Tag Archives: Law Enforcement

#copchat January 9: Policing people with mental illnesses

Mental illness is a hot topic in the news right now, thanks largely to mass killings, domestic violence and violence that doesn’t fit either of those narratives. While the stories help to highlight the overall topic — that mental illness is prevalent among our neighbors, coworkers and the strangers we pass each day — they don’t do much to help us understand deeper issues, such as how to recognize and then communicate with people who have mental illnesses.

This affects emergency services more than it does the rest of us, because police, fire and EMS personnel are usually the first on the scene during or after an incident. They often don’t know how to respond appropriately, for a variety of reasons. As a result, things can go very bad very fast. The subject gets hurt or killed, the cops look bad, and community trust is broken. It should follow that you can’t have an effective social media program if you don’t have effective communication to start with.

On Wednesday night, we explored some of these issues in #copchat. Mostly in order, the transcript follows below. Click “Read more” on the bottom right of each segment to continue.


#copchat 01/09/2013

The #copchat community discussed how police relate, and could better relate, to people with mental illnesses.

Storified by christammiller· Sat, Jan 12 2013 07:16:33

RT @TPSChrisBoddy: MT @christammiller: Good morning #copchat friends. Topic tonight: police response to ppl w/ mental illness, 9pm @wazaname @Org9 @steelhoofKristen Rose
@christammiller @Org9 @steelhoof #copchat : 1A) http://pic.twitter.com/DXCxU2xpblahhZ
Going to post 1 last twit pic on behalf of a coworker #copchat http://pic.twitter.com/NuvCnzvXblahhZ
@christammiller @Org9 @steelhoof #copchat – 1C) http://pic.twitter.com/4nqKN9IpblahhZ
@christammiller @Org9 @steelhoof #copchat – 1D) http://pic.twitter.com/8yl4cg1nblahhZ
@christammiller whomever i spoke to (have badge #’s) told me that it IS controlled substance #copchatblahhZ
@christammiller too late for person who may have social phobia however #copchat ill keep badge #’s however.if they lie bout that.other liesblahhZ
Priming the #CopChat pump: Millvale PA police Taser mentally ill man in their custody http://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2013/01/08/mother-calls-video-of-taser-being-used-on-her-son-disturbing-terrible/WarOnPrivacy
Paranoid Schizophrenic man shoots/injures 2 police officers on subway and is shot/killed by them http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2013/01/06/family-man-fatally-shot-by-police-was-mentally-ill/ #CopChatWarOnPrivacy
@WarOnPrivacy#copchat this story speaks very loudly of totally untrained and as a result probably very #scared officers in the streetBill Ries-Knight
@WarOnPrivacy #copchat concur no gun & if he was paranoid schizophrenic and not medicated and treatment very likely this might not happenedBill Ries-Knight
Q1: #Police use force less when trained on mental illness issues. Where does the training/education need to start? #copchatchristammiller
RT @steelhoof #copchat I’m here to begin and let me tell you biggest thing we need is education for the police and administrators in schoolschristammiller
@christammiller #copchat the training needs to be again with getting the office to recognize what mental illness looks like in peopleBill Ries-Knight
@christammiller @steelhoof In Canada I believe the schools & police are educated but SM has brought mental issues to forefront! #copchatLeigh Buchan
@lives2talk In what ways has #SM highlighted mental illness issues? #copchatchristammiller
@christammiller It’s been a platform for parents of kids w/mental illess to discuss their concerns & issues openly #copchatLeigh Buchan
@lives2talk Do you see #police actively engaging or even monitoring discussions like that? Seems like it would be a great resource. #copchatchristammiller
@christammiller dont know about starting, but if relationships with mental health agencies are fostered – can be of benefit IMO #copchatblahhZ
