Tag Archives: intelligence

Occupy policing: Shaping community dialogue through leadership

occupy wall street policingA Washington Post headline this week caught my eye: “Police want to stay out of Occupy story.” As quoted in the article:

“What keeps police chiefs up at night is that somehow the purpose of the movement will become about actions that the police have taken,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a D.C.-based law enforcement think tank.

That’s exactly what is happening. Because of police actions, some OWS supporters view law enforcement as part of the bought-and-paid-for corporate machine; and some Tea Partiers, though they may support actions taken against OWS, have perceived police as part of Big Government.

At this point, the more “outside” police try to be, the more they will fan the flames of misperception on both sides. This is perhaps exemplified in a recent Alternet post (emphasis mine):

PERF organizes conference calls among police officials to discuss areas of common concern. Last year, it held a conference call among police chiefs who were worried that Arizona’s harsh immigration law, SB 1070, would drive a wedge between law enforcement agencies and the immigrant communities they are supposed to protect and serve. Fox “News” ran a story at the time alleging that PERF was some sort of far-left police organization and therefore illegitimate. Now we’re getting a similar story from progressives, which is discouraging.

Shaping the story you’re part of

For three years Cops 2.0 and resources like it have existed to help police learn how to use social media (and other forms of technology) to build relationships with the public. Yet we see little evidence of any such relationships — online or off — in any of the cities where violence, or even nonviolence, has taken place.

What if police used social tools to shape the story they’re already a part of? Not their side — a cop’s-eye perspective on arrests taking place — but the story itself. Consider this largely positive version of PERF and OWS policing from the Las Vegas Sun (emphasis mine):

From Atlanta to Washington, D.C., officials talked about how authorities could make camps safe for protesters and the community. Officials also learned about the kinds of problems they could expect from cities with larger and more established protest encampments….

and:

Interim [Oakland, Calif.] Police Chief Howard Jordan said… a theme was how the atmosphere at the camps had shifted from a haven for peaceful protest to one for criminal behavior.

“Some chiefs had been tolerant of the progressive movement, but that all changed when the criminal element showed up,” Jordan said. “As police, you can’t allow anything that foster criminal activities in any city.”

Jordan said that he and other police brass and city officials began planning last week for officers to remove the camp outside City Hall for a second time after collecting enough evidence that gang activity and an open-air drug market had emerged at the park.

and most telling of all:

Portland (Ore.) Mayor Sam Adams said the primary issue among the mayors was how to get a message to a movement that didn’t have any clear leadership. “A lot of time was spent on how do you effectively communicate with a group that doesn’t have a leader?” Adams said.

Monitoring, influence, and “joining the conversation”

I am quite sure that police are monitoring online conversations for insight and, yes, intelligence about what’s going on in the encampments. But Adams’ question indicates fundamental misunderstanding about the power of social media monitoring in helping an organization learn how — and with whom — to communicate.

Setting up a Facebook page and a Twitter account (or a blog, YouTube channel or podcast) only prepares the agency to keep broadcasting using new channels. In other words, engaging with fans and followers about the content you push is merely a discussion about business as usual.

If police really wanted to use social media to “join the conversation,” they’d join the conversation — the one that matters to the citizens. Not to be political, but to involve protesters in finding the best balance between free speech and the laws that make for civil society.

And, secondarily, to use all that online intelligence to educate themselves about the group. In fact, many movements online are lateral and leaderless — yet nevertheless benefit from informal leaders, or “influencers,” whose opinions and thoughts resonate with many.

So in much the same way that physically blending into the OWS crowds would allow police officers to see informal leaders and group dynamics, learning who’s blogging, tweeting and shooting video (and what they’re writing or shooting about) would help police determine critical online influencers.

And what would they do with that information? For starters, they might solicit those individuals’ help, both online and off. The “criminal element” dilutes OWS’ message too, and while protesters wouldn’t want to be treated as “informers,” they should at least be given the opportunity — as any Neighborhood Watch — to have a hand in protecting one another.

This is the story police should be telling about their role. Chiefs coming together is a start, but making communities safe needs to involve the communities themselves.

Incidentally, these are ideas reflected by former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper in an interview with Democracy Now (emphasis mine):

“…if the police and the community in a democratic society are really working hard—and it is hard work—to forge authentic partnerships rather than this unilateral, paramilitary response to these demonstrations, that the relationship itself serves as a shock absorber. ”

Expanding further in his own article for The Nation, Stamper advocates:

Assuming the necessity of radical structural reform, how do we proceed? By building a progressive police organization, created by rank-and-file officers, “civilian” employees and community representatives. Such an effort would include plans to flatten hierarchies; create a true citizen review board with investigative and subpoena powers; and ensure community participation in all operations, including policy-making, program development, priority-setting and crisis management. In short, cops and citizens would forge an authentic partnership in policing the city. And because partners do not act unilaterally, they would be compelled to keep each other informed, and to build trust and mutual respect—qualities sorely missing from the current equation.

In the business world, marketing strategists talk about the need for “social business,” an organization into which social media are integrated at every possible level — channels that facilitate communication, which in turn promotes the kind of structure Stamper envisions. (It’s worth noting that these are dynamics already appearing among the civilian protesters at OWS.)

A police force whose actions reinforce the worst perceptions is an ineffectual police force, at a time when our society needs leadership more than ever. Leadership isn’t telling people to go shop, or go home, or go get a bath and a job. It’s understanding why people are using demonstration to show they care about their society, and from there, understanding — and talking about — how to work together to keep the peace.

How can you shape the kind of story that develops into dialogue about how you police your community?

Creative Commons License photo credit: jorenerene

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?

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