Tag Archives: On the Web

Case study: Researching community in Arcadia, Calif.

Arcadia police reach their public via unofficial blogSgt. Tom Le Veque has been a believer in social media since he started using it to reach out to the public during contract negotiations. Administration has been a bit slower to adopt, however, so Le Veque went for middle ground: a blog run by the Arcadia Police Officers’ Association.

Sgt. Le Veque’s introduction on our “About You” page led to a more in-depth discussion between us. What he’s doing may be a valuable alternative for agencies that want to “test” social media before they commit to an official presence online, and he has other good insights too.

How the APOA blog started

Le Veque says:

A couple of years ago, we were in the middle of some fairly tense [contract] negotiations. I started following not only the print media, but also constantly querying the topic on the Internet.  I stumbled across a fairly active news/political blog that was in our area and started following items of interest.  That in turn led to looking into police blogs and local departments that were active on the net.  In the Los Angeles area, sad to say, I found little to choose from at the time.

Feeling the need to further our Association’s position publicly, we used letters to the editor, blog entries, commented on news articles (Topix), a billboard, posted a video on YouTube, and launched the APOA website.

When the dust settled I felt that there was a need to promote not only our Association, but also our department in the community.  Feeling that social media was an up and coming outlet, I drafted a proposal for an official APD blog and began to work on helping to improve our presence on our PD website.

The blog idea was shot down [due to the] feeling that there was no need for the department to devote time to the project.  However, a manager commented that the PD had no control on whether or not the POA started a blog… that sparked the idea of the APOA Info Blog.

The takeaways

A couple of things stand out to me about Le Veque’s efforts. First, he started by listening. It makes no sense to join a conversation you know nothing about. Even if you know your side, no one will respond positively if you’re only talking about your side. Real negotiations start with listening, even to the critics.

Then, even after the contract negotiations were settled, Le Veque kept going. Good marketers who are integrating social media into business initiatives realize that there is no such thing as a “campaign” as in advertising; they know the “conversation” is ongoing. Also, even though the department administrators felt they had no need for a blog, Le Veque knew the community had a need.

Going further, I learned that Le Veque had done significant research before starting his blog. For one thing, he notes a wide range of both police blogs and responses to them:

In looking into the ‘police blog’ idea, it seemed that most of the blogs had few to no comments. There were exceptions, but to me they were explainable.  LAPD had many comments, but most seemed to come from within, from their own personnel.  A couple of smaller towns in the Midwest had comments on their PD blogs, but the appearance was that everyone in the area knew each other….

I did find that when a department offered question and answer type entries, like that of Sacramento PD, there seemed to be some genuine interaction between the community and the PD.

Different forms of success

Blog comments, in quantity if not quality, do not define its success. Comments are only one form of feedback; there are other forms of feedback both direct and indirect. As Le Veque says:

Comments on the site have been minimal and after looking at other PD blogs we did not expect an overwhelming amount of traffic.

We have had good feedback and believe that it serves as an excellent form of community outreach and communication. Our feedback has been mainly through word of mouth, a few phone calls, and direct email via our feedback link on the POA website.

More importantly, Le Veque’s continued research involves number-crunching:

We have tracked visitor numbers [via Google Analytics] and are pleased with the results. After the start up the blog, unlike WordPress, the host Blogger did not have a counter for visits.  I was curious as to how many hits the POA blog was getting so I opted for associating the Google Analytics program with the site.

I found it interesting but also somewhat confusing.  The numbers are fairly straightforward, but it seemed that the site is geared for more of a marketing type blog. I know that we have recurring visitors from the community, our politicians and the local media.  Comments to officers in the field, phone calls to the Watch Commander, and even a little feedback from Administration has confirmed that information.

Defining blog success

Keeping an open mind with regard to comments was key, as was Le Veque’s attitude that “if we impact anyone with our information than it is a success.” But there’s more to it than that, he says:

I believe that a great deal of how well the blog will do depends on many, many factors.  Just a few in my opinion are:

  • Population, location and demographics (who and where are you serving)
  • Department buy-in and support
  • Publicity both in local media and the parent organization (city, county, other departments)
  • Credibility
  • Timeliness
  • Is it down to earth or too “official” [Le Veque brings up the point that many blogs are little more than press release pages.]