@wazaname Do you have examples of existing relationships? I’m thinking of the Memphis CIT program; others? #copchatchristammiller
CITThe Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) program is a community partnership working with mental health consumers and family members. Our goal i…
@christammiller unfortunately….. no. #copchatblahhZ
@wazaname And I also agree that more education is needed in dealing with people with mental health issues. Both public and police #copchatRandall Arsenault
In Ontario, trng re police interactions w those in crisis starts before new cops even hit the streets. @christammiller #copchatChris Boddy
TPS have a MCIT program which matches a cop with a nurse responding to those suffering a mental illness. @christammiller @wazaname #copchatChris Boddy
@TPSChrisBoddy #copchat exactly what we need. Reconize MH. & look at people as helps because then they can see the nuances that matterBill Ries-Knight
@TPSChrisBoddy Tell us more — what does the training look like & what does it involve? #copchatchristammiller
@TPSChrisBoddy the MCIT program is very effective in Scarborough. The Officers choose to be there. #copchatRandall Arsenault
@TPSChrisBoddy Gotta ask – @TheRealDamany posted earlier abt Michael Eligon shooting. MCIT in effect then, or after? #copchatchristammiller
@PCArsenault8074 2/2 and explain the situation…doing best to calm said person down #copchatblahhZ
@wazaname No worries. So what would those relationships look like? Where would a PD start in developing them? #copchatchristammiller
@wazaname Considering that many times the relationships don’t start until after a crisis/incident. #copchatchristammiller
@christammiller @TPSChrisBoddy does..very useful.. Not enough resources to be able to be on ALL calls where could be of benefit #copchatblahhZ
Sure. How to triage calls then… MT @wazaname: Not enough resources to be able to be on ALL calls where could be of benefit #copchatchristammiller
@christammiller @TPSChrisBoddy is DEFINITELY positive when can accompany police #copchatblahhZ
@christammiller We don’t have resources for MCITs 24/7 however EVERY TPS cop receives training every year in this. @TheRealDamany #copchatChris Boddy
@christammiller @TPSChrisBoddy I wasn’t aware of that. Very good idea! But sometimes mental illess isn’t obvious #copchatLeigh Buchan
GREAT point. How to educate on recognizing potential? MT @lives2talk: Very good idea! But sometimes mental illess isnt obvious #copchatchristammiller
@lives2talk Great point! Mental illness isn’t always obvious, some people don’t even know the signs. Major issue for teens too #copchatRandall Arsenault
@lives2talk @christammiller @TPSChrisBoddy isnt and it presents itself like night and day at times #copchatblahhZ
@christammiller participate in mental health agencies’ AGM’s is one thought? #copchatblahhZ
@christammiller annual general meetings.. Most non profits have them..all are welcome #CopchatblahhZ
@christammiller agencies that work w/ populations such as addictions / mental health / homeless are frequently dealing with crisis’ #copchatblahhZ
#copchat we have to convince people that control the purse strings that mental health is cheaper to deal with when it becomes a commodityBill Ries-Knight
#copchat. When an illness becomes a commodity early treatment becomes apparently important. Keep them out of the emergency room & jailsBill Ries-Knight
#copchat on Talk of the Nation today. it has been pointed out that far more is learned from people under treatment than shootersBill Ries-Knight
#copchat when mental health can be dealt with from the school level that early intervention makes a huge differenceBill Ries-Knight
#copchat 1 suggestion that made sense was to go back to the days when students actually saw counselors on a regular basis.Bill Ries-Knight
@TPSChrisBoddy What kind of training… classroom, scenario-based? Mental illness is so individual. #copchatchristammiller
