Tag Archives: Social media

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!

Blue Light Camp: In the UK, Spotlight on social media after 2011 riots

BlueLightCamp social media unconferenceNearly a year ago, as I caught up on tweets following my talk at the Police Leadership Conference, a series of tweets caught my eye. They came from Sasha Taylor, Chair of the National Police Web Managers Group.

Sasha and I got into a good discussion about social media use in law enforcement, and although my work took me in a different direction last year, he stayed on my radar. Which was why I got back in touch with him a few weeks ago, when he tweeted about the upcoming Blue Light Camp: an “unconference” designed to discuss public safety best practices for social media.

The free, daylong event will take place on Sunday, April 15th from 9am to 5pm at Manchester Central exhibition centre—the day before British APCO’s annual event. It will focus in particular on social media use in times of unrest, drawing from UK experiences in 2011. Cops 2.0 talked further about it with Camp organizer Paul Coxon:

How does BlueLightCamp fill a hole in crisis-related discussions that other gov-related or police-related conferences left open?

BlueLightCamp is unique in that it is the first truly multidisciplinary emergency services unconference in the UK. Most other conferences would either be for the police authorities or the fire services or front-line healthcare or social care providers, to our knowledge no one has yet created an event that brought them all together. Sasha recognised that a lot of the conversations being had within the police and healthcare arenas cut across all Blue Light Services and there was learning that could be of benefit to all.

The other big difference about Blue Light Camp is that, aside from the sectors involved, we are not dictating who should attend and already we have an exciting mix of communicators, front-line workers, people in senior and strategic roles and even research scientists who have signed up to attend.

What about the “unconference” format do you feel will best facilitate the discussions you envision taking place?

I used to have a boss who loved going to conferences because, in his own words, it was an easy day were he didn’t have to do anything and could basically sleep. Unfortunately for a lot of people that is what conferences are about, but that’s not what an unconference is about. Unconferences will not work without everyone playing their part and for this reason they attract the type of people who want to engage around the topics.

The type of people who want to engage are the type of people that are likely to share their learning and experiences, the type of people who will lead positive change in their organisation and the wider sector, and that is what Blue Light Camp is about, creating the conversations that lead to positive change.

In addition to this, unconferences often take place out of work hours, those attending do so in their own time and at their own cost, which contributes to making them more willing to participate, network, share best practice and take away new ideas to their organisations/local networks.

Crisis management and mapping will be presented. Any other sessions you know of that are (at least roughly) planned?

The beauty of an unconference is you won’t really know the sessions that will be pitched until delegates begin pitching them, but we are hopeful to see examples of how 24-hour tweeting has worked for police service and council services, the ways in which Facebook and Twitter have been used to engage communities, metrics of SM channels, gamification are all topics discussed at other conferences.

People often discuss other areas of SM such as use of QR codes, Wikipedia, open data, blogging and general communications. We also have research fellows attending from the Disaster 2.0 project which is looking at use of social media during disasters and emergencies.

People come to unconferences to either share an idea or an experience so will lead a session for this reason; others will have barriers/questions that they would like discuss with others that have experienced the same issues or have the expertise to find a solution. Sharing at its best.

How many of your participants will also attend BAPCO, and what do you hope they will bring with them from BLC?

One of the perks of signing up with Blue Light Camp is membership of British APCO, who are our venue sponsors, we would hope as many BlueLightCamp-ers as possible will stick around for the BAPCO Annual Exhibition and Development Sessions, but more than this, we hope they will carry on the BlueLightCamp conversations with those BAPCO members who were not able to attend.

Paul, David and Sasha will also be on hand throughout the BAPCO event to continue any conversations from the BlueLightCamp event and to help with any social media surgeries to continue the sharing experiences  and best practice.

Will you make available content for people who were unable to attend BLC?

We will be making BLC content available across a number of channels before, during and after the event, from videos, blogs, podcasts, and live-tweeting. The main source of information will always be the BlueLightCamp site:  http://bluelightcamp.wordpress.com/

Participants are expected and encouraged to tweet throughout the event and people often blog about their experiences post event. Many of the new connections people make continue well beyond the closing speeches at the event.

Anything else you would like to mention? 

So far, the response  to BlueLightCamp has been very positive with 75% of the 170 tickets going within three weeks of our launch. We have a variety of brilliant sponsors that have the vision to support these events and thus making them free for the attendees. Without the sponsors unconferences would not be so easy to put on.

After a, hopefully, successful event this year planning will start again for 2013 with the aim of making this a regular calendar event for Blue Light Services.

