Tag Archives: Police

#copchat January 9: Policing people with mental illnesses

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.


#copchat 01/09/2013

The #copchat community discussed how police relate, and could better relate, to people with mental illnesses.

Storified by christammiller· Sat, Jan 12 2013 07:16:33

RT @TPSChrisBoddy: MT @christammiller: Good morning #copchat friends. Topic tonight: police response to ppl w/ mental illness, 9pm @wazaname @Org9 @steelhoofKristen Rose
@christammiller @Org9 @steelhoof #copchat : 1A) http://pic.twitter.com/DXCxU2xpblahhZ
Going to post 1 last twit pic on behalf of a coworker #copchat http://pic.twitter.com/NuvCnzvXblahhZ
@christammiller @Org9 @steelhoof #copchat – 1C) http://pic.twitter.com/4nqKN9IpblahhZ
@christammiller @Org9 @steelhoof #copchat – 1D) http://pic.twitter.com/8yl4cg1nblahhZ
@christammiller whomever i spoke to (have badge #’s) told me that it IS controlled substance #copchatblahhZ
@christammiller too late for person who may have social phobia however #copchat ill keep badge #’s however.if they lie bout that.other liesblahhZ
Priming the #CopChat pump: Millvale PA police Taser mentally ill man in their custody http://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2013/01/08/mother-calls-video-of-taser-being-used-on-her-son-disturbing-terrible/WarOnPrivacy
Paranoid Schizophrenic man shoots/injures 2 police officers on subway and is shot/killed by them http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2013/01/06/family-man-fatally-shot-by-police-was-mentally-ill/ #CopChatWarOnPrivacy
@WarOnPrivacy#copchat this story speaks very loudly of totally untrained and as a result probably very #scared officers in the streetBill Ries-Knight
@WarOnPrivacy #copchat concur no gun & if he was paranoid schizophrenic and not medicated and treatment very likely this might not happenedBill Ries-Knight
Q1: #Police use force less when trained on mental illness issues. Where does the training/education need to start? #copchatchristammiller
RT @steelhoof #copchat I’m here to begin and let me tell you biggest thing we need is education for the police and administrators in schoolschristammiller
@christammiller #copchat the training needs to be again with getting the office to recognize what mental illness looks like in peopleBill Ries-Knight
@christammiller @steelhoof In Canada I believe the schools & police are educated but SM has brought mental issues to forefront! #copchatLeigh Buchan
@lives2talk In what ways has #SM highlighted mental illness issues? #copchatchristammiller
@christammiller It’s been a platform for parents of kids w/mental illess to discuss their concerns & issues openly #copchatLeigh Buchan
@lives2talk Do you see #police actively engaging or even monitoring discussions like that? Seems like it would be a great resource. #copchatchristammiller
@christammiller dont know about starting, but if relationships with mental health agencies are fostered – can be of benefit IMO #copchatblahhZ
@wazaname Do you have examples of existing relationships? I’m thinking of the Memphis CIT program; others? #copchatchristammiller
CITThe Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) program is a community partnership working with mental health consumers and family members. Our goal i…
@christammiller unfortunately….. no. #copchatblahhZ
@wazaname And I also agree that more education is needed in dealing with people with mental health issues. Both public and police #copchatRandall Arsenault
In Ontario, trng re police interactions w those in crisis starts before new cops even hit the streets. @christammiller #copchatChris Boddy
TPS have a MCIT program which matches a cop with a nurse responding to those suffering a mental illness. @christammiller @wazaname #copchatChris Boddy
@TPSChrisBoddy #copchat exactly what we need. Reconize MH. & look at people as helps because then they can see the nuances that matterBill Ries-Knight
@TPSChrisBoddy Tell us more — what does the training look like & what does it involve? #copchatchristammiller
@TPSChrisBoddy the MCIT program is very effective in Scarborough. The Officers choose to be there. #copchatRandall Arsenault
@TPSChrisBoddy Gotta ask – @TheRealDamany posted earlier abt Michael Eligon shooting. MCIT in effect then, or after? #copchatchristammiller
@PCArsenault8074 2/2 and explain the situation…doing best to calm said person down #copchatblahhZ
@wazaname No worries. So what would those relationships look like? Where would a PD start in developing them? #copchatchristammiller
@wazaname Considering that many times the relationships don’t start until after a crisis/incident. #copchatchristammiller
@christammiller @TPSChrisBoddy does..very useful.. Not enough resources to be able to be on ALL calls where could be of benefit #copchatblahhZ