Scenario & classroom w a focus on de-escalation. Use of force is always a last resort. @christammiller #copchatChris Boddy
@christammiller Classroom, scenario based, guest speakers, all good methods of training. #copchatRandall Arsenault
@TPSChrisBoddy @christammiller *should* be a last resort. Less than yr ago.person wearing hospital gown in east toronto.shot by TPS #copchatblahhZ
@wazaname That was the shooting of Michael Eligon — I RT’d an article about that at the start of the hour. Very sad. #copchatchristammiller
@TPSChrisBoddy What are some de-escalation techniques you are taught to use? #copchatchristammiller
@TPSChrisBoddy @christammiller @TheRealDamany I would think that in Canada it’s most frontline officers would be trained #copchatLeigh Buchan
#CopChat Think I see one prob – lumping mental illnesses together. Schizophrenia is not BiPolar is not BPD.WarOnPrivacy
@WarOnPrivacy Yes. & also w/ bizarre behavior, assuming substance abuse which may or may not be a factor in crisis. #copchatchristammiller
@WarOnPrivacy exactly, lumping all mental illness together makes it harder on people to fully understand, and almost more scary. #copchatRandall Arsenault
#CopChat to clarify: Borderline’s don’t appear MI – can seem more competent than average folks. However, they can be highly manipulative.WarOnPrivacy
#CopChat Some MI easy to spot like manic BiPolar high or Schitz psychosis. I’ve seen BPDs manipulate officers. @christammillerWarOnPrivacy
@TPSChrisBoddy Are there any news articles about MCIT successes? #copchatchristammiller
Last Feb, we had the media at out College to witness how we train our officers to respond to those in crisis. @christammiller #copchatChris Boddy
.@TheRealDamany The TPS includes consumers survivours is the development of our training. #copchatChris Boddy
@TPSChrisBoddy @christammiller case in ? http://m.thestar.com/news/gta/crime/article/1125770–toronto-police-involved-in-east-end-shooting (no i wasnt there so wont pretend 2 knO full stry) #copchatblahhZ
@TheRealDamany @TPSChrisBoddy @christammiller In many of those cases, the mental illness is not obvious! #copchatLeigh Buchan
Q2: So TPS police get annual training on mental illness. W/ limited resources, how can PDs make tng regular & consistent? #copchatchristammiller
Perhaps more to the point, how can #police ingrain sensitivity to mental illness in their overall situational awareness? #copchatchristammiller
I would suggest a constant community liaison you bring the subject up on regular basis almost to the point of being tiresome #copchatBill Ries-Knight
#CopChat Local PDs should consider reaching out to NAMI and other local resources. Local Mental Health centers may help. @christammillerWarOnPrivacy
@christammiller @WarOnPrivacy What is NAMI? #copchatLeigh Buchan
@lives2talk National Alliance on Mental Illness #copchatBijou Chevalier
@christammiller Have seminars held by professionals in the various areas of mental illness #copchatLeigh Buchan
Need to be high quality RT @lives2talk: @christammiller Have seminars held by professionals in the various areas of mental illness #copchatchristammiller
@lives2talk For maximum absorption of information. Seminar attendees have to care. #copchatchristammiller
@christammiller It’s sad if there are frontline workers who Don’t Care #copchatLeigh Buchan
#CopChat ‘Have to care’ -> That suggests core groups of appropriately trained officers. @christammillerWarOnPrivacy
#CopChat ..cont. That is leading w/ the heart is actually helpful here. But NOT with BPDs – they’ll take your heart and run w/ it @wazanameWarOnPrivacy
MT @WarOnPrivacy: In figuring out whos a good fit to work w/ MI, it helps to know that compassion/empathy -> directly into wisdom #copchatchristammiller
#CopChat cont Maybe better said for BPDs -> Compassion yes, Empathy no. @wazanameWarOnPrivacy
@WarOnPrivacy BPDs not the only ones who manipulate. How can police recognize manipulation & head it off or deal w/ it? #copchatchristammiller
@WarOnPrivacy better my <3 than their life/someone else’s.there is always certain cases where PD have no choice but 2 take a person #copchatblahhZ
