Tag Archives: Google

Case study: Researching community in Arcadia, Calif.

Arcadia police reach their public via unofficial blogSgt. Tom Le Veque has been a believer in social media since he started using it to reach out to the public during contract negotiations. Administration has been a bit slower to adopt, however, so Le Veque went for middle ground: a blog run by the Arcadia Police Officers’ Association.

Sgt. Le Veque’s introduction on our “About You” page led to a more in-depth discussion between us. What he’s doing may be a valuable alternative for agencies that want to “test” social media before they commit to an official presence online, and he has other good insights too.

How the APOA blog started

Le Veque says:

A couple of years ago, we were in the middle of some fairly tense [contract] negotiations. I started following not only the print media, but also constantly querying the topic on the Internet.  I stumbled across a fairly active news/political blog that was in our area and started following items of interest.  That in turn led to looking into police blogs and local departments that were active on the net.  In the Los Angeles area, sad to say, I found little to choose from at the time.

Feeling the need to further our Association’s position publicly, we used letters to the editor, blog entries, commented on news articles (Topix), a billboard, posted a video on YouTube, and launched the APOA website.

When the dust settled I felt that there was a need to promote not only our Association, but also our department in the community.  Feeling that social media was an up and coming outlet, I drafted a proposal for an official APD blog and began to work on helping to improve our presence on our PD website.

The blog idea was shot down [due to the] feeling that there was no need for the department to devote time to the project.  However, a manager commented that the PD had no control on whether or not the POA started a blog… that sparked the idea of the APOA Info Blog.

The takeaways

A couple of things stand out to me about Le Veque’s efforts. First, he started by listening. It makes no sense to join a conversation you know nothing about. Even if you know your side, no one will respond positively if you’re only talking about your side. Real negotiations start with listening, even to the critics.

Then, even after the contract negotiations were settled, Le Veque kept going. Good marketers who are integrating social media into business initiatives realize that there is no such thing as a “campaign” as in advertising; they know the “conversation” is ongoing. Also, even though the department administrators felt they had no need for a blog, Le Veque knew the community had a need.

Going further, I learned that Le Veque had done significant research before starting his blog. For one thing, he notes a wide range of both police blogs and responses to them:

In looking into the ‘police blog’ idea, it seemed that most of the blogs had few to no comments. There were exceptions, but to me they were explainable.  LAPD had many comments, but most seemed to come from within, from their own personnel.  A couple of smaller towns in the Midwest had comments on their PD blogs, but the appearance was that everyone in the area knew each other….

I did find that when a department offered question and answer type entries, like that of Sacramento PD, there seemed to be some genuine interaction between the community and the PD.

Different forms of success

Blog comments, in quantity if not quality, do not define its success. Comments are only one form of feedback; there are other forms of feedback both direct and indirect. As Le Veque says:

Comments on the site have been minimal and after looking at other PD blogs we did not expect an overwhelming amount of traffic.

We have had good feedback and believe that it serves as an excellent form of community outreach and communication. Our feedback has been mainly through word of mouth, a few phone calls, and direct email via our feedback link on the POA website.

More importantly, Le Veque’s continued research involves number-crunching:

We have tracked visitor numbers [via Google Analytics] and are pleased with the results. After the start up the blog, unlike WordPress, the host Blogger did not have a counter for visits.  I was curious as to how many hits the POA blog was getting so I opted for associating the Google Analytics program with the site.

I found it interesting but also somewhat confusing.  The numbers are fairly straightforward, but it seemed that the site is geared for more of a marketing type blog. I know that we have recurring visitors from the community, our politicians and the local media.  Comments to officers in the field, phone calls to the Watch Commander, and even a little feedback from Administration has confirmed that information.

Defining blog success

Keeping an open mind with regard to comments was key, as was Le Veque’s attitude that “if we impact anyone with our information than it is a success.” But there’s more to it than that, he says:

I believe that a great deal of how well the blog will do depends on many, many factors.  Just a few in my opinion are:

  • Population, location and demographics (who and where are you serving)
  • Department buy-in and support
  • Publicity both in local media and the parent organization (city, county, other departments)
  • Credibility
  • Timeliness
  • Is it down to earth or too “official” [Le Veque brings up the point that many blogs are little more than press release pages.]

