careful driver. That cop didn’t calibrate his radar this morning.

Likewise, regardless of how accustomed police are to criticism, we hear: These people have no idea what goes into what we do. We work hard trying to keep them safe. Can’t please everyone.

We are them, they are us

Folks, these are the reasons WHY we are on social media. Those of us who have jumped aboard have experienced first-hand how it can bridge gaps. Most of us understand that social media is about bringing together people with widely divergent experiences, communicating differences with an eye toward fixing the problems they pose.

Yes, reducing human interaction to words on a screen enables criminals to hide more easily, but the criminal mind will always take advantage of well-purposed tools. For the rest of us, social media equalizes. Reducing interaction to words on a screen also reduces the likelihood of our making unfair assumptions about each other—and enables us to correct those assumptions made more easily.

So while guidelines should indeed determine whether and how much officers participate in social media, self-identifying as officers, administrators should bear in mind that if you worry too much about controlling the message, you risk turning the public away altogether.

Set guidelines. Reprimand officers who blog or tweet or whatever outside them. Apologize to the public for the problem. Remind them that we’re all just learning this space and how to coexist in it. Promise that you’ll do better next time—and, because the medium is the equalizer, ask the same of them. Agree to forgive each other when you fall short of that, as we all do.

Isn’t that what we all want?

Image: Kevin Marks via Flickr

Guest post: The social media officer

Coralville PD community relations officer Meleah Droll tweets as @CoralvillePD; can a social media officer position be far behind?

Coralville PD community relations officer Meleah Droll tweets as @CoralvillePD; can a social media officer position be far behind?

When Mike Vallez launched his social media blog a few weeks ago, I was struck by a comment he made in one of his first posts: “I would venture to guess that in the future you will have a social media police officer or many social media police officers that will be involved in “the conversation'”….

I asked him to elaborate on that comment: Should they do ALL of the social media for a PD, or should they simply monitor all the channels and direct outreach efforts? What role would they play during critical incidents? What experience should they have? How would they interact and cooperate with other officers doing public outreach?

Mike’s answers, reprinted with permission below, provide much food for thought:

As time goes on and social media continues to become more prevalent in people’s lives, law enforcement is going to have to deal with the Goliath known as social media.

I firmly believe that if there are not already full-time social media police officers; that there will be dedicated social media police officers, communications officers, etc. in the very near future. Is it outlandish to consider positing a police officer on the computer 24/7 to monitor and Tweet or Facebook out information? I don’t think so.

Social media management

As social media changes, so does the management of social media. Police departments are going to have to include social media into their communications policies or standard operating procedures (SOP). Communication for law enforcement agencies usually falls to the Public Information Officer (PIO), but is usually managed by the chief or his executives.

Law enforcement needs to embrace social media and investigate what benefits they can realize. These may include better communication with their customers, cost savings, and gaining respect from the citizens they police through authenticity/honesty.

On the flip side police, departments are going to have to find knowledgeable individuals either inside or outside their departments who have social media experience to implement these policies correctly. If a social media policy is not implemented correctly then it probably won’t be understood by the community or the agency. Hence the agency in question will realize a social media failure and will be hesitant to use this powerful communication tool going forward.

The social media officer’s duties

Most law enforcement agencies will adapt and embrace social media over the next few years as a valid communication tool, out of necessity. You will see social media police officers that monitor the bigger social media websites like Twitter and Facebook.

A few duties these officers may have is to monitor what is being said about their agency (Twitter side search box) so they can respond to possible discrepant information or help a citizen with a problem proactively. These officers can Tweet out or send Facebook messages on a variety of things: traffic accidents, crime prevention, crime patterns, videos of crimes, etc.

Another duty would be to have a blog about their department, covering human issues within the department to reach out for that personal touch with the community. Does this position have to be a sworn law enforcement officer? This could be up for debate. Maybe this position would fall in the PIO’s area and then again maybe not. [Christa notes: some community relations officers fill this role. Cops 2.0 partner Scott White is his agency’s IT manager.]

The social media dispatcher

When people start to report crimes on Twitter and Facebook, which has already happened, I think there is a good argument to have a sworn law enforcement officer tracking this information. The officer would be able to communicate tips, suspect descriptions, etc. to his fellow officers from a trained police officer’s perspective.

[This creates] the argument that Twitter and Facebook communication should fall under the onus of the communications section (dispatchers). Dispatchers are trained how to handle stressful situations, specifically communicating with victims.

But, why not have Twitter and Facebook fall in all of these areas? Use the department’s main Twitter account as the feed and have the different sections monitor this feed. You can have a SOP, which points out what Tweets or Facebook communications will be handled by whom. This is called Social Media dispatching, which is not too much different than regular telecommunication dispatching.

Social media is here for now and growing at an exponential rate. Law enforcement agencies that turn a blind eye to social media will eventually be caught in a firestorm. This will most likely happen when social media could have been used for prevention or warning of real time incidents, but was not and a negative outcome results.

Social media police officers, social media dispatchers, social media community service officers are all going to be on the horizon due to the cultural changes that are occurring in how people communicate using social media.

How might your agency benefit from a dedicated social media officer?

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