#CopChat I get that. I posted two opposing stories earlier. In one the officers really didn’t have a choice. @wazanameWarOnPrivacy
@WarOnPrivacy and realizing that there is never a point where learning is complete..various MI various ways of presenting itself. #copchatblahhZ
@WarOnPrivacy exactly. Fear of danger is relative when there is a difference in rapport w/ #copchatblahhZ
I think they just become cynical. RT @lives2talk: @christammiller Its sad if there are frontline workers who Dont Care #copchatchristammiller
@lives2talk Lack of education/training & cynicism leads to misconduct & even abuse/excessive force. #copchatchristammiller
@christammiller Those like that need to be weeded out and dealt with! #copchatLeigh Buchan
Going back to @steelhoof’s 1st point abt educ MT @WarOnPrivacy: Have to care -> suggests core groups of appropriately trained ofcs #copchatchristammiller
Absolutely! But may be systemic in spots. RT @lives2talk: @christammiller Those like that need to be weeded out and dealt with! #copchatchristammiller
@lives2talk In other words can you fire an entire or majority of police force when cultural cynicism runs that deep? #copchatchristammiller
@RocheJacqueline @TPSChrisBoddy @christammiller yes..even tazers can be deadly #copchatblahhZ
@WarOnPrivacy This is done as part of Memphis Crisis Intervention Team model: http://ow.ly/gGwsw but uptake around nation spotty. #copchatchristammiller
#CopChat Based on my experience, there are plenty of Mental Health pros who wouldn’t hesitate to help. Big reward in defusing situations.WarOnPrivacy
Volunteer? MT @WarOnPrivacy: Based on my experience, there are plenty of Mental Health pros who wouldnt hesitate to help. #copchatchristammiller
@TheRealDamany TPS have literally 1000s of contacts every year w those in crisis; very few result in injuries. @christammiller #copchatChris Boddy
@christammiller @WarOnPrivacy No local mental hlth ctrs in Ajax/Pickering #copchatLeigh Buchan
#CopChat – I’d offer that whoever 1st responds to someone w/ MI will have the same task to do – no matter their professional background.WarOnPrivacy
@christammiller @TPSChrisBoddy r those ‘reported’ ? 1 mishandled is 2 much.sry again.i wouldnt wanna do ur job.not saying it’s easy #copchatblahhZ
@wazaname I agree, one injury is 2 many. We recognize that. #copchatChris Boddy
@TPSChrisBoddy ty..and again..i recognize that the GOOD cops…are instrumental #copchatblahhZ
@TPSChrisBoddy Reported injuries….reported. #CopChat @TheRealDamany @christammillerPaisley Rae
@paisleyrae Hi Paisley! All injuries are reported. @TheRealDamany @christammiller #CopChatChris Boddy
MT @paisleyrae: @TPSChrisBoddy people who are marginalized are less likely to report, for a host of reasons… #copchatchristammiller
@christammiller Suggestion #1 – eliminate the phrase "a few bad apples" from your vocabulary. #CopChatPaisley Rae
@christammiller why? Because people are telling you what they see when they look at you & it ain’t pretty. Don’t pass the buck. #CopChatPaisley Rae
#CopChat In figuring out who’s a good fit to work w/ MI, it helps to know that compassion/empathy translates directly into wisdom @wazanameWarOnPrivacy
In terms of TPS training, does everyone get basic training with some getting more advanced training? #copchatBijou Chevalier
Or in addition to all the other roles, are individual officers expected to be mental health para-professionals as well? #copchatBijou Chevalier
@Mlle_Bijou that’s a good point as well, mental health is just one of the many issues Police deal with on a daily basis. #copchatRandall Arsenault
#CopChat ‘Various MI Manifestation’ -> This includes the Developmentally Disabled. Though not MI they do need special handling @wazanameWarOnPrivacy
@christammiller R thr repercutions if PD treats person as having mental illness when they don’t? #copchatLeigh Buchan
Interesting! Don’t know. @TPSChrisBoddy? MT @lives2talk: R thr repercutions if PD treats person as having MI when they dont? #copchatchristammiller
