Tag Archives: Public safety

Occupy policing: Shaping community dialogue through leadership

occupy wall street policingA Washington Post headline this week caught my eye: “Police want to stay out of Occupy story.” As quoted in the article:

“What keeps police chiefs up at night is that somehow the purpose of the movement will become about actions that the police have taken,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a D.C.-based law enforcement think tank.

That’s exactly what is happening. Because of police actions, some OWS supporters view law enforcement as part of the bought-and-paid-for corporate machine; and some Tea Partiers, though they may support actions taken against OWS, have perceived police as part of Big Government.

At this point, the more “outside” police try to be, the more they will fan the flames of misperception on both sides. This is perhaps exemplified in a recent Alternet post (emphasis mine):

PERF organizes conference calls among police officials to discuss areas of common concern. Last year, it held a conference call among police chiefs who were worried that Arizona’s harsh immigration law, SB 1070, would drive a wedge between law enforcement agencies and the immigrant communities they are supposed to protect and serve. Fox “News” ran a story at the time alleging that PERF was some sort of far-left police organization and therefore illegitimate. Now we’re getting a similar story from progressives, which is discouraging.

Shaping the story you’re part of

For three years Cops 2.0 and resources like it have existed to help police learn how to use social media (and other forms of technology) to build relationships with the public. Yet we see little evidence of any such relationships — online or off — in any of the cities where violence, or even nonviolence, has taken place.

What if police used social tools to shape the story they’re already a part of? Not their side — a cop’s-eye perspective on arrests taking place — but the story itself. Consider this largely positive version of PERF and OWS policing from the Las Vegas Sun (emphasis mine):

From Atlanta to Washington, D.C., officials talked about how authorities could make camps safe for protesters and the community. Officials also learned about the kinds of problems they could expect from cities with larger and more established protest encampments….

and:

Interim [Oakland, Calif.] Police Chief Howard Jordan said… a theme was how the atmosphere at the camps had shifted from a haven for peaceful protest to one for criminal behavior.

“Some chiefs had been tolerant of the progressive movement, but that all changed when the criminal element showed up,” Jordan said. “As police, you can’t allow anything that foster criminal activities in any city.”

Jordan said that he and other police brass and city officials began planning last week for officers to remove the camp outside City Hall for a second time after collecting enough evidence that gang activity and an open-air drug market had emerged at the park.

and most telling of all:

Portland (Ore.) Mayor Sam Adams said the primary issue among the mayors was how to get a message to a movement that didn’t have any clear leadership. “A lot of time was spent on how do you effectively communicate with a group that doesn’t have a leader?” Adams said.

Monitoring, influence, and “joining the conversation”

I am quite sure that police are monitoring online conversations for insight and, yes, intelligence about what’s going on in the encampments. But Adams’ question indicates fundamental misunderstanding about the power of social media monitoring in helping an organization learn how — and with whom — to communicate.

Setting up a Facebook page and a Twitter account (or a blog, YouTube channel or podcast) only prepares the agency to keep broadcasting using new channels. In other words, engaging with fans and followers about the content you push is merely a discussion about business as usual.

If police really wanted to use social media to “join the conversation,” they’d join the conversation — the one that matters to the citizens. Not to be political, but to involve protesters in finding the best balance between free speech and the laws that make for civil society.

And, secondarily, to use all that online intelligence to educate themselves about the group. In fact, many movements online are lateral and leaderless — yet nevertheless benefit from informal leaders, or “influencers,” whose opinions and thoughts resonate with many.

So in much the same way that physically blending into the OWS crowds would allow police officers to see informal leaders and group dynamics, learning who’s blogging, tweeting and shooting video (and what they’re writing or shooting about) would help police determine critical online influencers.

And what would they do with that information? For starters, they might solicit those individuals’ help, both online and off. The “criminal element” dilutes OWS’ message too, and while protesters wouldn’t want to be treated as “informers,” they should at least be given the opportunity — as any Neighborhood Watch — to have a hand in protecting one another.

