Tag Archives: Google Alerts

Social bookmarking for law enforcement

Yeah, I know. “Social bookmarking” is a ridiculous term. Brings to mind a visual of tweens giggling uncontrollably in a library. Next I’ll be telling you to read reports out loud to each other around a campfire, right?

Actually, social bookmarking can be a pretty powerful branding tool. It can help law enforcement agencies and professionals alike curate important content that supports what they’re doing.

Say you’re an identity theft expert. Not only could you bookmark items from national news about ID theft; you’d also bookmark stories from local and regional media to show the problem in your area. And you might bookmark interviews and presentations from other detectives on the subject.

It does that by aggregating links to news items on a particular topic or set of topics that you want to draw attention to. That way, visitors to your site have a better context for what you provide.

How I bookmark

I didn’t really get the point of social bookmarking until I started using it for a client. That’s why his list of bookmarks is awesome, and mine is all over the place. (Until I get it cleaned up.)

I start with Google Alerts, sometimes Twitter too. Alerts pull in news items and blogs based on keywords I’ve specified, like “Internet evidence.” I go through the listed items in each email and click on the ones that seem most pertinent to my interest areas. If someone tweets an interesting-looking link, I click on it to read. Then I bookmark and “tag” (organize by keyword) the items I want.

This makes it easy for me to go back and find it again if, say, I plan to use it for a blog entry. For my client, it’s a way to build a portfolio of product reviews, news from around the world that supports his company’s mission, and media coverage.

How this works for law enforcement

PIOs can derive a lot of use from a tool like this. Day to day, bookmarking and tagging items can help support initiatives like crime mapping. Do media stories accurately reflect the statistics? Good reporters should already be referring to maps—many news sites post them—but media perspective will be different from police’s.

In an ongoing crisis, for another example, a PIO might bookmark all the news coverage—local and national. A high-profile issue such as a missing child or serial offender will result in dozens of media interviews, which may result in actionable intelligence.

Aggregating bookmarks in one place is important for the public, too. It promotes transparency, shows your agency is organized about paying attention to what’s going on in the community.

This is true even when there’s a scandal involving an officer. Just as an internal investigation must be fair and balanced, so must its presentation to the community. Bookmarking coverage, again, shows transparency, a willingness to face trouble head-on. It can be one part of promoting public trust.

Individual cops can use it, too. My introductory example was about identity theft experts, but the possibilities are limitless for investigators from all walks: gang officers, detectives assigned to domestic violence cases, school resource officers… the list goes on, and can include officers seeking to educate each other as well as the public.

Bookmarking tools

I use social bookmarking service Delicious, but the problem with that is when links become outdated. Many news sites remove their archives after just a week or so. (I’ve found TV news tends to stay up longer than print news.) Still, tags are limitless and you can make notes on your bookmarks.

Another popular service, StumbleUpon, is more about “social.” I’ve found it can be time-consuming, and recommending your own coverage can get you banned, sometimes unfairly, users believe.

Recently I was approached to blog about iCyte (no they didn’t offer me anything), free social bookmarking that doubles as a capture tool. Bookmarked pages remain intact even after the original host has deleted them, because they are saved on the iCyte server. You can have multiple projects, save some or all of a page, tag pages, make notes, and so forth.

What kind of information can your community benefit from with your bookmarking?

Ssh… hear that?

Listening provides insights, sometimes unexpectedly

Listening provides insights, sometimes unexpectedly

This blog by a Portsmouth (Virginia) civilian points up how valuable the concept of “listening” is to modern police departments—all departments, not just those who are engaging the public on social networking sites.

At the very least, rudeness is a common complaint among civilians. “That cop acted like he didn’t get his donut this morning,” they might say of an officer who stopped them for speeding. Worse, even acting totally within policy might land you in USA Today.

Either way, there is no explaining that officers have good and bad days like anyone else, that policies are in place for good reasons. The uniform is all they see. And as one Twitter followee put it: “When customers complain, they are first looking to be validated. Remember that before saying ‘sorry it’s policy.’”

It’s easy to get defensive, to use misunderstanding as an excuse to insulate oneself and one’s agency from legitimate criticism. But the beauty of the Internet is that no one has to know you’re listening.

Value in listening alone

Listening doesn’t only enable you to gauge your agency’s general reputation both within and outside of your community. It also helps you assess current events. Take, for instance, this rundown of the recent Toronto storm. I was struck in particular by these paragraphs:

As weather stations forecast the storm earlier in the day, there was a brief spike in conversation in the morning. Conversation related to the tornadoes themselves began to erupt around 6pm….

Another noticeable feature is the second spike in conversation later in the evening. The storm was well away from Toronto by this point; this spike represented people discussing their experiences and posting photos and videos they had collected during the episode.


Not surprisingly, with Twitter being the golden child of the moment, especially for time-sensitive updates, micromedia comprised almost three-quarters of the conversation relating to tornadoes. Blogs made up 13 per cent, while images captured by people comprised 10 per cent of the conversation.

This is a substantial departure from the day as a while, during which nearly 40 per cent of the conversation about Toronto occured on blogs and a similar amount occurred on Twitter. A useful reminder that while Twitter is high-profile, on a day-to-day basis much conversation happens elsewhere.

(I bolded the text above.) Click through to the full post—it comes complete with graphs showing usage patterns.

Given that people now rubberneck incident scenes with camera phones in hand, listening has immediate value to most everything a law enforcement agency does. So how do you listen?

Listening tools

Chris Brogan’s method of aggregating RSS feeds (described in two separate posts, here and here) may be the simplest.

Still too complicated? Plan to move towards aggregate RSS feeds, but start with Google Alerts. They’re easy to set up for mentions of your town: Greenville + “South Carolina,” Portland + Maine, Pittsburgh + G20.

Tack on the words “police” and/or “crime” or some other related term if you wish, but consider staying general, getting a feel for what’s going on in the area as a whole—or at least, online public perception of what’s going on.

Search Twitter and Google News on local issues: police contract negotiations, discontent with a political or business issue (say, Wal-Mart moving in), public reaction to a high-profile crime (and police response to it), even traffic patterns (especially if you’re running targeted patrols in certain areas). Monitter allows you to search Twitter on three simultaneous terms; Backtype allows you to track blog comments via keywords.

Whether Google Alerts or targeted searches, remember to refine your efforts. Some search terms may be too narrow, others too broad. Change them up as your needs change, as new issues arise.

Need more? A comprehensive (and regularly updated) list of monitoring tools is available. Take a week or two to explore each site, then propose which solutions would best fit your agency.

What needs listening to in your community?

Image: keela84 via Flickr

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