@lives2talk How can it be bad though? De-escalation is de-escalation, no? @TPSChrisBoddy #copchatchristammiller
.@christammiller @lives2talk Short answer, we must treat everyone fairly and w respect regardless. #copchatChris Boddy
#CopChat Do you mean where someone has been involuntarily committed and does not have a Mental Illness? @lives2talk @christammillerWarOnPrivacy
Good point, didn’t think of that. RT @WarOnPrivacy: Do you mean where someone has been involuntarily committed & does not have MI? #copchatchristammiller
@christammiller @TPSChrisBoddy I know ppl with physical disabilities that have been misinterpreted as MI. They get ANGRY #copchatLeigh Buchan
@WarOnPrivacy indeed #copchat http://m.thestar.com/news/gta/article/1142137–toronto-police-settle-g20-human-rights-case-against-quadriplegic-man story makes me..a lil sick #copchatblahhZ
@WarOnPrivacy physically disables in prev reply #copchatblahhZ
@lives2talk @TPSChrisBoddy For that matter, ppl w/ autism spectrum disorder – not MI but need sensitivity too. #copchatchristammiller
@christammiller @lives2talk We train on autism also. #copchatChris Boddy
@TPSChrisBoddy @christammiller I was thinking more of MD and MS #copchatLeigh Buchan
#CopChat I’d think descalation training would benefit those interactions. It’s offered more and more often @lives2talk @christammillerWarOnPrivacy
@lives2talk MD & MS… sounds like disability in general is poorly understood & also feared, mental OR physical… #copchatchristammiller
@christammiller @WarOnPrivacy Would think that hosp’s psychiatrist on call would make the final decision B4 commitment! #copchatLeigh Buchan
#CopChat Usually true but there are boneheaded psychiatrists out there. @lives2talk @christammillerWarOnPrivacy
@WarOnPrivacy @lives2talk Boneheaded & also those not well versed in certain types of MI. Seems to be a shifting subject. #copchatchristammiller
@christammiller i am not in #Copchat but I’m my area there was a nice partnership between local pd and mental health professionalsCorey Harrell
@corey_harrell Hey Corey! Thanks for jumping in. What size area? Just curious whether rural/suburban/urban. #copchatchristammiller
@corey_harrell great to hear! We have an excellent relationship/partnership with our agencies as well. Very important. #copchatRandall Arsenault
@corey_harrell Sounds like the Memphis Model? #copchatchristammiller
@corey_harrell I’m just wondering how easy it would be to translate that model to an area w/ fewer resources… #copchatchristammiller
If anyone has some questions u can ask My wife is mental health pro who trains NYSP recruits and used to work wit local PD on calls #CopchatCorey Harrell
@christammiller Easy. It is really about training officers how to recognize, appropriately handle situations 1/2 #copchatCorey Harrell
@christammiller & be aware of local MH resources and local mental hygience law 2/2 #copchatCorey Harrell
@corey_harrell Dunno. Training budgets being cut left & right. That makes it not so easy IMO. #copchatchristammiller
@christammiller She don’t know. The programs here are state and grant (CIT) funded. The PD doesn’t have to pay for it. 1/2 #copchatCorey Harrell
@christammiller Partnerships between PD and local mental health agencies could reduce cost if both work together 2/2 #copchatCorey Harrell
@corey_harrell Ahh that makes sense. So I wonder if PDs are not educated enough on grant resources…. #copchatchristammiller
Deep gratitude to @YourAnonNews for not trolling #copchat this week. It was a good conversation & starting point for more. Thank you.christammiller
I am seriously/personally thanking @YourAnonNews for not spamming #copchat. U could have..lord knows.. ‘ucoulda’ #WhyDidntYou?blahhZ
Bedtime reading as #copchat comes to a close: liability for failure to train -> constitutional rights violations? http://ow.ly/gGzx7christammiller
Good job @christammiller for bringing up an important issue last night. That conversation needs to continue for a long time. #copchat#FreeSpeechForPolice