This is the story police should be telling about their role. Chiefs coming together is a start, but making communities safe needs to involve the communities themselves.

Incidentally, these are ideas reflected by former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper in an interview with Democracy Now (emphasis mine):

“…if the police and the community in a democratic society are really working hard—and it is hard work—to forge authentic partnerships rather than this unilateral, paramilitary response to these demonstrations, that the relationship itself serves as a shock absorber. ”

Expanding further in his own article for The Nation, Stamper advocates:

Assuming the necessity of radical structural reform, how do we proceed? By building a progressive police organization, created by rank-and-file officers, “civilian” employees and community representatives. Such an effort would include plans to flatten hierarchies; create a true citizen review board with investigative and subpoena powers; and ensure community participation in all operations, including policy-making, program development, priority-setting and crisis management. In short, cops and citizens would forge an authentic partnership in policing the city. And because partners do not act unilaterally, they would be compelled to keep each other informed, and to build trust and mutual respect—qualities sorely missing from the current equation.

In the business world, marketing strategists talk about the need for “social business,” an organization into which social media are integrated at every possible level — channels that facilitate communication, which in turn promotes the kind of structure Stamper envisions. (It’s worth noting that these are dynamics already appearing among the civilian protesters at OWS.)

A police force whose actions reinforce the worst perceptions is an ineffectual police force, at a time when our society needs leadership more than ever. Leadership isn’t telling people to go shop, or go home, or go get a bath and a job. It’s understanding why people are using demonstration to show they care about their society, and from there, understanding — and talking about — how to work together to keep the peace.

How can you shape the kind of story that develops into dialogue about how you police your community?

Creative Commons License photo credit: jorenerene

Creating partners in public safety

109 Precinct Community Council Meeting, September 7, 2010A couple of articles caught my eye last week. First, there was Good Old Bill’s wistful story of a spontaneous decision to engage in some community policing:

People see that little of us these days, other than in a quick fleeting visit or by passing them whilst preoccupied whilst on foot – or more likely – by car. When they do see us we are generally busy thinking about what we have to do and that we have X amount of outstanding jobs that are “backing up” and need dealing with and that we have a pot of crimes that need investigating between all the calls for service….

All of this has resulted in people forming opinions of us. We are arrogant, unapproachable and uninterested [being some of the most popular ones]. In turn, we have formed opinions that the public don’t like us and that we are unappreciated and not understood. It’s a vicious circle.

We cannot control what opinions people form, but we can try to influence the reasons why they think them.

If only we had more opportunities like those I had this week. I think all of us would benefit from it. But I didn’t get a “tick” for doing it, and it’s not measurable by some kind of statistic.

Then, police leaders’ point of view on where policing is headed, from a summit in Seattle:

“The fact is, we’re in the process of constructing the next iteration of police work,” [Chief Garry McCarthy of the Newark Police Department] said. “Initially, police were very reactive,” responding to crimes after they’d been committed, he said.

“Then proactive policing came in, and we talked about preventing crime. The next step is preventing crime in concert and with the blessings of the community,” McCarthy said. “It’s where we’re going as a profession.”

[King County Sheriff Sue Rahr] said police agencies are good at teaching officers physical skills, but now they need to focus on officers’ interpersonal skills.

Instead of focusing on building trust through community forums and other macro-level efforts, Rahr said the focus is shifting to the micro level by building trust through individual contacts.

“We need to build community trust one interaction at a time,” she said.

What austerity means to community

Both in the United Kingdom and in the United States, what is called “austerity measures” in the UK and “budget cuts” in the US has impacted policing severely. Just this past week, the Sacramento Police department was the latest to announce deep cuts, layoffs too. Many specialized units are being eliminated, and officers will respond primarily to emergencies.