I don’t know if you can be politically correct when it comes to talking about the who and where.  I think that a police department that serves an average middle class area may have an easier time interacting socially, either on-line or in person, than a department that serves a high income area.  Departments that serve more depressed areas probably depend on how well they interact now and what kind of community partnerships are established.

If the community does not like or trust the cops, they are not going to interact, in a positive way, on-line.  Bottom line is that in any project, you have to overcome the ‘us vs. them’ or the idea that law enforcement

is a ‘necessary evil.’

Le Veque acknowledges that until more smaller police departments in California catch on to social media use, “Our management is likely to remain distant. Officially, the blog is not supported, however, there have been a handful of times that even the boss has asked for a topic to be posted.”

So, just as Le Veque researches the community to meet its needs, he continues to research the agency’s needs, working to help administration warm to the idea, including adding a “just ask” button on the blog page (a la Sacramento PD), starting a Twitter account, and proposing a Facebook page.

Where can you start listening to your community?

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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.

And:

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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Stretching resources for social media

Image: <a href=A recent (June 16) Twitter post from @MountainViewPD caught my eye: “MVPD Followers: Please do not do @replies to the MVPD tweets. We do not have the resources to respond to them in a timely manner.”

Yowza. Twitter is a conversation medium; how can you want to avoid conversation? Yet a look at MVPD’s Web site shows that it is, in fact, committed to receiving public feedback. From its online forms to a long list of contact names and e-mail addresses for the agency, it’s clear that they aren’t trying to avoid us.

As MVPD public information officer Liz Wylie explains, “The main problem was that people were actually trying to report crimes via that medium, which we can’t have happen…. And since it is only me who handles Twitter for the PD, I don’t want people thinking that I read them every day, or even every week.  99.999% of what was in the @reply box was either spam or inappropriate for Twitter.”

In all fairness, many police departments lack the personnel to commit to social media. Administrators may be unsure of its real value to law enforcement, as well as concerned over liability issues. And, as marketer Mack Collier points out, peer pressure isn’t enough to drive a social media program.

Collier is speaking to businesses when he asks, “Do your customers use social media?” For law enforcement, that answer is a resounding yes. The agencies with Facebook and Twitter pages are there because it’s a convenient way to get information out to the citizens they serve, and to talk with them a little too.

Doing more with less… and more

In the business world, a recent survey showed that only 9% of respondents believed public relations should “own” social media within companies. Though most believed it should be the domain of the sales/marketing folks, nearly a third thought it was a shared responsibility among all departments within a company.

So. Should the PIO share social networking responsibilities with a social media team—a group of volunteer officers who can each take a slice of the pie?

The PIO would provide press releases and Nixle or Twitter updates. Photos of community events, meanwhile, might fall to a community relations officer, while tips on Internet safety, personal safety, and home security could be offered by a detective or two. An administrator might post information on recruitment or political issues between department and city council.

Drawing from the community

There’s another option, one that might work in conjunction with an agency’s own social media team: allowing the public to help. Consider three communities in Texas: Houston, Austin and San Antonio, for which two civilians—on their own time and with their own funds—use public information to keep Twitter feeds updated.

Why? Jordan Ghawi, a firefighter/EMT in a small department near San Antonio, was quoted as saying: “For the first responders, if people see these feeds, they are going to change their routes and make the area not as congested. I really think what we’re providing is a great service to the cities we are posting, too.”

He himself had been receiving SMS (text) messages regarding emergencies to his cell phone, but as collaborator Paul Voccio notes, “While this worked on a small scale, we realized if we were to make this available to a wider audience, SMS was not the way to go.”

So Ghawi and Voccio began to post to @SanAntonioFire and @SanAntonioPD around late January. “Twitter seemed the best alternative to a real time status message to a wide audience,” says Voccio. “A few days later I had some scripts running doing the updates. Other cities came online as we found their CAD (computer aided dispatch) systems.”

The “bios” for each page make it clear that they are unofficial. Yet the information, though Ghawi and Voccio have never gotten official permission to maintain these pages (which include @HoustonPolice, @HoustonFire, @AustinTraffic, and @AustinFire), is entirely official.