What can you add to this conversation?

Now tweeting: #copchat, the new resource for law enforcement

Twitter chats can build communityIn the monthly column I write for Officer.com, I’ve referred to Toronto police Sgt. Tim Burrows several times. Back when I joined Twitter in late 2008, Tim was just one of the very few sworn police officers tweeting and blogging with a pioneering eye toward building a community, a virtual extension of the one he actually served. Eventually, his activity — rare among police active in social media, though thankfully less rare now — became the seed (and later, the foundation) for the way Toronto Police Service implemented social media throughout its service.

I’ve often wished for a way to work directly with Tim on some project, and why I’m so pleased that after months of on-and-off talk, we’ve found it: #copchat, a new Twitter chat we’ll be cohosting on Wednesday nights at 9 p.m. Eastern. Tim has posted more details on his Walking the Social Media Beat blog; one of the things I’m most excited about is the cross-section the chat represents between social media and technology use in general (including the digital forensics world I inhabit), and the chance to continue building a community that’s already pretty strong.

Join us next Wednesday night, 6/27 at 9 p.m. EDT. Use the #copchat hashtag through tools like TweetDeck, HootSuite or TweetChat. Everyone is welcome — and we look forward to learning as much from you as we hope you’ll learn from us!

Blue Light Camp: In the UK, Spotlight on social media after 2011 riots

BlueLightCamp social media unconferenceNearly a year ago, as I caught up on tweets following my talk at the Police Leadership Conference, a series of tweets caught my eye. They came from Sasha Taylor, Chair of the National Police Web Managers Group.

Sasha and I got into a good discussion about social media use in law enforcement, and although my work took me in a different direction last year, he stayed on my radar. Which was why I got back in touch with him a few weeks ago, when he tweeted about the upcoming Blue Light Camp: an “unconference” designed to discuss public safety best practices for social media.

The free, daylong event will take place on Sunday, April 15th from 9am to 5pm at Manchester Central exhibition centre—the day before British APCO’s annual event. It will focus in particular on social media use in times of unrest, drawing from UK experiences in 2011. Cops 2.0 talked further about it with Camp organizer Paul Coxon:

How does BlueLightCamp fill a hole in crisis-related discussions that other gov-related or police-related conferences left open?

BlueLightCamp is unique in that it is the first truly multidisciplinary emergency services unconference in the UK. Most other conferences would either be for the police authorities or the fire services or front-line healthcare or social care providers, to our knowledge no one has yet created an event that brought them all together. Sasha recognised that a lot of the conversations being had within the police and healthcare arenas cut across all Blue Light Services and there was learning that could be of benefit to all.

The other big difference about Blue Light Camp is that, aside from the sectors involved, we are not dictating who should attend and already we have an exciting mix of communicators, front-line workers, people in senior and strategic roles and even research scientists who have signed up to attend.

What about the “unconference” format do you feel will best facilitate the discussions you envision taking place?

I used to have a boss who loved going to conferences because, in his own words, it was an easy day were he didn’t have to do anything and could basically sleep. Unfortunately for a lot of people that is what conferences are about, but that’s not what an unconference is about. Unconferences will not work without everyone playing their part and for this reason they attract the type of people who want to engage around the topics.

The type of people who want to engage are the type of people that are likely to share their learning and experiences, the type of people who will lead positive change in their organisation and the wider sector, and that is what Blue Light Camp is about, creating the conversations that lead to positive change.

In addition to this, unconferences often take place out of work hours, those attending do so in their own time and at their own cost, which contributes to making them more willing to participate, network, share best practice and take away new ideas to their organisations/local networks.

Crisis management and mapping will be presented. Any other sessions you know of that are (at least roughly) planned?

The beauty of an unconference is you won’t really know the sessions that will be pitched until delegates begin pitching them, but we are hopeful to see examples of how 24-hour tweeting has worked for police service and council services, the ways in which Facebook and Twitter have been used to engage communities, metrics of SM channels, gamification are all topics discussed at other conferences.

People often discuss other areas of SM such as use of QR codes, Wikipedia, open data, blogging and general communications. We also have research fellows attending from the Disaster 2.0 project which is looking at use of social media during disasters and emergencies.

People come to unconferences to either share an idea or an experience so will lead a session for this reason; others will have barriers/questions that they would like discuss with others that have experienced the same issues or have the expertise to find a solution. Sharing at its best.

How many of your participants will also attend BAPCO, and what do you hope they will bring with them from BLC?

One of the perks of signing up with Blue Light Camp is membership of British APCO, who are our venue sponsors, we would hope as many BlueLightCamp-ers as possible will stick around for the BAPCO Annual Exhibition and Development Sessions, but more than this, we hope they will carry on the BlueLightCamp conversations with those BAPCO members who were not able to attend.

Paul, David and Sasha will also be on hand throughout the BAPCO event to continue any conversations from the BlueLightCamp event and to help with any social media surgeries to continue the sharing experiences  and best practice.

Will you make available content for people who were unable to attend BLC?

We will be making BLC content available across a number of channels before, during and after the event, from videos, blogs, podcasts, and live-tweeting. The main source of information will always be the BlueLightCamp site:  http://bluelightcamp.wordpress.com/

Participants are expected and encouraged to tweet throughout the event and people often blog about their experiences post event. Many of the new connections people make continue well beyond the closing speeches at the event.

Anything else you would like to mention? 