Yet both Good Old Bill and Sheriff Rahr are calling for more one-to-one interactions as a way to stave off the psychological impact of these measures. What’s up with that?

I’ve worried about what cuts would mean to high tech crime investigation and digital forensics. The more entrenched technology becomes, the more need to examine it for evidence of crime. Yet as police departments pull staff from these tasks and reassign them to the street (or lay them off altogether), the return to a more physical form of policing means less opportunity for officers to practice their digital — along with their interpersonal — skills.

The answer may just lie in those one-to-one interactions. Last year, a Denver Post article detailed how residents of Colorado Springs (Colo.) were taking a more active role in their own quality of life maintenance, the issues behind the “Broken Windows” theory of policing.

This reflects an article from San Diego, in which police noted that community policing was never meant to be permanent; it was meant to be transitory, enabling the community to be proactive and rely less on police. This transition may be underway already, even if we weren’t expecting it.

Legal and social complications

Still, questions remain on legal and social issues, especially with regard to high tech crime and evidence. Two other stories are troubling because of what they mean for privacy and how civilians relate to one another.

In Michigan, the ACLU has for a long time demanded to know how state troopers use cell phone forensic tools. Other law enforcement agencies are starting to put these tools in cruisers for officers to use, to save time and enable more evidence collection with less manpower.

However, and not just because of the ACLU, forensic professionals hesitate to cheer such decisions because good case law is predicated on proper forensic process. With great power comes great responsibility, after all; is it enough simply to train the officers on the use of the tool? A forensic unit is not a radar unit; it takes more than tuning forks to validate that the tool works properly.

In addition, The Independent noted that in the UK, victims of theft have engaged in some degree of vigilantism to find the high-tech equipment they’ve found stolen:

From Surrey to San Francisco, software is doing the job of the police as vigilantes use tracking programmes more commonly seen in CIA action thrillers to locate missing computers and phones. In April, the ex-England rugby captain Will Carling traced his stolen iPad to a block of flats in Woking. He knocked on all the doors – to no avail – then traced its movement through the town while detailing the chase on Twitter. The iPad was eventually handed in to local police.

Certainly this is convenient, but in some cases it may violate state laws. In California, for instance, no “safe harbor” law exists for crime victims to monitor stolen equipment in real time. That means residents who use these tools may be violating anti-wiretapping laws, and laws designed to protect private communications — yes, even on stolen equipment.

In other words, police can’t use that evidence in court, or at least can use only the data not collected in real time, and may be barred from using the information even with a search warrant.

More recently, vigilantism reared its head in Vancouver following the riots over the city’s Stanley Cup loss:

[B.C. Civil Liberties Association David] Eby said he understood the community’s anger, given the destruction and chaos, but said that bloggers run the risk of labelling bystanders as criminals.

“The concern that we have is when pictures are posted to private websites, the suggestion is made that people may have broken the law,” he said. “There were many people in the downtown area that were shocked, stunned, appalled that were not breaking any laws.”

It seems clear to me that in order to help citizens navigate these issues, police cannot simply return to the “bread and butter” of traditional policing. If they do, then that leaves only federal law enforcement — the Secret Service, the Internet Crimes Complaint Center, etc. — which is also unsustainable over the long term.

If we:

  • don’t want to return to traditional reactive policing because it will undo all the hard work we’ve put in over 20 years
  • don’t have time or resources to devote to proactive policing over the next 20 years
  • are truly taking the next step towards empowering citizens to keep themselves safe

Then we should consider treating them almost as rookie cops, finding field training officers and attorneys who can help them navigate legal and social issues as they become proper partners in public safety. It goes without saying that social media could help pave the way.

I know of detectives and officers who already do this, making the time with their agencies’ blessing. How might yours make room among their regular duties?

Image: lancmanoffice via Flickr

Political pressure? Refer to your values

pressureIt’s been said that social media “amplifies” whatever an organization’s values are. If a company is all about pushy sales, so will be its social efforts. If it seeks long-term customer loyalty based on relationships, its social efforts will reflect that too.

