Tag Archives: Law

Guest bloggers wanted

Image: Stephen Cummings via Flickr

Image: Stephen Cummings via Flickr

Cops 2.0 is looking for guest bloggers! Are you an officer, administrator, or other individual involved with social media in law enforcement? Let us know. We’re interested in what you and/or your department is doing with blogs, Twitter, Facebook/MySpace, wikis, or other applications, whether internally or used to connect with the public.

We’re less interested in how you’re using social networks to investigate crimes, though if you’re doing this in conjunction with online public outreach, we’d like to know how you manage the two.

We are open to your ideas, and look forward to hearing from you!

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Good blogging means honesty

babelThis blog entry was directed at politicians, but is well worth a read when it comes to any government-agency blogging effort. Of course, with regard to law enforcement blogging, it creates another layer of self-analysis.

At issue is Nancy Pelosi‘s declaration, in her disagreement with Congressman Bill Young over what to do with the Guantanamo detainees once that facility closed, that she considered him a “great member of Congress” and that she had a “great deal of respect for his opinion.” Blogger Brad Hart felt her words were a cheap shot, that she missed a valuable opportunity to take a stand on her party’s platform for democracy.

Stick to the issues…

As he pointed out, her statement should have read more like: “Bill Young obviously doesn’t understand the current condition of Alcatraz or what it would take to return it to operational status. Furthermore, we shouldn’t be looking at new places to simply house these detainees, we should be looking at either trying them in accordance with international laws and affording them the same inalienable rights we say all men are given by their creator or releasing them.”

Most readers of this blog have no love for Nancy Pelosi, and from what I’ve seen of law enforcement opinion regarding terrorists, would wholeheartedly agree with Bill Young that Alcatraz, with its crumbling walls and violent history, is exactly the right place for them. I chose to use this example, however, for a reason.

A good government blog gets beyond the emotion and looks instead at the issues. Had Pelosi’s statement read more like the example above, you might reserve the right to disagree with the Democrats’ position still; but the focus would be on that position itself, not on insults disguised as backhanded compliments.

… and use plain English to do it

On a blog, what that means is not only that you command respect rather than undermining your own position and authority; you also set the stage for comments you get from constituents. You may vehemently disagree with local or county politicians, media, or organizations that do not understand your point of view. But if the purpose of an agency blog is to promote that point of view, to even the playing field, then the citizens deserve clear language. As Hart concludes:

“I could get behind a politician who said they were a person who had real feelings and weren’t opposed to telling us exactly what they thought. Alas we are stuck with meek mouth witless automatons that lack any public passion, no matter how much they actually think…. Just maybe if they learn to say what they are honestly thinking or feeling we might actually get a glimmer of the truth when they speak about policy.”

The public holds its law enforcement leaders to a higher standard than politicians. Clear language convinces people, if not to vote in your favor, then to trust your leadership, to listen, and at least to consider whether to vote in your favor rather than give a kneejerk “no” at the polls.

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Anticipating the critics

April 21 2001: Police fire CS gas at protester...
Image via Wikipedia

Officer “Smith” has a blog entry up about a hypothetical “excessive force” situation. His sentiments have been echoed by many law enforcement officers:

When the general public sees any such police action on the news, they need to make sure they know all the facts before they cry murder or excessive force. I can’t charge someone with murder just because I saw it on TV. I have to investigate and obtain more information before I can claim murder.

Then he says:

Unfortunately, a large segment of our local population is uneducated or poorly educated, and cannot come to such educated conclusions. As a result, any action that looks even remotely excessive will be decried as excessive.

So what can a blog or other online interactive presence do to defend police actions to people who probably don’t read the blog, and even if they did, would dismiss it as just so much propaganda?

As long as there is a human being behind it, trying to make a solid connection with the community, the people who do read it and respond positively will help defend the agency.

Think about it: a chief who is open-minded enough to encourage online interaction instills that culture throughout the department. The department working to improve community relations is perceived to care about the people it serves–not to have a “loose cannon” culture eager to smack down any and all dissenters.

Even if the local news outlets pursue arguments against excessive force, the department that uses social media is in a better position to offer its own outlook on what happened, to balance the negative opinions and thus to ensure citizens can make informed decisions–about officials, bond issues, and other poll items affecting law enforcement–on election day.