Sure. How to triage calls then… MT @wazaname: Not enough resources to be able to be on ALL calls where could be of benefit #copchatchristammiller
@christammiller @TPSChrisBoddy is DEFINITELY positive when can accompany police #copchatblahhZ
@christammiller We don’t have resources for MCITs 24/7 however EVERY TPS cop receives training every year in this. @TheRealDamany #copchatChris Boddy
@christammiller @TPSChrisBoddy I wasn’t aware of that. Very good idea! But sometimes mental illess isn’t obvious #copchatLeigh Buchan
GREAT point. How to educate on recognizing potential? MT @lives2talk: Very good idea! But sometimes mental illess isnt obvious #copchatchristammiller
@lives2talk Great point! Mental illness isn’t always obvious, some people don’t even know the signs. Major issue for teens too #copchatRandall Arsenault
@lives2talk @christammiller @TPSChrisBoddy isnt and it presents itself like night and day at times #copchatblahhZ
@christammiller participate in mental health agencies’ AGM’s is one thought? #copchatblahhZ
@christammiller annual general meetings.. Most non profits have them..all are welcome #CopchatblahhZ
@christammiller agencies that work w/ populations such as addictions / mental health / homeless are frequently dealing with crisis’ #copchatblahhZ
#copchat we have to convince people that control the purse strings that mental health is cheaper to deal with when it becomes a commodityBill Ries-Knight
#copchat. When an illness becomes a commodity early treatment becomes apparently important. Keep them out of the emergency room & jailsBill Ries-Knight
#copchat on Talk of the Nation today. it has been pointed out that far more is learned from people under treatment than shootersBill Ries-Knight
#copchat when mental health can be dealt with from the school level that early intervention makes a huge differenceBill Ries-Knight
#copchat 1 suggestion that made sense was to go back to the days when students actually saw counselors on a regular basis.Bill Ries-Knight
@TPSChrisBoddy What kind of training… classroom, scenario-based? Mental illness is so individual. #copchatchristammiller
Scenario & classroom w a focus on de-escalation. Use of force is always a last resort. @christammiller #copchatChris Boddy
@christammiller Classroom, scenario based, guest speakers, all good methods of training. #copchatRandall Arsenault
@TPSChrisBoddy @christammiller *should* be a last resort. Less than yr ago.person wearing hospital gown in east toronto.shot by TPS #copchatblahhZ
@wazaname That was the shooting of Michael Eligon — I RT’d an article about that at the start of the hour. Very sad. #copchatchristammiller
@TPSChrisBoddy What are some de-escalation techniques you are taught to use? #copchatchristammiller
@TPSChrisBoddy @christammiller @TheRealDamany I would think that in Canada it’s most frontline officers would be trained #copchatLeigh Buchan
#CopChat Think I see one prob – lumping mental illnesses together. Schizophrenia is not BiPolar is not BPD.WarOnPrivacy
@WarOnPrivacy Yes. & also w/ bizarre behavior, assuming substance abuse which may or may not be a factor in crisis. #copchatchristammiller
@WarOnPrivacy exactly, lumping all mental illness together makes it harder on people to fully understand, and almost more scary. #copchatRandall Arsenault
#CopChat to clarify: Borderline’s don’t appear MI – can seem more competent than average folks. However, they can be highly manipulative.WarOnPrivacy
#CopChat Some MI easy to spot like manic BiPolar high or Schitz psychosis. I’ve seen BPDs manipulate officers. @christammillerWarOnPrivacy
@TPSChrisBoddy Are there any news articles about MCIT successes? #copchatchristammiller
Last Feb, we had the media at out College to witness how we train our officers to respond to those in crisis. @christammiller #copchatChris Boddy
.@TheRealDamany The TPS includes consumers survivours is the development of our training. #copchatChris Boddy
@TPSChrisBoddy @christammiller case in ? http://m.thestar.com/news/gta/crime/article/1125770–toronto-police-involved-in-east-end-shooting (no i wasnt there so wont pretend 2 knO full stry) #copchatblahhZ
@TheRealDamany @TPSChrisBoddy @christammiller In many of those cases, the mental illness is not obvious! #copchatLeigh Buchan
Q2: So TPS police get annual training on mental illness. W/ limited resources, how can PDs make tng regular & consistent? #copchatchristammiller
Perhaps more to the point, how can #police ingrain sensitivity to mental illness in their overall situational awareness? #copchatchristammiller
I would suggest a constant community liaison you bring the subject up on regular basis almost to the point of being tiresome #copchatBill Ries-Knight