I don’t know if you can be politically correct when it comes to talking about the who and where.  I think that a police department that serves an average middle class area may have an easier time interacting socially, either on-line or in person, than a department that serves a high income area.  Departments that serve more depressed areas probably depend on how well they interact now and what kind of community partnerships are established.

If the community does not like or trust the cops, they are not going to interact, in a positive way, on-line.  Bottom line is that in any project, you have to overcome the ‘us vs. them’ or the idea that law enforcement

is a ‘necessary evil.’

Le Veque acknowledges that until more smaller police departments in California catch on to social media use, “Our management is likely to remain distant. Officially, the blog is not supported, however, there have been a handful of times that even the boss has asked for a topic to be posted.”

So, just as Le Veque researches the community to meet its needs, he continues to research the agency’s needs, working to help administration warm to the idea, including adding a “just ask” button on the blog page (a la Sacramento PD), starting a Twitter account, and proposing a Facebook page.

Where can you start listening to your community?

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Ssh… hear that?

Listening provides insights, sometimes unexpectedly

Listening provides insights, sometimes unexpectedly

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?

Listening tools

Chris Brogan’s method of aggregating RSS feeds (described in two separate posts, here and here) may be the simplest.

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

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Transparency vs. anonymity

Does transparency sacrifice honesty in blogs?

Does transparency sacrifice honesty in blogs?

An interesting debate has cropped up over on ConnectedCops.net about whether police officers should be allowed to blog anonymously.

It started with Lauri’s point in her post on elements of a social media policy (cross posted here and on her blog):

3. Identity. Some bloggers work anonymously, using pseudonyms or false screen names. Law enforcement agencies should absolutely insist that in blogs, wikis or other forms of online participation that relate to the department or the city, or activities or issues with which the department is engaged; department employees use their accurate identity.

Which stuck with me because of the number of excellent cop bloggers who are anonymous. You can read mine and the other comments there. At the debate’s heart: whether anonymity allows more honesty (yes, honesty, not bravado or bigotry or any other negative connotation) than they perhaps otherwise would use.

Positive perceptions

I emailed one of the anonymous bloggers to get his opinion. He doesn’t hide his workplace from his readers, and I wondered whether he was working with his administrators’ blessing. If so, I asked, how was anonymity decided upon?

I just started blogging on my own. I decided that the ‘net was full of the cop sites complaining about bureaucratic and political incompetence so I thought I’d do something upbeat. I figured if it was positive it would be harder for the big shots to complain about it.

A few weeks after starting I was contacted by one of our command staff through the site asking who I was. I was honest about it and didn’t hear anything else…. I was told that they see it as my right and they aren’t intervening….

My anonymity is an open secret at work. It’s a small enough agency that it wouldn’t be hard to figure out from my stories. I’m more concerned about Internet privacy and not being stalked over it. I’ve had some interesting hate mail through the site and I don’t want to give anyone a target.

Again with the officer safety

He continued:

I do think that the Internet opens you up to a whole world of cop haters hiding behind their computer screen. The problem is you don’t know which ones are willing, or capable, of carrying out the threats. I know these people don’t like me, and I don’t care. If I wanted to be liked, I would have been a fireman.

However, I don’t want them having my real name to attach to my blog so they can figure out where I live or otherwise target me. My administrative policies can’t override the first amendment if one of these wack jobs decide to target me because of my blog and post my home address on some cop hating site.

Especially if the hater is clear across the country. At least if some local crazy starts stalking me through work I have a chance of filing charges or otherwise working it out. Imagine if an Internet stalker on the other side of the country does it online, my department would be powerless to stop it or protect me. I’m definitely not putting my name on my blog.

Department-sanctioned tools

Lauri rightly points out that this is the reason why social media policies should cover the tools that are and are not sanctioned by the department. Although I am concerned that this might remove an otherwise important “coping” mechanism for officers, sites like the Experience Project may cover this issue.

