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