So far, the response  to BlueLightCamp has been very positive with 75% of the 170 tickets going within three weeks of our launch. We have a variety of brilliant sponsors that have the vision to support these events and thus making them free for the attendees. Without the sponsors unconferences would not be so easy to put on.

After a, hopefully, successful event this year planning will start again for 2013 with the aim of making this a regular calendar event for Blue Light Services.

Blue Light Camp will be open to all UK Blue Light Services and those people who work with them. Join them in Manchester on April 15; if you can’t make the event, be sure to follow along with the #BlueLightCamp hashtag on Twitter! Vendors may also want to consider sponsoring the event.

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

An exercise in social

Monday last week was something of a first for me. Instead of writing about public relations and social media, I talked about it – to a roomful of about 160 public information officers, media relations officers, command staff and others involved with police information dissemination.

The venue: the 2-day Advanced Strategic Communications Seminar, “Social Media and Policing in the Digital Age,” of the BCACP-hosted Police Leadership 2011 Conference. The topic: “A Survey of Official and Unofficial Law Enforcement Twitter Accounts in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States.”

The original plan was to divide the talk in half. Lead researcher and coauthor Laura Madison would present an overview of the study and its findings, and I would follow up with a short discussion on the floor about how the conference participants might put (or already were putting) this stuff to work for themselves.

Laura couldn’t make it, but thanks to her fantastic Prezi (below), I was able to deliver her half of the presentation with no trouble. If this is the first you’ve seen it, please find our study so you can follow along.

 

My half of the presentation involved an interactive session, in which I asked conference participants to talk about their experiences in context of what we’d studied and presented:

 

We didn’t have a ton of time for an in-depth discussion, but I believe it was enough for participants to think about. Some highlights:

The force of personality

One of the most important questions involved the balance between humor/personality and official business. Both I and keynote Deputy Chief Constable Gordon Scobbie (who, as social media lead for UK police, has a wealth more experience than I do) tried to explain in context of Twitter accounts like @TrafficServices and @SuptPayneWMP, but this probably could have taken an entire session in itself!

Suffice to say, feeds that read like they’re off the screens of computer aided dispatch systems are boring. To draw out the old analogy of a cocktail party, a CAD-like feed is the equivalent of some guy standing in the corner droning. He may think his information is necessary and important, but no one else will.

The bottom line is to make the information compelling, to mix official messaging with a personal view of police work. While it’s pat to say “have a conversation,” we see accounts that do this quite well – both from individual officers and from official agency accounts.

Social crime reporting

Another participant asked about crime reporting via social media. The upshot: have a policy. Whether you accept crime reports via social channels or not, you need to communicate this clearly to your fans and followers. Very few of the accounts we studied actually did this, though a few told their followers to call 911 or Crime Stoppers with incident reports and tips.

Additionally, the policy you create should be fluid enough to change. Whether your agency adds social media officers over time, enabling you and them to take social crime reports; or conversely, that social crime reports are overwhelming, your policy (and the training and communication that go with it) should adapt accordingly.

(Want to read more about social crime reporting? I wrote about it in the Winter 2011 issue of the National White Collar Crime Center’s Informant.)

The Twitter conversation

While all this was going on, naturally, there was a conversation happening on Twitter. Using the hashtag #plc2011van, conference participants talked with (and were retweeted by) others who were off-site.

One conversation that stuck out: a chat I had following the conference, with a web manager in England. Sasha Taylor chairs the National Police Web Managers Group, and he contributed some thoughts to an element of Laura’s and my presentation: when police tweeters engage in “endless self-congratulatory tweeting.”

The point I was trying to make: that it is important for an agency to tell its own story, especially if its relationship with the media has not been good… but not at its community’s expense. It’s important to listen and understand how the public – especially, as Sasha pointed out, those who have been victims or do not get service due to service priorities – view the police department, before telling the story. Otherwise, the attempts at engagement will only drive a bigger wedge between public and police.

Neither, however, should listening take precedence over engagement, as Sasha also noted. Only through engagement can a police department fully understand how it is viewed. While I don’t recommend only using Twitter for this purpose, I do think it’s a good and convenient platform for those who use it, and should be treated as such.

Have you read the study? How would you respond to the questions Laura and I posed?