Perhaps the real problem lies not in whether law enforcement must sacrifice honesty for transparency, but in whether citizens are comfortable with their police officers having a voice. One chief, who does not blog anonymously, wrote me a few months ago that he was going dark for a time:

One of my illustrious citizens came across my accounts and made a complaint to the Mayor and Council. Of all the things I’ve posted on Twitter, he or she was hung up on a post I made about people acting stupid—alluding to the fact I was either speaking about my officers or my citizens. That particular comment was directed at a vendor I had been dealing with….

City administrators were supportive, but the chief chose to avoid conflict—a shame, because I haven’t heard much from him since.

Honesty vs. liability

Ideally officers can be honest about what they see daily. It might encourage citizens to change their behavior: not calling 911 when their children refuse to go to bed, or to help them take their pills. It might even go as far as citizen journalism. In prior generations, officers with serious concerns about department corruption went to the media. Now, they can be the media. As my contact notes:

If you want to publicly criticize your agency or city management, anonymity is the only thing [allowing you to keep] your job. Look at bloggers like Inspector Gadget–I have no questions he would be fired, or drummed out of his rank, or transferred to some terrible assignment if they found him out. Same thing with Second City Cop. The Chicago Political Machine would probably make them disappear like Jimmy Hoffa.

Indeed, many administrators fear the liability bugaboo. However remote the possibility of a successful lawsuit over “emotional distress stemming from embarrassment” might be from an unnamed citizen who nonetheless recognizes him- or herself, nothing would stop a lawyer from trying—and causing considerable expense, not to mention stress, in the meantime.

Should cop bloggers be allowed their anonymity, or should they be required to be up front about their identities—even if it sacrifices some honesty?

Image: thelastminute via Flickr

Stretching resources for social media

Image: <a href=A recent (June 16) Twitter post from @MountainViewPD caught my eye: “MVPD Followers: Please do not do @replies to the MVPD tweets. We do not have the resources to respond to them in a timely manner.”

Yowza. Twitter is a conversation medium; how can you want to avoid conversation? Yet a look at MVPD’s Web site shows that it is, in fact, committed to receiving public feedback. From its online forms to a long list of contact names and e-mail addresses for the agency, it’s clear that they aren’t trying to avoid us.

As MVPD public information officer Liz Wylie explains, “The main problem was that people were actually trying to report crimes via that medium, which we can’t have happen…. And since it is only me who handles Twitter for the PD, I don’t want people thinking that I read them every day, or even every week.  99.999% of what was in the @reply box was either spam or inappropriate for Twitter.”

In all fairness, many police departments lack the personnel to commit to social media. Administrators may be unsure of its real value to law enforcement, as well as concerned over liability issues. And, as marketer Mack Collier points out, peer pressure isn’t enough to drive a social media program.

Collier is speaking to businesses when he asks, “Do your customers use social media?” For law enforcement, that answer is a resounding yes. The agencies with Facebook and Twitter pages are there because it’s a convenient way to get information out to the citizens they serve, and to talk with them a little too.

Doing more with less… and more

In the business world, a recent survey showed that only 9% of respondents believed public relations should “own” social media within companies. Though most believed it should be the domain of the sales/marketing folks, nearly a third thought it was a shared responsibility among all departments within a company.

So. Should the PIO share social networking responsibilities with a social media team—a group of volunteer officers who can each take a slice of the pie?

The PIO would provide press releases and Nixle or Twitter updates. Photos of community events, meanwhile, might fall to a community relations officer, while tips on Internet safety, personal safety, and home security could be offered by a detective or two. An administrator might post information on recruitment or political issues between department and city council.

Drawing from the community

There’s another option, one that might work in conjunction with an agency’s own social media team: allowing the public to help. Consider three communities in Texas: Houston, Austin and San Antonio, for which two civilians—on their own time and with their own funds—use public information to keep Twitter feeds updated.