“No one has approached me in an official capacity to discuss what we’re doing,” says Voccio, “but I have been approached by people who work in the San Antonio City IT dept wanting to know how we were doing it. They thought we had gained access to their backend systems. I then pointed out that they publish this information on a public website. That sorta ended the questions as to where we got the data.

“Since we essentially screenscrape their department’s public pages, it’s already public domain when we grab it. We do filter some of the redundant data, such as minor car accidents or other benign calls. In our first day with SAPD, we tweeted a few hundred tweets of fenderbenders ,which annoyed everyone including ourselves. With a bit of tweaking it settled down and has been maintenance free until lately.”

It’s not a perfect system; Voccio says no infrastructure exists to disseminate information more quickly. “I think most departments aren’t ready for this yet given the misunderstanding of how we were getting the information in the first place,” he adds.

“[However] I think the number of followers we have on each of the accounts shows that the public is interested in this information and we can provide it to then cheaply and reliably just using just a bit of scripting.”

Deciding what’s appropriate for your agency

How do you figure out first whether to have an online presence, and then what kind of time and resources to commit to it? A community survey may be a good start. Even so, as Wylie points out, “We have over 1000 followers on Twitter, but over 75000 people living in this city and a HUGE number who work here (especially given Google’s headquarters is here).

“Twitter is really reaching only a few people within our community and we can not dedicate vast resources to such a specialized tool that only reaches a small segment of our target population…. I keep coming back to the idea that, while social networking is, indeed, popular, we have a massive group of people in this city who aren’t using that technology. I would be catering to a small group when compared to our entire population. I feel a responsibility to dedicate my time across the board, focusing more of my time on the methods that reach out to the most people, not just the ones that are the most modern or technologically advanced and hip.”

As Collier suggests, assuming the agency needs a social network presence (this can be accomplished by surveying the community), figuring out what it will take should come next—before the agency commits resources it doesn’t have.

How did your agency determine what was right for its community? How else might a police department stretch thin resources to reach out to its community online?

Image: fazen via Flickr

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Social media doesn’t bring a changing of the guard

Image: <a href=The Munhall (Pennsylvania) News Watch posted this Pittsburgh Tribune Review article recently:

While police departments elsewhere turn to Web sites such as Twitter and Facebook, some local chiefs are sticking to automated phone messages as the best way to get fast alerts to many people at once.

“If you want something right away, a Web site isn’t fast enough,” said Ross police Sgt. William Barrett. “Manpower and media are quicker.” Pittsburgh police have used an Internet-based alert system for two years and many departments post information about crimes on municipal Web sites. But officials say phone systems remain most effective.

Ross police are installing a reverse 911 system, an automated system that can make hundreds of calls in a few minutes.

Missing from the article were examples of other agencies that had either made a total switch to Internet-based services, or were using both.

People aren’t just on the phone… or online

A key to social media is that it reaches people where they are. Lots of people are on Facebook and Twitter, and that’s why so many companies and government agencies are there, too. But as marketers point out, Internet marketing isn’t about the tools. It’s always, always about the people.

I commented to the MNW blog: “Doesn’t reverse 911 only work for landlines? I think it is advisable for agencies to use both phone and services like Nixle (which can be pushed to Twitter) – some people have only cell phones and no land lines, and others may prefer text or email alerts (say, a working parent who would want to know what’s going on in their child’s school neighborhood).”

Note that I think both services should be used. I had an eyeopening moment this week when I read in an email from the Mountain View (California) Police Department‘s PIO, Liz Wylie: “[W]e have over 1000 followers on Twitter, but over 75000 people living in this city and a HUGE number who work here (especially given Google’s headquarters is here). [Thus] Twitter is really reaching only a few people within our community and we can not dedicate vast resources to such a specialized tool that only reaches a small segment of our target population.”

Know your community

Clearly, social media tools are not the end-all be-all of community outreach, even as the media hype them. “Reaching the people where they are” doesn’t just include Web-savvy youth; it also includes their elderly grandparents, people with physical disabilities who live independently, poor people, and others whose phone or computer usage is limited—for whatever reason.

This blog post points out that it is very difficult to measure the extent to which social media tools “should” be used, and ultimately is used in conjunction with other traditional means of communication anyway.

So yes, if it will bring value to your public, and you have the resources for it, use reverse 911; it clearly works. So do Nixle, Citizen Observer, Facebook, and Twitter. Make the messages consistent—and use these multiple means to get information out to the largest group of people possible.