Workers vs. widgets: policing in the age of high tech

police HUMINT surveillance camerasLast month, Federal News Radio reported that budget cuts to the Defense Department meant choosing between high-tech firepower, and the troops who would become “irrelevant” during a war that implemented it.

Could high tech make police irrelevant?

The Memphis Daily News’ article about information and intelligence sharing among Tennessee law enforcement officers shows the ways in which high tech makes traditional policing more efficient — ultimately, needing fewer officers to do the same amount of work.

This can be especially profound in communities like Rialto (Calif.), where the police department has lost about 10 officers in one year. Web-based crime reporting and crime mapping, together with traditional community policing, has led to decreases in most crimes. Likewise as PoliceOne.com points out, cameras are cheaper than hiring police officers, especially in small towns.

The hidden costs of high tech policing

On the other hand, in Columbus (Ohio), these force multipliers carry hidden costs. Training, upgrades and support staff — the Columbus Police Department’s technical unit has grown from 1 to 20 people — can be pricey.

Last month, The Crime Report provided a good rundown of other high tech issues facing law enforcement. Covering topics as diverse as video evidence, biometrics, social media, predictive policing, and GPS, the article brought up three important points:

  1. There are no substitutes for good traditional police work, which frequently figured into even the most high tech of investigations.
  2. Law enforcement must address the potential for abuse of technology if they are to be effective.
  3. Technology is often seen as a “panacea” rather than critically compared alongside more traditional approaches.

Bodies vs. tech

These issues appear to be coming to bear most strongly in Chicago, where a manpower shortage together with violent crime is colliding with a push toward more high tech use. On the tech side, now-resigned Police Superintendent Jody Weis argues that the technology itself, including consolidating intelligence services under his office,  social network analysis in combating gangs, and the use of high tech surveillance cameras, (along with training) is responsible for reductions in crime.

However, in an opinion about the surveillance cameras, blogger Second City Cop speaks for many officers when he argues, “You know what protects the senior citizen? Cops on the streets.” Chicago media have reported that the 200 expected new hires this year won’t make up for the estimated 300 officers leaving the force, and there are 950 total vacancies. Meanwhile, Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel pledged during his campaign to put 1,000 more officers on the streets, not just through hiring but also through administrative changes.

Human vs. electronic intelligence

Former blogger Joe the Cop put this in perspective for me by recalling news articles about intelligence immediately following 9/11. “I remember reading more than a few articles that discussed the lack of HUMINT — human intelligence — as opposed to the availability of electronic data gathered through high-tech methods,” he told me.

“Just as a special ops soldier is needed to run counterinsurgency on the ground, and a rifleman is needed to occupy ground long enough for stability to return, a beat cop is needed to project safety on a given street corner.  Cameras and computer analysis don’t do that–they are largely reactive tools that allow for more effective investigation of crimes after they occur.  It’s a cop in uniform on the street who deters crimes.”

Technology cannot multiply a force, in other words, without the force deploying it. In Columbus, the tech unit’s commander was quoted as saying: “Our challenge… isn’t the technology or the funding; it’s having enough staff to manage all the different projects right now.”

Indeed, it is not about playing technology and staff off against each other, as the Defense Department implies. Instead, it’s about figuring out how the cops on the street work in conjunction with those in the predictive analysis unit.

Joe’s point about HUMINT plays this up. Cops on the street deter crimes, and while they are doing that, they are also noticing things. Fundamentally, this is community policing: knowing enough about the neighborhood and the people in it to know when something is amiss.

That’s why taking cops out of cruisers and putting them back on foot was so important: with driving occupying so much of their attention, they couldn’t see the same things they could while standing on the corner, couldn’t hear the same things they could while listening to passersby.

HUMINT provides context to the intel coming in to predictive analysis centers from technology. This is even more true when the officers can use technology — think images and video uploaded from the street to the center, or even augmented reality — to enhance their observations in real time, rather than at roll call or in meetings.

What kinds of technical skills will police need for these roles — and more importantly, how might we turn those assumptions on their head? That’ll be the topic in my next post.

Where do you see the balance between technology and personnel? Leave a comment!

Creative Commons License photo credit: BinaryApe