#CopChat Local PDs should consider reaching out to NAMI and other local resources. Local Mental Health centers may help. @christammillerWarOnPrivacy
@christammiller @WarOnPrivacy What is NAMI? #copchatLeigh Buchan
@lives2talk National Alliance on Mental Illness #copchatBijou Chevalier
@christammiller Have seminars held by professionals in the various areas of mental illness #copchatLeigh Buchan
Need to be high quality RT @lives2talk: @christammiller Have seminars held by professionals in the various areas of mental illness #copchatchristammiller
@lives2talk For maximum absorption of information. Seminar attendees have to care. #copchatchristammiller
@christammiller It’s sad if there are frontline workers who Don’t Care #copchatLeigh Buchan
#CopChat ‘Have to care’ -> That suggests core groups of appropriately trained officers. @christammillerWarOnPrivacy
#CopChat ..cont. That is leading w/ the heart is actually helpful here. But NOT with BPDs – they’ll take your heart and run w/ it @wazanameWarOnPrivacy
MT @WarOnPrivacy: In figuring out whos a good fit to work w/ MI, it helps to know that compassion/empathy -> directly into wisdom #copchatchristammiller
#CopChat cont Maybe better said for BPDs -> Compassion yes, Empathy no. @wazanameWarOnPrivacy
@WarOnPrivacy BPDs not the only ones who manipulate. How can police recognize manipulation & head it off or deal w/ it? #copchatchristammiller
@WarOnPrivacy better my <3 than their life/someone else’s.there is always certain cases where PD have no choice but 2 take a person #copchatblahhZ
#CopChat I get that. I posted two opposing stories earlier. In one the officers really didn’t have a choice. @wazanameWarOnPrivacy
@WarOnPrivacy and realizing that there is never a point where learning is complete..various MI various ways of presenting itself. #copchatblahhZ
@WarOnPrivacy exactly. Fear of danger is relative when there is a difference in rapport w/ #copchatblahhZ
I think they just become cynical. RT @lives2talk: @christammiller Its sad if there are frontline workers who Dont Care #copchatchristammiller
@lives2talk Lack of education/training & cynicism leads to misconduct & even abuse/excessive force. #copchatchristammiller
@christammiller Those like that need to be weeded out and dealt with! #copchatLeigh Buchan
Going back to @steelhoof’s 1st point abt educ MT @WarOnPrivacy: Have to care -> suggests core groups of appropriately trained ofcs #copchatchristammiller
Absolutely! But may be systemic in spots. RT @lives2talk: @christammiller Those like that need to be weeded out and dealt with! #copchatchristammiller
@lives2talk In other words can you fire an entire or majority of police force when cultural cynicism runs that deep? #copchatchristammiller
@RocheJacqueline @TPSChrisBoddy @christammiller yes..even tazers can be deadly #copchatblahhZ
@WarOnPrivacy This is done as part of Memphis Crisis Intervention Team model: http://ow.ly/gGwsw but uptake around nation spotty. #copchatchristammiller
#CopChat Based on my experience, there are plenty of Mental Health pros who wouldn’t hesitate to help. Big reward in defusing situations.WarOnPrivacy
Volunteer? MT @WarOnPrivacy: Based on my experience, there are plenty of Mental Health pros who wouldnt hesitate to help. #copchatchristammiller
@TheRealDamany TPS have literally 1000s of contacts every year w those in crisis; very few result in injuries. @christammiller #copchatChris Boddy
@christammiller @WarOnPrivacy No local mental hlth ctrs in Ajax/Pickering #copchatLeigh Buchan
#CopChat – I’d offer that whoever 1st responds to someone w/ MI will have the same task to do – no matter their professional background.WarOnPrivacy
@christammiller @TPSChrisBoddy r those ‘reported’ ? 1 mishandled is 2 much.sry again.i wouldnt wanna do ur job.not saying it’s easy #copchatblahhZ
@wazaname I agree, one injury is 2 many. We recognize that. #copchatChris Boddy
@TPSChrisBoddy ty..and again..i recognize that the GOOD cops…are instrumental #copchatblahhZ
@TPSChrisBoddy Reported injuries….reported. #CopChat @TheRealDamany @christammillerPaisley Rae
@paisleyrae Hi Paisley! All injuries are reported. @TheRealDamany @christammiller #CopChatChris Boddy
MT @paisleyrae: @TPSChrisBoddy people who are marginalized are less likely to report, for a host of reasons… #copchatchristammiller
@christammiller Suggestion #1 – eliminate the phrase "a few bad apples" from your vocabulary. #CopChatPaisley Rae
@christammiller why? Because people are telling you what they see when they look at you & it ain’t pretty. Don’t pass the buck. #CopChatPaisley Rae
#CopChat In figuring out who’s a good fit to work w/ MI, it helps to know that compassion/empathy translates directly into wisdom @wazanameWarOnPrivacy
In terms of TPS training, does everyone get basic training with some getting more advanced training? #copchatBijou Chevalier
