Tag Archives: Dan Alexander

“Hands On” Demo for Social Media

Social media is not just the latest "shiny object" for law enforcement

Social media is not just the latest "shiny object" for law enforcement

Regular readers might remember Sgt. Tom Le Veque from my interview with him in August, which detailed how he carefully researched his community before setting up a social media presence on behalf of the Arcadia (CA) Police Officers’ Association.

Recently, Sgt. Le Veque attended a 140 Characters Conference in Los Angeles. There, three police chiefs talked about Twitter, social media, and communication. Sgt. Le Veque wrote up his takeaways in a good overview of how law enforcement agencies are using social media as 2009 draws to a close:

A communication evolution

Several vendors set up shop in one of our department training rooms last week, peddling the newest models of body armor, AirSoft weapons, and assorted tactical gear. Live demonstrations followed in the range and the hands-on experience was well worth the time invested to attend.

I have learned over the years that those of us in law enforcement like to see and touch new products and technology. You only need to look at the attendance numbers that regional trade show events like CopsWest and Trexpo produce to see that our profession is in love with the latest and greatest when it comes to tools of the trade.

Up to date equipment, use of modern technology, continual training and development of personnel, and constant evaluation of policy and procedure are a few examples of positive attributes of a progressive and quality law enforcement agency.

But in the society and culture that surround us today, that is not enough. It is said that change is slow and difficult. The days of strict “paramilitary” police work have passed. Society has asked law enforcement to evolve into a business that includes community partnerships, transparency, and accountability, while at the same time, upholding the law and “fighting” crime.

We have not been asked to step away from our role as law enforcement officers, but rather to improve the way we do business. Answering these challenges and changes for law enforcement is not necessarily something found in a booth at the next trade show, but rather a change in philosophy and simply modifying the “way“ that we do business.

Law enforcement managers should look to their own personnel for one easy answer to help in this “change.” At a recent #140 Character (Twitter) conference, Chief John Stacey of the Bellevue Police Department in Nebraska discussed BPD’s use of social media. Chief Stacey described how a young officer “lit up” during a recent briefing where the Chief mentioned that he would be out of town for a Twitter conference. The young officer was surprised that the Chief knew what Twitter was all about.

That officer and the Chief had never really engaged in conversation before that moment, but because of that common ground have developed a new and improved rapport. This small example serves as both a tool for internal personnel development and investment in an agency, but moreover breaches the tip of a much greater tool for reaching out to your community.

Chief Stacey is among a growing group of law enforcement administrators who have embraced the use of social media as a tool to engage, communicate, and interact with the folks that their police agencies serve. The Los Angeles Police Department, the Sacramento Police Department, and the Whittier Police Department in California, each host a blog, and actively interact with their communities.

Some police agencies, like Bellevue, have taken the use of social media further.  Bellevue PD, like the Lakeland Police Department in Florida, has both a Twitter and a Facebook page. BPD even encourages their individual police officers to send “tweets” about activity while at work.

The Oxnard Police Department in California has asked a lead officer from each beat or sector within the city to send out Twitter updates specific to their service area. OPD also produces web video providing crime info, press release information, and other information to promote their agency.

YouTube is also being used by law enforcement to deliver assorted messages and embedded video. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department in Nevada and the Milwaukee Police Department in Wisconsin are two agencies utilizing YouTube. Media releases, crime prevention tips, suspect wanted bulletins, missing persons, are all examples of potential use of video releases from a police agency.

The Boca Raton Police Department in Florida and Chief Dan Alexander have taken the concept of mixing social media and Law Enforcement even further. BRPD has a project called VIPER that packages the best of their use of social media use in a one stop shop. VIPER allows the Boca Raton community to interact with BRPD by use of video, Twitter, Facebook, crime mapping, news, email alerts, and more. BRPD provides text messages and email information through a service known as Nixle. Nixle is available at many agencies and local government agencies across the country.

Think about your own personnel, your family, and friends. How many of them are carrying a web enabled phone with them everywhere they go? Technology has put cameras, news reporting, and instant delivery of information in the hands of virtually every person on the street.

Take advantage of this wave and go “hands on” with social media. Explore the benefits and learn about the positive impact your agency can have by interacting, listening, and being involved with your community by using social media as a tool for law enforcement.

Image: Abby_Lanes via Flickr

Case study: How Boca Raton PD responds to community needs

Visibility, Intelligence, Partnerships, Education, and Resources make up the Boca Police VIPER brand.

Visibility, Intelligence, Partnerships, Education, and Resources make up the Boca Police VIPER brand.

Last week I talked about the importance of “listening” to your community, including taking into account a variety of factors about the community itself. It won’t be the last I discuss this topic, but I wanted to take some time to examine what Boca Raton PD is doing with all that data.

Chief Dan Alexander, who blogs at BocaChiefBlog.com and tweets as @bocachief, talked with me about the Boca VIPER program as a branded crime prevention strategy. Granted, BRPD hired a public relations firm to help with branding… but even this itself was a response to realizing that community needs were bigger than the agency could accomplish on its own. As Alexander put it, “We needed to market, but cops don’t market very well.”