Blue Light Camp will be open to all UK Blue Light Services and those people who work with them. Join them in Manchester on April 15; if you can’t make the event, be sure to follow along with the #BlueLightCamp hashtag on Twitter! Vendors may also want to consider sponsoring the event.

Victoria Police Department: Strategic planning that integrates social media

In my last post, I blogged about how public opinion—and trust—is formed according to the way police use (and communicate their use of) technology. This week’s post isn’t a direct sequel, but more of an exemplar: how one agency has implemented a strategic plan that integrates social communication.

Having participated in a client’s strategic planning process this past summer, I took notice of a tweet from the Victoria (British Columbia, Canada) Police Department in mid-November:

Strategy that involves public opinion

To some degree, VicPD’s strategic plan reminds me of Boca Raton’s VIPER program. Visibility, Intelligence, Partnerships, Education, and Resources are, however, more public relations-focused than VicPD’s five-step plan, which takes into account both internal and external issues: operation effectiveness, recruitment and retention, communication improvement, regionalization, and partnerships with other community groups.

Constable Mike Russell, VicPD’s public affairs media spokesperson and social media officer (as well as a former community resource officer with Edmonton, Alberta Police Department), says the plan had been in the works for nearly a year before its launch.

The result: a strategy that spans 8 years rather than the typical 3 to 5. Developed into a 16-page, image-driven brochure, the plan is “a living document,” its online counterpart a bare-bones microsite. That’s because it seeks to crowdsource direction: for community members to collaborate with the agency, helping to determine how their police will function.

To that end, Russell says, the agency intends to use QR codes and social media to establish an ongoing dialogue with the public. They will also update the microsite’s videos, goals and action steps four times a year.

Brainstorming ideas that lead to action

“Our chief and the planning facilitators took us on a different journey than we’re used to, a peer to peer process where rank doesn’t matter,” Russell says. “It was about the questions rather than the answers, so we were given carte blanche for brainstorming.”

Indeed, Russell says the feedback has been made intentionally informal in the plan’s early stages, in order to encourage relationship-building and to avoid bureaucracy within the public forum. “We divided our community into sectors, with people made responsible for each,” he explains. “Then, we began to encourage the citizens to bring their ideas to the working groups.”

Each working group has a lead manager who oversees four police officers and one civilian. The managing inspectors are ultimately responsible for implementing action items, but act as facilitators for their groups to find the right avenues to go down.

Part of that is police differentiating between service provision, rather than delivery—and asking citizens to think in the same terms, basing their ideas off that distinction, which puts police in much more of a “helping” rather than transactional frame. This allows everyone to talk about problems in terms of solutions.

Finding community-specific solutions

For example, within three days of beginning the planning process, Russell says certain themes had begun to emerge. “Regionalization [Step 4] was the biggest,” he says. “And while we didn’t set out to create silos, we found ideas running up the middle with outliers on either side.”

This is particularly important in a community where demographics are shifting. Baby boomers, who are retiring from the workforce in greater numbers, will shift their public safety priorities accordingly. Meanwhile, young people need a format in which to participate effectively.

That’s why planning involves best practices research, including who should do it and how to adapt, train on, and implement their recommendations for police.

Another important piece: recruitment and retention of people who can mirror the community itself. As Russell says, “The organization’s makeup hit a bubble where 1/3 of the people are all retiring in a short timespan. When that happens, all their experience goes away.”

VicPD seeks to hire and train people with many different communication styles, the better to move public relations forward. And, because the agency wants to ingrain social media throughout its operations, it wants people who can focus on taking part in conversations (rather than being technically savvy), which Russell says “brings empathy” on all sides.

Publicizing VicPD’s new focus

Russell says that in lieu of a traditional ad campaign, news media have been helping to generate awareness around the plan—but that word of mouth and social media have been especially crucial in spreading the plan’s content around.

“We’ve changed the way we’re doing social media from a newsfeed, to tweetups and other ways to create personal connections,” Russell explains. “Some of the best conversations happen off hours, in the evenings and weekends.”

VicPD has not yet seen these conversations translated into an offline space; coffee dates, announced on Facebook and Twitter, have not gotten much response.

Finally, Russell says, although VicPD plans to learn from police in other countries, “We’re not looking to do the same thing as everyone else. For example, we’ve seen both right and wrong examples of how to handle the Occupy movement worldwide. The key is to be open and honest with people, not contrived, which many people find offensive.”

Has your agency ever participated in strategic planning for its future? What did that process look like for you?

Occupy policing, Part II: Setting — and conveying — the right tone

Occupy San Francisco RallyOn LinkedIn last week, I posted an item to several of my groups about how the Philadelphia Police Department cleared the city’s Dilworth Square of Occupy protesters. I received a LinkedIn message asking me what it had to do with social media or the Internet, and rather than respond one-on-one, I thought it would be valuable to go into greater detail here.

