This blog by a Portsmouth (Virginia) civilian points up how valuable the concept of “listening” is to modern police departments—all departments, not just those who are engaging the public on social networking sites.
At the very least, rudeness is a common complaint among civilians. “That cop acted like he didn’t get his donut this morning,” they might say of an officer who stopped them for speeding. Worse, even acting totally within policy might land you in USA Today.
Either way, there is no explaining that officers have good and bad days like anyone else, that policies are in place for good reasons. The uniform is all they see. And as one Twitter followee put it: “When customers complain, they are first looking to be validated. Remember that before saying ‘sorry it’s policy.’”
It’s easy to get defensive, to use misunderstanding as an excuse to insulate oneself and one’s agency from legitimate criticism. But the beauty of the Internet is that no one has to know you’re listening.
Value in listening alone
Listening doesn’t only enable you to gauge your agency’s general reputation both within and outside of your community. It also helps you assess current events. Take, for instance, this rundown of the recent Toronto storm. I was struck in particular by these paragraphs:
As weather stations forecast the storm earlier in the day, there was a brief spike in conversation in the morning. Conversation related to the tornadoes themselves began to erupt around 6pm….
Another noticeable feature is the second spike in conversation later in the evening. The storm was well away from Toronto by this point; this spike represented people discussing their experiences and posting photos and videos they had collected during the episode.
Not surprisingly, with Twitter being the golden child of the moment, especially for time-sensitive updates, micromedia comprised almost three-quarters of the conversation relating to tornadoes. Blogs made up 13 per cent, while images captured by people comprised 10 per cent of the conversation.
This is a substantial departure from the day as a while, during which nearly 40 per cent of the conversation about Toronto occured on blogs and a similar amount occurred on Twitter. A useful reminder that while Twitter is high-profile, on a day-to-day basis much conversation happens elsewhere.
(I bolded the text above.) Click through to the full post—it comes complete with graphs showing usage patterns.
Given that people now rubberneck incident scenes with camera phones in hand, listening has immediate value to most everything a law enforcement agency does. So how do you listen?
Still too complicated? Plan to move towards aggregate RSS feeds, but start with Google Alerts. They’re easy to set up for mentions of your town: Greenville + “South Carolina,” Portland + Maine, Pittsburgh + G20.
Tack on the words “police” and/or “crime” or some other related term if you wish, but consider staying general, getting a feel for what’s going on in the area as a whole—or at least, online public perception of what’s going on.
Search Twitter and Google News on local issues: police contract negotiations, discontent with a political or business issue (say, Wal-Mart moving in), public reaction to a high-profile crime (and police response to it), even traffic patterns (especially if you’re running targeted patrols in certain areas). Monitter allows you to search Twitter on three simultaneous terms; Backtype allows you to track blog comments via keywords.
Whether Google Alerts or targeted searches, remember to refine your efforts. Some search terms may be too narrow, others too broad. Change them up as your needs change, as new issues arise.
Need more? A comprehensive (and regularly updated) list of monitoring tools is available. Take a week or two to explore each site, then propose which solutions would best fit your agency.
What needs listening to in your community?
Image: keela84 via Flickr