Likewise among police departments. An agency that respects its citizens enough to communicate with them and make them partners in crime-solving will show that online. An agency that has no respect for citizens… well, it might have Twitter and Facebook pages, but it either won’t use them regularly, or won’t use them appropriately.

That’s why it’s so important that the Huntington Beach (Calif.) Police Department resisted city council member Devin Dwyer’s plan to use the department’s Facebook page to “shame” drivers arrested for DWI. An Associated Press article noted:

Police spokesman Lt. Russell Reinhart said that since launching its Facebook page in November, officers have found it to be a valuable way of getting information to the public and soliciting tips on tough cases.

A couple of DUI suspect mug shots have been posted, but they were from egregious cases where police thought the public could be at immediate risk from the suspect. Reinhart fears Facebook fans could be turned off by the routine public shaming of all repeat DUI offenders.

This is not just a gut sense on his part, but rather one based on page analytics: “Our social media presence is just a few months old and we have had a steady growth of fans and followers,” he told me. “The administrative side of Facebook shows the number of views and impressions is growing steadily as well.  The feedback is all positive from our community.  Using those tools as a measurement, we are doing the right thing for the right reason.”

Different definitions of “public safety”

This debate shows how critical it is for goals and strategy to come before the tactics. If you jump on social media without knowing what you want your public to take away from it – and then, what you want them to do with the information – it will be harder to articulate why a politician’s demand “feels wrong,” and easier to cave to that demand.

This is especially true when the demand is grounded in a different perspective on public safety. As it turned out in a council debate, the issues on both sides are complex. Among the council members’ reasons for opposition:

  • Posting pictures, even of habitual offenders, could shame families as well as offenders and increase the risk for bullying or cyberbullying of kids who have tried to hide the family secret.
  • Huntington Beach, having marketed itself as a fun tourist destination, should not hurt that image by appearing to be a “Footloose” kind of town.
  • Conversely, the additional publicity could hurt the city’s image by showing it has a DUI problem.

On the other hand, Dwyer himself pointed out that he had received many letters of support from families with alcoholics, who told him that shaming could be another tool in a family’s – and a community’s – intervention toolbox. He also felt that the shaming could be part of the agency’s own arsenal, together with existing saturation patrols, training for restaurant/bar owners and servers, and other prevention methods.

Social presence starts with values

HBPD was able to disagree because it had already decided on how to use its Facebook page. “We never disagreed on the public safety issue of those individuals on the road who are DUI,” Reinhart says. However, “Shaming is a form of punishment and law enforcement’s role in society is not to hand out punishment.” Posting all DUIs, or even all habitual offenders, could dilute the page’s overall focus and distract fans from paying attention to public safety as a whole.

Indeed, the Associated Press article went on to note other agencies that have tried – and then rescinded – similar policies. Meanwhile, the council elected (largely, Reinhart says, to end the media “hype” around the issue) to allow the department to continue to use its discretion with its Facebook postings.

Reinhart says of this experience, “For other agencies using or considering social media my recommendation would be to anticipate political pressures on how it should be used and be prepared to support and defend your position. This is no different than the debate on how we dedicate and use all the resources we have in law enforcement.”

At the same time, as Reinhart says, “Social media gives law enforcement the opportunity to help the community we police know the realities, both strengths and weaknesses, of our role in society.” This means that police departments must tread carefully when communicating those realities. People can misconstrue intent via social channels just as traditional media have in the past.

Again, it comes back to values. Transmit those through social and traditional media, and people (including local politicians) will know what you and your agency stand for – for better or worse.

How are you building agency values into your social media work?

Creative Commons License photo credit: smemon87

Web 2.0 and Community Policing

DSCF7785 One of the “buzz words” for police agencies, before 09-11-01, was Community Policing. For years, using those words in just about any grant request was almost guaranteed to get some state or federal money flowing into the police department. More recently, Community Policing has taken second seat to Homeland Security however.