To start with, PPD actually did use Twitter to get its message out to Occupiers. More than that, though, was the way PPD commanders engaged in careful planning, including:

  • Reciting the First Amendment at each roll call.
  • Restricting officers from carrying pepper spray or Tasers, and assuming sole authority for the decision to use force.
  • Reminding officers to be ready for citizens to film them.

These measures were notable enough, but what also stood out to me was the way communications planning took into account the way protesters themselves were communicating:

During the trip to Center City, Karima Zedan, the department’s director of strategic communications, monitored the chatter on social media of a building police presence at City Hall. Zedan and Ramsey discussed whether they should send the occupiers a message through the department’s Twitter feed, which they knew the protesters monitored.

“What we should say is just what our goal is, and that’s to safely remove people so construction can begin,” the commissioner said.

As Ramsey’s Car 1 arrived at City Hall about 1 a.m., Zedan sent the tweet.

Indeed, PPD’s Twitter feed from that day was filled with tweets about, and to, Occupy:

It was not all that dissimilar to an October 10-11 effort in Boston, where police moved protesters from an unapproved encampment near an original, agreed-upon site:

Boston Police communicated to protestors the request to vacate the 2nd encampment and return to the original site numerous times throughout the evening via Twitter, flyers and in person [as well as its blog]. The required police action resulted in the arrest of 141 individuals who were charged with Unlawful Assembly or Trespassing.

The agency’s Twitter feed, while more repetitive than Philadelphia’s, similarly used hashtags and other community-oriented language and tone:

For BPD, which has been on the forefront of social media use (including a personal approach rarely seen in law enforcement tweets), this style of communication was not unexpected… although I believe it could’ve been less defensive. See the difference between BPD’s messaging tone, and PPD’s?

Defensive, derisive or merely dismissive: How tone affects your message

Again, simply using Twitter to communicate with Occupy protesters is not the point. While I do, as I said in my last post, wish police were using their feeds more proactively, the fact that communication is being built into encampment removal plans at all is important.

The New York Times’ graphic of the evolution of riot gear shows that communication with protesters was poor and inflexible in 1968, but had given way to negotiation and flexibility by 1995. Although communication is, unfortunately, not mentioned by name in 2011, indirect forms of communication are: managed protests via the permit process, along with “regular use of intimidation.”

It’s these indirect forms of communication that can affect a blog post or Twitter feed, too. In contrast to Boston and Philadelphia police tweets, @RichmondPolice’s appeared to want to downplay any mentions of Occupy by limiting their tweets — even as police bulldozed encampments on Halloween. (Three of those tweets were directed to people who had addressed them first; several of those, directed to the same person.) No Occupy hashtags were used, and the tone (“We’re sorry you have an issue…”) borders on dismissive.

These kinds of nonverbal communication speaks volumes about police officials’ collective approach to people in a certain situation. Look at the way officials in each of these three cities spoke about protesters:

“These people are not criminals,” said Chief Inspector Joe Sullivan, who oversaw the operation. “They are not our enemies.” (Philadelphia)

“We continue to encourage the leadership of Occupy Boston to maintain an open dialogue with authorities in the spirit of coordination and cooperation.” (Boston) (To be fair, less than two months later, Police Commissioner Ed Davis was quoted as saying, “[There are] drugs, vandalism and assaultive behavior. [$723,000 in police overtime is] a significant amount of money…. [which] would be much better spent in neighborhoods where there is firearm violence.”)

Meanwhile, a brief Google search revealed that Richmond police had little to say beyond the fact that nine arrests took place. Again, it would appear that they were trying to downplay the protests in their city.

The work of relationship building

Some believe that police are not there to understand or to communicate with Occupy protesters; rather, their job is to investigate crime and remove encampments when ordered to do so. Indeed, PoliceOne.com reports that police went undercover at Occupy Los Angeles, collecting intelligence on any potential threats to law enforcement.

Even at that, according to the L.A. Times: “From the outset, department officials had struck a collaborative, friendly stance with protesters, and believed they knew what to expect from them [when police stormed the park]…. ” That work paid off; the LAPD was widely praised for its restraint in removing the encampment.

It’s notable, as the Times further reports, that police invited clergy and legal observers to witness police-community interactions. That is not the mark of a police state, nor are agencies that seek to understand the mistakes of others in order to avoid them.