Why? Jordan Ghawi, a firefighter/EMT in a small department near San Antonio, was quoted as saying: “For the first responders, if people see these feeds, they are going to change their routes and make the area not as congested. I really think what we’re providing is a great service to the cities we are posting, too.”

He himself had been receiving SMS (text) messages regarding emergencies to his cell phone, but as collaborator Paul Voccio notes, “While this worked on a small scale, we realized if we were to make this available to a wider audience, SMS was not the way to go.”

So Ghawi and Voccio began to post to @SanAntonioFire and @SanAntonioPD around late January. “Twitter seemed the best alternative to a real time status message to a wide audience,” says Voccio. “A few days later I had some scripts running doing the updates. Other cities came online as we found their CAD (computer aided dispatch) systems.”

The “bios” for each page make it clear that they are unofficial. Yet the information, though Ghawi and Voccio have never gotten official permission to maintain these pages (which include @HoustonPolice, @HoustonFire, @AustinTraffic, and @AustinFire), is entirely official.

“No one has approached me in an official capacity to discuss what we’re doing,” says Voccio, “but I have been approached by people who work in the San Antonio City IT dept wanting to know how we were doing it. They thought we had gained access to their backend systems. I then pointed out that they publish this information on a public website. That sorta ended the questions as to where we got the data.

“Since we essentially screenscrape their department’s public pages, it’s already public domain when we grab it. We do filter some of the redundant data, such as minor car accidents or other benign calls. In our first day with SAPD, we tweeted a few hundred tweets of fenderbenders ,which annoyed everyone including ourselves. With a bit of tweaking it settled down and has been maintenance free until lately.”

It’s not a perfect system; Voccio says no infrastructure exists to disseminate information more quickly. “I think most departments aren’t ready for this yet given the misunderstanding of how we were getting the information in the first place,” he adds.

“[However] I think the number of followers we have on each of the accounts shows that the public is interested in this information and we can provide it to then cheaply and reliably just using just a bit of scripting.”

Deciding what’s appropriate for your agency

How do you figure out first whether to have an online presence, and then what kind of time and resources to commit to it? A community survey may be a good start. Even so, as Wylie points out, “We have over 1000 followers on Twitter, but over 75000 people living in this city and a HUGE number who work here (especially given Google’s headquarters is here).

“Twitter is really reaching only a few people within our community and we can not dedicate vast resources to such a specialized tool that only reaches a small segment of our target population…. I keep coming back to the idea that, while social networking is, indeed, popular, we have a massive group of people in this city who aren’t using that technology. I would be catering to a small group when compared to our entire population. I feel a responsibility to dedicate my time across the board, focusing more of my time on the methods that reach out to the most people, not just the ones that are the most modern or technologically advanced and hip.”

As Collier suggests, assuming the agency needs a social network presence (this can be accomplished by surveying the community), figuring out what it will take should come next—before the agency commits resources it doesn’t have.

How did your agency determine what was right for its community? How else might a police department stretch thin resources to reach out to its community online?

Image: fazen via Flickr

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The (not so) secret life of Officer Mitty

Image: <a href=This week’s news out of the U.K. is disturbing on a number of different levels, but this op ed from the Guardian says it best:

We hope that Detective Constable Richard Horton won’t lose his job, although he has been through what may be one of the fastest disciplinary processes in police history and been given a written reprimand. He has already been doorstepped by photographers and his award-winning blog has disappeared – and a window that had opened on to the way in which policeman go about their work, bristling with insights into contemporary Britain, has been slammed shut.

In a rather Orwellian way, history is being rewritten – it is as if it had never existed. Horton won the Orwell Prize for blogging because in an increasingly competitive field he offered such a distinct voice. And because it took you to the heart of policing in a gripping way: it was old-fashioned reporting but in the new time frame of an unfolding story. In particular it reeked of somewhere local, regional, a particular part of Britain as well as the particular place of being a policeman.

The cop blogger’s value

A number of police officers blog. Some write about their jobs. Others write about their personal lives. Many include their opinions of social and political trends. And, while a few — mainly for official purposes — blog under their own names, most remain anonymous.