What exactly is this new thing called “Community Policing”? Well, first off, it is absolutely not new. It’s going back to the way we used to police 75 or 100 years ago.

Community policing is a philosophy that promotes organizational strategies, which support the systematic use of partnerships and problem-solving techniques, to proactively address the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder, and fear of crime. -=SOURCE=-

I have heard a statement used in the Community Policing world… It’s been attributed to Paul Harvey but I haven’t been able to verify this. The statement goes:

The greatest crime prevention tool is the front porch.

Folks sitting on their front porch WILL deter crime. Criminals don’t want to be seen.

How does all this tie into Web 2.0?

Web 2.0 is a discussion. Communication. Two (or more) way dialog and commentary. So is Community Policing. It is a dialog between the police, more specifically, police officers and the community, more specifically the community, or neighborhood the police officers patrol.

By opening a dialog via the Internet, you can enhance your Community Policing initiatives. But which, of the THOUSANDS of tools do you use? Where do you begin? Which one do you start with?

There are several things you have to examine before you go any further. One of which is just exactly WHO will be handling the continuing dialog.

One of the most interesting concepts was brought up in a different conversation by a contact of mine name Christa M. Miller. In her blog, she discussed the “branding” of a police agency. I responded with a rather lengthy comment that probably should have been a blog post of its own. But it raised a question in her mind. She asked:

I think what I was envisioning was policy that would allow officers to take the initiative as long as they do it responsibly. This is not something you can “mandate” IMO – it has to fit into the overall strategy of strong community policing efforts.

Is there a way to write SOP to accomplish this? Perhaps allowing officers to “officially” represent the PD online only if they have a certain number of years of service?

When I first read this, I got cold chills. I’m old school. You have ONE point of contact in a police department for public information. The PIO (Public Information Officer). PERIOD. The idea of opening up the entire department with the expectation that they will do it responsibly is a bit disconcerting.

But the more I thought about it, the more it started to make sense. And I believe a hybrid of both methods would work well.

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Humor in community policing

Laughter is as important to community policing as the message

Laughter is as important to community policing as the message

Good cops know that humor can sometimes defuse a potentially messy or even violent situation, as well as relieve the stress associated with their jobs. In fact, their “gallows humor” is understood–even shared–by more civilians than cops may think.

Yet the popularity of two police blotters, those in the Unalaska/Dutch Harbor (Alaska) and Tracy (California) Police Departments, underscores how humor can help civilians relate better to police.

Humor from the police side

The Dutch Harbor Fisherman recently interviewed the Unalaska Police Department‘s Sgt. Jennifer Shockley, who compiles and rewrites the blotter. With a writing style that has caught on among readers even outside of Unalaska, Shockley manages a line between the “fun” side of police work—and the work itself. She noted:

In the most basic sense, it’s a PR tool. It lets the public know that we do actually have calls for service, no matter how inane and trivial they might seem, year-round…. The press release lets the public know what kind of crime we have here and, I hope, keeps the public aware that the public safety department is a necessary part of the community.

Shockley’s work, she points out, is often influenced by officers themselves. “Officers that catch that sense of the absurd, and incorporate it in their event narratives, can strongly influence how much or how little humor I in turn put in the press release,” she said.

Humor from the civilian side

In Tracy, California, the approach is slightly different: the Tracy Press compiles the blotter online, then opens it to comment from civilian readers. The readers themselves have put the humorous spin on the logs—not so much poking fun at police, but rather at fellow citizens.

Where the sides meet

Notably, neither agency is involved in active discussion with readers. That’s probably asking too much. But whether lighthearted education is a goal, as in Unalaska, or the agency simply listens to what’s being said about the agency and the community, as should be the case in Tracy, humor should not be overlooked as part of online police presence.

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