What Philadelphia’s effort showed was that, if police want to avoid reinforcing this belief, any communication plan should not just include logistics — who will communicate, via what channels, how often, etc. — but also careful assessment of:

  • What emotions they may inadvertently convey. Even something as short as a tweet can read sarcastic or condescending. Professional police shouldn’t allow this to happen, but are still human, still experience frustration and irritation. Make sure your bloggers, Twitter users and videographers understand how miscommunication can hurt relationship-building efforts, especially in sensitive parts of your community.
  • Whether the right people are communicating. Most law enforcement agencies would rather maintain control over their messages by restricting the number of people who can send them, but think about officers who know particular communities or issues better than any other. Consider having them contribute to, if not outright create, content on behalf of your agency.
  • How much information you can reasonably transmit, taking into account ongoing operations. Law enforcement agencies are no different from other organizations in their desire to avoid liability. However, a tight communication policy won’t protect your agency from a lawsuit if there are deep systemic problems, and citizens value information — the more of it they have, the more comfortable they feel. So consider sharing what you can about what you do, even if this requires a sustained effort with long-term planning.

Occupy protesters may be, compared to other areas of a community with deeper and longer-standing problems, a nuisance to be dealt with before moving on. But they remain members of the community, and they’ll remember how police approached them — via Twitter, in person, on a picket line or even as part of their group. Whether their memories are positive or negative will drive how they interact with police in the future to solve public safety problems. And so, even when police stick to their core mission, the tone in which they communicate their efforts remains critical to their success.

How has online or in-person tone shaped your interactions with people in your community?

Creative Commons License photo credit: breyeschow

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….


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

Help is not a (dirty) 4 letter word

Hand of HelpIn the rush to understand all the high tech getting thrown at us on a pretty much constant basis, I think we often forget what the tech is actually for: to connect. With other human beings.

Back in the ’80s and ’90s, the promise of computer technology was better efficiency. We’d be able to automate rote tasks such that we’d be able to spend more time, better time, with friends and family.

That hasn’t happened. We automate a lot, but we’ve also found new uses for the technology, ones that require us to spend the same number of hours at work. In many cases we’ve made connections with people that never would’ve been possible without the tech; we’ve formed friendships, made a real difference in others’ lives.

But in other ways, we’re more disconnected. Maybe not more so than before, but not in lesser proportion, either. And just like always, including before high tech, we don’t always realize it until something goes wrong.

This afternoon I found out that a man I knew and very much respected had committed suicide just a few hours previously. Trey Pennington was a wonderful, engaging person, one of the first to welcome me to Greenville’s professional community, and who always inspired me with his kindness and graciousness.

I watched the condolences and memories and expressions of grief spill over his Facebook page, my Twitter stream. Among them: “One of the worst things about social media is we can be surrounded by so many and still feel completely alone.”

Trey wasn’t a cop—he was a marketer who understood the great potential of social media and human relationships to marketing—but I’m writing about his death here because his depression and suicide mirror the pressures experienced (disproportionately so) in the law enforcement community.

Building the line stronger

Helplessness carries stigma. Especially for those sworn to protect and serve, to be a rock for people who have none, to admit weakness is to weaken the thin blue line. At least, that’s what a lot of people believe (including the officers who are afraid they’ll be fired, censured, reassigned or otherwise chastened for disclosing their problem).

Even apart from that, to ask for help is a risk. The risk you take that you’ll be rejected by those who are “more successful” or “too happy for me to bring them down” or “going places” or even simply “got enough to worry about” can seem unbearable. You don’t want to trouble them. And yes, there are some who will feel troubled, and will let you know.

But the fact is, leaving the weak to fend for themselves is what weakens the line. There are others, true friends, who will stand up and be the rock you need. They deserve the chance to do that for you.

We can do better, people. All our social connections mean nothing if we can’t come together and share our burdens, however heavy they are, and do it in a real and meaningful way. Meanwhile, for those who don’t have those connections, or can’t bring themselves to ask them:

If you’re in law enforcement and you feel suicidal, Safe Call Now was established specifically for public safety personnel, by public safety personnel. Call them. Especially if you don’t feel you can rely on those you’re closest to.

If you know someone in law enforcement (or any public safety profession) you are concerned about, contact Safe Call Now to find out how you might be able to help. Be brave. It can take a lot to help someone who is depressed. But it can mean a lot, too.

If you are a non-public-safety person reading this and you feel suicidal, but don’t feel as if you can reach out to those in your immediate network, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

(I know it can be hard to reach out to strangers. But in many ways, talking to a stranger who has no ties to you, no history and therefore no baggage, can help in ways you may not realize. It’s a different perspective, and their caring comes from a different place. So please call one of the above resources if you need to.)

None of us has to go through life alone, and none of us should die because we felt too alone to go on. Love social media or hate it, be the connections your friends and family and colleagues need—even if it doesn’t seem like they do.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Alex E. Proimos