When Mike Vallez launched his social media blog a few weeks ago, I was struck by a comment he made in one of his first posts: “I would venture to guess that in the future you will have a social media police officer or many social media police officers that will be involved in “the conversation’”….
I asked him to elaborate on that comment: Should they do ALL of the social media for a PD, or should they simply monitor all the channels and direct outreach efforts? What role would they play during critical incidents? What experience should they have? How would they interact and cooperate with other officers doing public outreach?
Mike’s answers, reprinted with permission below, provide much food for thought:
As time goes on and social media continues to become more prevalent in people’s lives, law enforcement is going to have to deal with the Goliath known as social media.
I firmly believe that if there are not already full-time social media police officers; that there will be dedicated social media police officers, communications officers, etc. in the very near future. Is it outlandish to consider positing a police officer on the computer 24/7 to monitor and Tweet or Facebook out information? I don’t think so.
Social media management
As social media changes, so does the management of social media. Police departments are going to have to include social media into their communications policies or standard operating procedures (SOP). Communication for law enforcement agencies usually falls to the Public Information Officer (PIO), but is usually managed by the chief or his executives.
Law enforcement needs to embrace social media and investigate what benefits they can realize. These may include better communication with their customers, cost savings, and gaining respect from the citizens they police through authenticity/honesty.
On the flip side police, departments are going to have to find knowledgeable individuals either inside or outside their departments who have social media experience to implement these policies correctly. If a social media policy is not implemented correctly then it probably won’t be understood by the community or the agency. Hence the agency in question will realize a social media failure and will be hesitant to use this powerful communication tool going forward.
The social media officer’s duties
Most law enforcement agencies will adapt and embrace social media over the next few years as a valid communication tool, out of necessity. You will see social media police officers that monitor the bigger social media websites like Twitter and Facebook.
A few duties these officers may have is to monitor what is being said about their agency (Twitter side search box) so they can respond to possible discrepant information or help a citizen with a problem proactively. These officers can Tweet out or send Facebook messages on a variety of things: traffic accidents, crime prevention, crime patterns, videos of crimes, etc.
Another duty would be to have a blog about their department, covering human issues within the department to reach out for that personal touch with the community. Does this position have to be a sworn law enforcement officer? This could be up for debate. Maybe this position would fall in the PIO’s area and then again maybe not. [Christa notes: some community relations officers fill this role. Cops 2.0 partner Scott White is his agency's IT manager.]
The social media dispatcher
When people start to report crimes on Twitter and Facebook, which has already happened, I think there is a good argument to have a sworn law enforcement officer tracking this information. The officer would be able to communicate tips, suspect descriptions, etc. to his fellow officers from a trained police officer’s perspective.
[This creates] the argument that Twitter and Facebook communication should fall under the onus of the communications section (dispatchers). Dispatchers are trained how to handle stressful situations, specifically communicating with victims.
But, why not have Twitter and Facebook fall in all of these areas? Use the department’s main Twitter account as the feed and have the different sections monitor this feed. You can have a SOP, which points out what Tweets or Facebook communications will be handled by whom. This is called Social Media dispatching, which is not too much different than regular telecommunication dispatching.
Social media is here for now and growing at an exponential rate. Law enforcement agencies that turn a blind eye to social media will eventually be caught in a firestorm. This will most likely happen when social media could have been used for prevention or warning of real time incidents, but was not and a negative outcome results.
Social media police officers, social media dispatchers, social media community service officers are all going to be on the horizon due to the cultural changes that are occurring in how people communicate using social media.