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Webcams: the new Crime Watch

Image: <a href=In an editorial for the Savannah Morning News, Police Chief Michael Berkow wrote:

We have a community problem here in Savannah. It’s called Armed Robbery…. Your police department cannot solve this problem alone; we need to attack this as a community…. But we need everyone’s help: from parents talking to their kids; to the schools; to the business community using good solid crime prevention techniques.

For its part, the SCMPD is “canceling or postponing” training and returning its administrative officers to the streets during the month of December. And yet, could the community do more?

The San Francisco Chronicle detailed AdamsBlock.com, a response by a private citizen to his own frustration with the crime in his Tenderloin neighborhood. Adam Jackson, a social media consultant, set up two 24-hour webcams to display drug deals, assaults, and other criminal activity, along with a chat room for viewers to discuss it. The site has become wildly popular, to the point where local businesses have donated equipment to improve it. And while Jackson plans to turn it into a fundraiser for local charities, the effect on law enforcement has been profound:

With people watching at all hours of the day and night, some of them have watched crimes taking place. Viewers picked up the phone and called 911, and the police arrived in no time flat.

The attention has had the same effect as saturation policing: some of the “regulars” have moved on, and other local businesses have set up their own cameras. Meanwhile, the newspaper reports, the 76 city-installed surveillance cameras remain ” mired with restrictions, regulations and red tape”–and with far less the quality of the private cameras.

Jackson, the article states, will help private residents in other high-crime areas set up their own cameras and websites. Could your community be one of them?

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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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Branding police work via social media

Image: <a href=“Branding” is one of those corporate buzzwords that threatens to be overused, if it isn’t already. Yet the concept–to create a set of words and images that inspire positive reactions in people–couldn’t be more important to law enforcement.

How does police work get branded? Usually, through the media. The TV show COPS is a brand, as are the CSI and Law & Order franchises. Because they influence public perceptions of law enforcement (the “CSI Effect,” anyone?), they all contribute to the larger “brand” of police work.

Local media, the newspapers and TV news affiliates that cover your community, also figure into the branding equation for better or worse. Cops complain about this kind of branding a lot, how reporters encourage “armchair quarterbacking” over incidents for which they show little understanding.

But the news media can also brand police work the right way. Witness the photography of FrederickNewsPost.com’s photojournalists, who covered the funeral of Officer Richard Mark Bremer, killed in a motor vehicle accident on October 23, 2008. Their slideshow, accompanied to great effect by Chief Kim Dine’s eulogy, shows a different side to police work–one the public doesn’t often see.

Overall, however, traditional media influence over police work’s “brand” is too hit or miss to trust. The good news is that these days, it doesn’t take much to compete with them. You needn’t hire a public relations agency as the Atlanta Police Department recently did to brand itself for recruiting purposes. And pay no attention to the talk flying around the Internet about “personal branding,” as if people could package themselves neatly into a human Coca-Cola or McDonald’s–and inspire the same customer loyalty.

A variety of tools, many of them free, exist to help businesses and public agencies present the best image they can to their customers or constituents. The catch-all term for those tools, social media, refers to the evolving means of Web-based communication.

Social media use is meant to create and further relationships between people. Especially as the economy spirals steadily downward, smart sales people realize that the best way to move product is to build trust, give customers a reason to buy. In law enforcement, you’re not selling a product–but you do want the public to trust you. How else will you get those tips on your Crime Stoppers hotline, or get voters to approve a bond issue for a new police department?

A police department’s use of social media doesn’t have to be fancy, but it does have to be authentic. It has to come from a person in the department, whether officer or administrator. Perhaps most importantly, it demands a reassessment of current policy. The not-unfounded fear is that officer blogs or MySpace pages or YouTube videos could lead to the kind of PR disaster that got a Eustis (Fla.) police officer fired for misconduct committed off-duty.

But managed correctly, most officers can and will do right by their police departments: create honest dialogue with the people they serve, use that dialogue to build toward a stronger and more unified community-policing ethic, and ultimately brand their job the way everyone wants to see it: cops who care.

Image: robstephaustralia via Flickr

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