It is possible, of course, that the unnamed bloggers are not really cops, but instead masquerade in a bid for attention. The details they offer, however, make this unlikely. More likely is that real officers are blogging anonymously for one of two reasons: their department has a policy against blogging, or in the absence of official policy, they believe they’ll be disciplined for their activities.

Administrators’ views are not without merit. A “loose cannon” officer blogging in a negative tone about his community and/or its residents opens the department to libel lawsuits. By and large, though, anonymous officer bloggers write fairly and honestly, providing their perspective on a variety of calls, agency dynamics, and other facts of law enforcement life. Their insights are valuable to both agency and community.

They may also be valuable to the officers themselves. Writing has long been established as a way to relieve stress—to help humans process thoughts and images. Journaling works for many people, but some of us need an audience, need to feel understood.

A necessary voice

Thus administrators would do well to encourage blogging, anonymous or not. It’s okay to place restrictions if officers are talking about their work rather than themselves; honest assessments of calls can, at best, lead to embarrassed citizens, even if the officer never names them. Guidance is prudent.

But if officers are blogging fairly and honestly, they should not be punished for their voices. This side of the pond, the law enforcement blogging community lost strong voices in the late “Texas Music” and “Negative, Ghostrider” blogs, both of which were shut down (and their archives deleted) after their writers were found out.

So by all means, guide blogging officers. Read their blogs, talk to them about what they’re writing. But don’t force them out. Many will find a way back in, for starters, under a different anonymous ID.

But more importantly, the community needs their honest voices. Police have long criticized the media for “getting it wrong” when it comes to police work. Cop bloggers are a chance to get it right. Why screw that up?

Image: thelastminute via Flickr

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Nixle adds stability to Tyrone, GA tweets

Tyrone PD's Nixle page

Tyrone PD's Nixle page

When I first read articles about Nixle, I was concerned. Yes, it’s secure and stable, and that alone makes it a vastly better way to broadcast information than using Twitter.

But the key word is “broadcast.” Social media enthusiasts are quick to point out that “it’s all about the relationship.” Communication is a two-way street; companies, for instance, no longer advertise—they build trust.

And police already do enough broadcasting. Traditional TV and newspaper media, for instance, work well for getting information out about both emergencies and community events and issues.

So why should a police department use a one-way tool like Nixle? Because it can be a critical first step in another important aspect of social media: engaging community members where they are—online, via their cell phones, even via email.

As Tyrone, Ga. Police Chief Brandon Perkins wrote in his Nixle review, not only will citizens listen to what you’re saying; they’ll seek you out because they want to know. And it will inspire future positive interaction.

Following up on Chief Perkins’ blog entry, which he graciously allowed me to cross-post on Cops 2.0, I talked a bit about it with him.

What Nixle is for

Police tweets commonly have to do with traffic problems, including crashes and closures; public information, such as crime patterns; and police log-type postings. The problem is, Twitter tends to crash. The “fail whale” that tells us “Twitter is over capacity” means that a lot of people stand to miss out on critical information.

And that means Twitter—for all its cutting-edge importance to those of us in the business world—can hurt a police department. Fail whale in the middle of a hostage situation or weather crisis? The public would wonder why you chose such an unstable medium, why something better doesn’t exist. And that can hurt long-term community relations as easily as twittering cops can help it.

Enter Nixle, a self-described Community Information Service built on the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (NLETS) platform. There are no “fail whales” with Nixle; it boasts a 99.99% uptime. Unlike NLETS, however, the easy-to-use interface requires no in-depth training.

As Perkins points out, Nixle isn’t just for emergencies. “We are using Nixle for community relations as well,” he says. “They have different levels for messages: Alerts, Advisories, Community, and Traffic.”

140-character community relations

If Nixle is a one-way tool, how is it possible to use for community relations—a two-way street? Moreover, how does it apply on the Internet, where communication is much more laid-back, less official than talking to a uniform or on the phone?