Or in addition to all the other roles, are individual officers expected to be mental health para-professionals as well? #copchatBijou Chevalier
@Mlle_Bijou that’s a good point as well, mental health is just one of the many issues Police deal with on a daily basis. #copchatRandall Arsenault
#CopChat ‘Various MI Manifestation’ -> This includes the Developmentally Disabled. Though not MI they do need special handling @wazanameWarOnPrivacy
@christammiller R thr repercutions if PD treats person as having mental illness when they don’t? #copchatLeigh Buchan
Interesting! Don’t know. @TPSChrisBoddy? MT @lives2talk: R thr repercutions if PD treats person as having MI when they dont? #copchatchristammiller
@lives2talk How can it be bad though? De-escalation is de-escalation, no? @TPSChrisBoddy #copchatchristammiller
.@christammiller @lives2talk Short answer, we must treat everyone fairly and w respect regardless. #copchatChris Boddy
#CopChat Do you mean where someone has been involuntarily committed and does not have a Mental Illness? @lives2talk @christammillerWarOnPrivacy
Good point, didn’t think of that. RT @WarOnPrivacy: Do you mean where someone has been involuntarily committed & does not have MI? #copchatchristammiller
@christammiller @TPSChrisBoddy I know ppl with physical disabilities that have been misinterpreted as MI. They get ANGRY #copchatLeigh Buchan
@WarOnPrivacy indeed #copchat http://m.thestar.com/news/gta/article/1142137–toronto-police-settle-g20-human-rights-case-against-quadriplegic-man story makes me..a lil sick #copchatblahhZ
@WarOnPrivacy physically disables in prev reply #copchatblahhZ
@lives2talk @TPSChrisBoddy For that matter, ppl w/ autism spectrum disorder – not MI but need sensitivity too. #copchatchristammiller
@christammiller @lives2talk We train on autism also. #copchatChris Boddy
@TPSChrisBoddy @christammiller I was thinking more of MD and MS #copchatLeigh Buchan
#CopChat I’d think descalation training would benefit those interactions. It’s offered more and more often @lives2talk @christammillerWarOnPrivacy
@lives2talk MD & MS… sounds like disability in general is poorly understood & also feared, mental OR physical… #copchatchristammiller
@christammiller @WarOnPrivacy Would think that hosp’s psychiatrist on call would make the final decision B4 commitment! #copchatLeigh Buchan
#CopChat Usually true but there are boneheaded psychiatrists out there. @lives2talk @christammillerWarOnPrivacy
@WarOnPrivacy @lives2talk Boneheaded & also those not well versed in certain types of MI. Seems to be a shifting subject. #copchatchristammiller
@christammiller i am not in #Copchat but I’m my area there was a nice partnership between local pd and mental health professionalsCorey Harrell
@corey_harrell Hey Corey! Thanks for jumping in. What size area? Just curious whether rural/suburban/urban. #copchatchristammiller
@corey_harrell great to hear! We have an excellent relationship/partnership with our agencies as well. Very important. #copchatRandall Arsenault
@corey_harrell Sounds like the Memphis Model? #copchatchristammiller
@corey_harrell I’m just wondering how easy it would be to translate that model to an area w/ fewer resources… #copchatchristammiller
If anyone has some questions u can ask My wife is mental health pro who trains NYSP recruits and used to work wit local PD on calls #CopchatCorey Harrell
@christammiller Easy. It is really about training officers how to recognize, appropriately handle situations 1/2 #copchatCorey Harrell
@christammiller & be aware of local MH resources and local mental hygience law 2/2 #copchatCorey Harrell
@corey_harrell Dunno. Training budgets being cut left & right. That makes it not so easy IMO. #copchatchristammiller
@christammiller She don’t know. The programs here are state and grant (CIT) funded. The PD doesn’t have to pay for it. 1/2 #copchatCorey Harrell
@christammiller Partnerships between PD and local mental health agencies could reduce cost if both work together 2/2 #copchatCorey Harrell
@corey_harrell Ahh that makes sense. So I wonder if PDs are not educated enough on grant resources…. #copchatchristammiller
Deep gratitude to @YourAnonNews for not trolling #copchat this week. It was a good conversation & starting point for more. Thank you.christammiller
I am seriously/personally thanking @YourAnonNews for not spamming #copchat. U could have..lord knows.. ‘ucoulda’ #WhyDidntYou?blahhZ
Bedtime reading as #copchat comes to a close: liability for failure to train -> constitutional rights violations? http://ow.ly/gGzx7christammiller
Good job @christammiller for bringing up an important issue last night. That conversation needs to continue for a long time. #copchat#FreeSpeechForPolice