Image: nicholassmale via Flickr

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Train for the cameras

Image via <a href=American Police Beat’s recent blog about police pursuits (authored by Sgt. Timothy Long) caught my eye because of this passage:

For the viewer, a police pursuit is a real-time drama with an unknown outcome…. But what if you are the one engaged in the pursuit? You and your decision-making capabilities are playing out for the world to see. You may not have asked for a featured role, but your actions will be scrutinized and evaluated, and so it pays to be prepared.

It’s not just about pursuits

Social media makes that last sentence true for every call an officer goes on. Nearly everyone has a camera phone now; even the freebies that service providers give out as part of their contracts now contain cameras. As this Tampa Bay article points out, they are showing up at ever more incidents.

It doesn’t matter whether the footage goes national or viral or whatever buzzword you care to use. The fact that it’s out there, probably posted on YouTube, makes it likely to gain public if not media attention—even (especially?) if it’s off duty.

(In fact, as more law enforcement agencies switch over to digital two-way communications—depriving newsrooms of primary information sources—those reporters are more likely to set up Google Alerts and other forms of “listening” for mentions of your agency.)

So whether it’s a pursuit, armed confrontation, traffic stop, crash scene, domestic incident, or even just “routine” contact with the public, follow Sgt. Long’s advice: “Study, role-play and critique to become a better decision maker. Expect that the unexpected will test you without warning. This mental preparation should prepare you to manage your pursuit with poise, professionalism and control.”

Prepare creatively

This is good practice anyway. But it should not be left up to individual officers; it should be routinely encouraged, even in departments facing budget cuts. Creativity is key. I have heard that 10-15 minute roll call training can be effective in some ways, and some medical schools are even using Second Life to train future doctors.  Other ideas?

Update: Google blog announces that YouTube has a new site. Says YouTube’s Olivia Ma:

We believe the power of this new media landscape lies in the collaborative possibilities of amateurs and professionals working together.

And so today, we’re launching a new resource on YouTube to help citizens learn more about how to report the news, straight from the experts. It’s called the the YouTube Reporters’ Center, and it features some of the nation’s top journalists sharing instructional videos with tips and advice for better reporting.

In a perfect world, this kind of resource will result in better, less biased reporting. But we live in an imperfect world, where video is easily edited. How can police positively respond?

Image via amyrod/Flickr

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Officer reputations–through Google’s lens

Image: em_diesus via Flickr

Image: em_diesus via Flickr

When making policy on online officer activities, law enforcement administrators need to consider that blogs and tweets are not the only officer representations. More and more media outlets are online, too, naming officers in news articles about all kinds of community interactions–good and bad.

A tale of two officers

I first blogged about this at CopsOnline, where you can read a lengthier version. Long story short, in the example I used, two officers’ reputations had been formed by the media. On one side: an officer whose extensive community interaction (in the form of teaching) had been well documented. On the other, an officer whose actual work in law enforcement had been no less stellar than the first… but whose reputation appeared far worse, because of bad product packaging and terrible miscommunications.

The new resume

Public relations consultant Brian Solis quoted journalist Kevin Donline as saying:

It’s been said that Google is the new resume. Truth be told, any search engine, whether social or traditional, is the resume – it’s the Wikipedia entry for the rest of us. It’s no longer what we decide to curate onto a piece of paper or onto one traditional one-page digital resume. It really is moot in a world when anyone can practically piece together your story without the help of a document designed to shape and steer our perception.

Solis then went on to say: “Indeed, there are many stories that fuel the urgency for everyone to take control of their online persona.”

Listening: the first step

Perhaps it isn’t necessary or even prudent for every officer to keep a blog, but administrators would do well to find a way to pay attention to how they come across in the community. “Listening” is described as a key component in social media, and it’s pretty easy: set up Google Alerts for your community and region. Read the local newspapers, the “rags” as well as the bigger names–and read them online, because most welcome reader comments, and they’ll be a good gauge of what the public is saying about your department and officers.

Finally, encourage your officers to do the same. Even Googling one’s own or a friend’s name can be a real eye-opener–and may result in officers’ efforts to be more proactive about taking control of their own online identities.

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