For starters, Nixle does integrate with Twitter. And its easy-to-read interface makes it crystal clear what kind of message is being broadcast. “The community messages can be used to send pretty much any kind of message,” says Perkins.

So how to encourage two-way communication? “I think posting regular community messages on Nixle and encouraging citizens to interact via email and Twitter would be necessary,” says Perkins, though he adds, “Believe me, if an agency uses Nixle to provide info, they WILL get feedback from their citizens—I’ve only posted [a few] messages and have received several positive emails about it.”

Thus far, Nixle interfaces only with Twitter, not Facebook or MySpace (though the company is actively soliciting suggestions for changes). However, Twitter interfaces with Facebook via RSS; so a Nixle post automatically going to Twitter would then go to Facebook.

Nixle’s contact information block is limited to one website, but TPD’s site is social-friendly: citizens are encouraged to sign up for both Nixle and the department’s RSS feed, follow on Twitter, and of course contact police personnel.

Media relations and critical incidents

A recent Twitter case study showed how a strong relationship between a police department’s public information officer (PIO) and reporters is even more crucial in the age of instant information.

“If the local PD is quick to post in order to keep the rumor mill at bay, then Nixle would be a good medium to do it,” says Perkins.

However, “quick to post” is the operative term. “We have been the victim of rumors too many times,” he adds. “I am adamant to my people that we are going to use Nixle to advise the citizens as often as possible after [field supervisors] are trained.”

In fact, Perkins anticipates that it will be easy to train the supervisors. “When you log into Nixle, there is a simple entry field [with a] button where you select the message type. Choose one and type your message and it then sends e-mail, SMS, Twitter posts, and creates a static online entry for you.”

Too easy? “Other chiefs say things to me about the amount of information I put out, but we are different generations,” says Perkins. “I am not willing to sit back and allow false allegations against my people, nor will I sit on something my citizens need to know I prefer to get the information in the open before they have time to ask. I think posting 24/7 as needed is what will make an agency the most effective; the stuff don’t hit the fan only between 8 and 5.”

But Perkins acknowledges that field supervisors’ posts will be limited to emergencies only, and that other items will be filtered. Training will involve not only how to use Nixle, but will also include scenarios. Initial training will be one-on-one, and will use the Nixle demo account to enable supervisors to get used to the system.

Finally, says Perkins, “I am set up to get posts, so I will know immediately if a problem exists and can take action.” Policy will also be an important part of the system. “[It] will cover various situations where use is approved and sample posts.”

He adds: “A lot of this is trust based. I think that is hard to swallow for some, but I think you train [supervisors] the best you can and give them access to the tools. We trust them with guns, cars, and the ability to arrest. Why not with providing vital info to citizens?”

The shallow end of the pool

Overall, Nixle may be just the “shallow end of the pool” that police chiefs need as they begin to wade into social media for their agencies. To be able to broadcast information on a level and in terms their citizens can understand would, in Perkin’s words, make such an agency “a real hero to their people.”

It would also provide a cushion such that administrators could begin to refine public information policies, duties, etc. for agencies that don’t have dedicated PIOs, or have limited public information going out.

However, says Perkins, “I also see it building momentum and becoming a ‘household’ name soon also—it is backed by too many widely recognized organizations, and they are going to be pushing it.” To illustrate his point, he points out that while TPD is just the 16th law enforcement agency in the U.S. to go live with Nixle, 600 more are in the process of becoming certified to use or test the system.

That makes it important for administrators to recognize that Nixle is but one channel in the wider social-media spectrum. Rather than use it as an excuse to hold off on learning Twitter and Facebook, administrators should look at it as a gateway.

“[Nixle] certainly wants to be part of social media, or they wouldn’t have offered Twitter integration from the get-go,” says Perkins. “Part of their material talks about social media, but states that it is not a secure platform, hence their partnership with NLETS.”

Perkins sums up his Nixle early adoption in terms of three reasons: “1. I have been using four platforms to deliver one message, 2. other all-in-one platforms are expensive, and 3. I am a huge advocate of public interaction. Nixle ties it all together at no cost and it is a secure and reliable platform.”

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