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!
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!
We are thrilled to have partnered with CAPSM at www.capsm.ca and announce the release of our first-of-its-kind research report on how police in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States are using Twitter! We hope you’ll find our discoveries as eye-opening as we did, and we think that regardless of where in the world you’re located, you’ll be able to learn from what other police are doing (and not doing) with this versatile communications tool.
It will be linked in the sidebar as well as in this post so that you can find it easily anytime you want. Meanwhile, we’d love to hear your feedback — please be sure to leave us a comment!
Proper use of social media can make your professionalism shine
Every police administrator knows what damage the wrong YouTube video, tweet, or Facebook status update can do. The public seems drawn to “stupid cop tricks,” and it’s never long before the media find out.
Once that happens, it’s all over. The media grill administrators for answers. Because an internal investigation is probably ongoing, there are none. Media and public alike assume there’s a coverup. The public loses trust in the police, who go on the defensive. Community relations suffers as street cops hide in their cruisers to avoid the criticism.
“What were they thinking?” is usually the response to an inappropriate social network posting. Short answer: they weren’t. Why? Because they weren’t thinking the same way an administrator thinks. Why? Because they’re not administrators? That’s a start. But it goes much deeper than that.
Because that’s the whole point of social networking: reaching out to others, your “friends,” whenever the mood strikes. Being honest, being transparent, showing you’re human and you suffer the same little trials everyone else does. Showing you’re not above them, showing you’re with them.
That’s worth considering. People show up for PR train wrecks because they like to see authority figures come down. Whether it’s a way of getting some back after a traffic ticket, or just because we all feel a little inadequate, seeing the powerful humbled is, well, validating. We feel a little better about our own shortcomings when we see everyone else has them too.
So the key isn’t to crack down on social media usage, ban it outright and closely monitor employees’ personal accounts. Not by any stretch. The key is to show them how they can be human and still be professional.
Social media use does not lend itself to a laundry list of “don’ts.” That’s because it’s inherently out of organizational control. Certainly, it is a good start to construct social media training around conduct policies, help officers start to think critically about what they post online.
But it’s only a start. Officers are still going to use these sites. They’re still going to want to talk about work; law enforcement isn’t just a job, after all, but part of many cops’ identities.
Some officers will prefer only to hang out in an online “bar,” of sorts, talking in safely restricted forums about their work. For that, I recommend OfficerResource.com, a forum whose moderators personally vet every applicant to its LE-only areas.
But others will see the potential for using social media to build their careers. Some people call it “personal branding.” I don’t like this term; when I hear “brand” I think Pepsi or Ford. Loyalty to a brand might be part of a person’s identity, but human relationships are formed and maintained differently.
I prefer to think in terms of “outstanding” professionals. PoliceOne.com makes reference to “5 percenters,” those officers who are exceptional performers in any situation whether tactical or mundane, who respond the right way because they’ve trained themselves to do so.
Put a 5 percenter online—or show 10-, 15-, or 20-percenters how to act online the same way they should wearing the badge in the real world—and you turn a potential liability into a very powerful tool. Officers who are allowed to tell their stories responsibly and respectfully accomplish a number of things:
They show community members what it is they’re doing behind the restricted-access areas of the police station.
They inform and educate about misunderstood or important topics to the community.
They reinforce the perception that they’re part of a professional team, both the agency and their own unit.
My focus is on “content creation and strategy” for the law enforcement and digital forensics communities. In essence, that means helping clients and/or customers to find and tell their stories strategically, through tactics like blogging, podcasting, and so forth.
My new blog, “The Outstanding Investigator,” will cover the kinds of concepts I just wrote about above. I hope you’ll subscribe to it—the content is as free there as it is here—and if you’re interested in what I have to offer, please let me know that too.
Meanwhile, I’ll continue to blog here at Cops 2.0, perhaps less frequently, but still with the broader look at social media in law enforcement that I’ve always taken. Happy New Year, and thanks for being part of my world!
Blogging about LinkedIn last time, one thing I neglected to mention was that LinkedIn allows you to “plug in” other applications like WordPress blogs, travel itineraries, Amazon.com reading lists, and Twitter feeds.
Those are pretty personal details. Unless your blog and your reading list are purely work-related, you might hesitate to plug them in to a professional profile. And who wants to tell the world when your family will be home alone while you travel to a conference?
Two LinkedIn applications, though, do deserve mention and merit for law enforcement use—especially those who regularly present to the public about crimes like identity theft and Internet safety. The SlideShare and Google Presentation applications allow you to embed your slide decks directly into your profile.
How sharing slide decks helps you
In the first place, posting your slide decks online helps your community. Not everyone can make it to your evening presentation at the local high school or senior center, and even if you can present more than once, that still doesn’t guarantee reaching everyone.
Making your presentation available online means that not only can absentees see it; anyone in the community can share it with family and friends, in or outside of the community. Think about the reach that has?
In the second place, sharing your slide decks helps your agency. Post them online, and the public affairs office doesn’t have to approve your in-public presentations, or field calls from people asking for help on “frequently asked questions.” Well, maybe they do… but your slide deck(s) make it easier for them to point to good information.
Same for when you hear from other cops who need presentations on your topic but don’t want to reinvent the wheel. Not only do you not have to email them the presentation; they can use it the same way you do: to inform citizens who can’t make it to their talks.
For one client, I didn’t just post slide decks to SlideShare; I then embedded them on the company’s main website. Depending on the deck, I could’ve embedded them in a blog entry, too. They’re a good way to provide visual content without having to deal with video, and embedding them in several places—website, blog, LinkedIn profile—means they are spread around the web, increasing the chances of their being seen.
This is important. If you know enough about your topic to present on it, then making it more available online means it’s easier for people who need your expertise to find you. I know, this makes a lot of cops (and their administrators) uncomfortable. But again, if you’re presenting in public, you’re already putting yourself out there, making those personal connections. Using the web amplifies your efforts.
A word about effective slide decks
Poorly presented slide decks can backfire, which is one reason why their use gets mixed reaction from professional speakers. Make sure yours get the message across without detracting from your live presentation, or being too vague and confusing when shared online. A contradiction? Actually, I recommend ThinkOutsidetheSlide.com and its companion blog. These ideas are expressed much more effectively there.
There is no good reason not to allow officers to put information out for public consumption of all kinds of topics. Slide deck uploads can help both the department and the individual officer, branding the officer’s professional career and “expert” status at the same time that it brands the agency—not only as a trustworthy source of information, but also as one that can be trusted to hire the right people.
What kinds of presentations can you start sharing today?