What were those needs? For starters, “listening” doesn’t just mean watching what is being said about you. From a law enforcement standpoint, it also means crime and calls-for-service analysis.

BRPD found from its number-crunching that the bulk of its crimes were being committed by people from outside the community. In addition, says Alexander, while community support for its police was high, and a number of programs had already been put in place to address problems, none of it was part of a cohesive strategy.

So Kaye Communications, a local PR firm, helped with conceptualizing and developing the new brand.

Branding crime prevention: Boca VIPER

The five elements of the Boca VIPER brand form the comprehensive crime-prevention strategy the department had been moving toward all along. As Alexander explains, these are “independent elements that overlap”:

  • Visibility allows people to see the police and connect with their brand.
  • Intelligence shows the importance of information, and how the community is impacted by “outside forces.”
  • Partnerships with local businesses and organizations help improve the agency’s reach.
  • Education via traditional and Internet-based media involve the public in crime prevention.
  • Resources including officer training, facility improvement, and operational tactics keep police constantly improving.

Where social media fits

As public relations professionals constantly remind each other, marketers, salespeople, and others, social media is not a strategy unto itself. Rather, it needs to be integrated into a broader communications strategy that includes all the different roles in an organization

At BRPD, this is exactly the case. “Social media personalizes us, helps us make a connection to get information to the people who need it,” says Alexander. “It’s logical to realize how social media tools relate to a unique constituency that uses them.”

The main point of social media, which is part of VIPER’s “Education” component, is to drive traffic back to the main VIPER Web pages. The agency has Twitter and Facebook pages (but not MySpace anymore because, as Alexander says, the strategy is constantly being tweaked depending on what works).

The VIPER site itself is being revamped, so that it will now include BRPD’s Twitter feed. The advantage here, says Alexander, is for all citizens—not just media—to be able to see “police blotter”-type information as it happens.

The department is also considering a video feed, which would allow the agency’s PIO to take questions twice a week, while mapping—complete with e-mail alerts—will continue to help citizens look at criminal activity in their own neighborhoods.

Web presences, says Alexander, do not have to be mutually exclusive, and in fact should not be. “These are all different ways to inform, promote transparency,” he says. “We don’t rely too heavily on any one tool because there’s ebb and flow. Instead, we use the tools to draw people to the content.”

Getting the cops involved

There’s listening to the community. Then there’s doing something with that data—creating the tools that allow police to respond to what they’re hearing. And then there’s choosing the people to help promote the overall brand.

Alexander’s blog and Twitter presences go along with the department’s PIO work, but he would like BRPD cops themselves to join in eventually. Officers bring a “unique street-level perspective” to incidents, which is why Alexander believes there is no reason why they can’t use social media together with traditional chains of command.

“It won’t be fast,” he warns, “and information will be filtered—not to keep something away, but to protect everyone involved including officers.” (Arguably, the agency’s openness in advance of a major incident will help critics understand its responsibility to keep some messages filtered.)

Still, getting to that point will be challenging. As Alexander wrote for ConnectedCops.net, five barriers often keep law enforcement from realizing social media’s full benefits. “Social media is wide open, and the idea of getting up close with people doesn’t jive well with who we are as police officers,” he says.

He hopes to start getting officers involved by asking those most comfortable with the technology to lead the way. Even so, the effort will be tricky. “We have to figure out how to control yet also decentralize our message,” he says. “For officers who do connect on a personal level with the public, the trick is helping them learn how to do it officially.”

And so, while his officers aren’t actively resisting the idea, he notes that they seem to be taking a “wait and see” attitude. Thus listening will become as important to them individually as it will to the agency as a whole.

Feedback for Boca VIPER

Indeed, as with any good public relations strategy, listening is still an important part of implementation. Alexander has blogged about feedback he gets, and the department is planning focus groups next month. Surveys helped the crime prevention unit determine what the VIPER site should focus on. For instance, identity theft is set apart on its main page because in Boca Raton, it’s a major concern.

Moreover, says Alexander, “This is a living, breathing process. Our strategy is a function of our connection with a number of different sources.” He likens it, in fact, to Boca Raton’s population itself. “Officially we’re a community of 85,000, but that number can swell to 300,000 during the week,” he says. “You can’t define our population. Likewise, social media allows us not to be isolated within our borders.”

Learning from Boca police

  • Listen first. Gather data from multiple sources: residents, business owners, visitors, your agency’s own activity stats.
  • Respond. Go where the people are, both online and off, to communicate with them.
  • Take it slow. Start with areas that have the most need, as well as the areas you’re most comfortable with.
  • Gauge. How are your constituents responding to your efforts?
  • Adjust. You don’t have to get it right the first time.
  • Broaden. Let feedback and experience guide you toward expanding your reach.
  • Repeat.

How can you integrate social media not just into your communications plan, but also your overall mission as a law enforcement agency?

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]