What can you add to this conversation?

Now tweeting: #copchat, the new resource for law enforcement

Twitter chats can build communityIn 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!

Workers vs. widgets: policing in the age of high tech

police HUMINT surveillance camerasLast 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.

This can be especially profound in communities like Rialto (Calif.), where the police department has lost about 10 officers in one year. Web-based crime reporting and crime mapping, together with traditional community policing, has led to decreases in most crimes. Likewise as PoliceOne.com points out, cameras are cheaper than hiring police officers, especially in small towns.

The hidden costs of high tech policing

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:

  1. There are no substitutes for good traditional police work, which frequently figured into even the most high tech of investigations.
  2. Law enforcement must address the potential for abuse of technology if they are to be effective.
  3. Technology is often seen as a “panacea” rather than critically compared alongside more traditional approaches.

Bodies vs. tech

These issues appear to be coming to bear most strongly in Chicago, where a manpower shortage together with violent crime is colliding with a push toward more high tech use. On the tech side, now-resigned Police Superintendent Jody Weis argues that the technology itself, including consolidating intelligence services under his office,  social network analysis in combating gangs, and the use of high tech surveillance cameras, (along with training) is responsible for reductions in crime.

However, in an opinion about the surveillance cameras, blogger Second City Cop speaks for many officers when he argues, “You know what protects the senior citizen? Cops on the streets.” Chicago media have reported that the 200 expected new hires this year won’t make up for the estimated 300 officers leaving the force, and there are 950 total vacancies. Meanwhile, Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel pledged during his campaign to put 1,000 more officers on the streets, not just through hiring but also through administrative changes.

Human vs. electronic intelligence

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!

Creative Commons License photo credit: BinaryApe

First ever police-on-Twitter report now available!

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!

Survey of Official & Unofficial Law Enforcement Twitter Accounts in Canada, the United Kingdom, & the Unite…

Guarding against stupid cop tricks

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.

Or… not

“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.

They weren’t thinking because they were more focused on the moment: taking a picture that would get them “points,” or venting their frustrations about a fact of a cop’s life.

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.

Outstanding professionals

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.

An invitation

Part of the reason I’ve been absent from blogging over the last few weeks is that, among my other work, I’ve been building: a redesigned website that focuses on exactly the services I provide.

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!

Image: soulmuser via Flickr

Presenting to community groups? Share!

After the presentation, put the slides online

After the presentation, put the slides online

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?

Image: Lachlan Hardy via Flickr