Tag Archives: social networking

What, exactly, is the standard?

A "higher standard" requires police officers to think about what they are doing.

A "higher standard" requires police officers to think about what they are doing.

My commenters on the last post got me thinking: police departments (and other professions) demand officers hold themselves to a “higher standard” of conduct. So what’s that standard? What does it mean? How are officers expected to know where the lines are?

The “higher standard” is subjective

These are not easy questions to answer. Young people have, as in previous generations, different standards from those that came before. As commenter H. Carvey pointed out in a follow-up e-mail exchange, he has seen teenagers share Facebook passwords with each other so they can update each other’s statuses, share photos of each other without obtaining permission (sometimes with rude comments attached). And we all know the debate about sexting.

In a police context, officers are now surrounded online by people calling other people stupid. A young recruit may believe that saying “people are stupid,” for instance, is “not as bad” as calling them “stupid redneck bimbos.” And there’s the old freedom-of-speech issue.

But as Carvey, a former Marine, says, “Obtaining a position of authority does not remove your freedom of speech… it simply places you in a position of greater responsibility of the use of that freedom.”

Social networking is a new take on old human interaction. And if communication is, at least in part, about pushing the boundaries with each other, then social networking magnifies this tendency. The trick for police managers is in learning how to help cops push the right boundaries.

Training officers to think first

Good ethics training teaches what and why and how: as Carvey says, the purpose behind the standard, the need for it to exist. Good ethics training starts at the police academy and continues on through field and in-service training. It’s not just left to a policy or set of policies, but is incorporated into every piece of training an officer attends.

That covers the department’s butt in the event of misconduct. But it doesn’t necessarily solve the problem of teaching officers to think about what they are doing and saying.

Case in point. Last year, one of my sources (Lt. David Hubbard of the Eustis FL Police Department) conducted an internal investigation of one of his officers for Tasing a 14-year-old at a birthday party. Not because the teen was out of control or attacking anyone—but because he asked the officer, a personal friend, to Tase him.

Several things stand out about this incident, which ended up on YouTube:

  • EPD had conducted a thorough background check of the officer, who before he was hired had been a nonsworn bailiff at a nearby sheriff’s department.
  • His Taser training had included rules of conduct, including “don’t Tase your friends.”
  • Just off probation, he had never had any other disciplinary problems, and was considered a good officer.
  • The video shows him essentially “training” the teen on what to expect.
  • He took full responsibility for the incident, not even trying to blame it on drinking too much.

Ultimately, the officer quit before being fired; because he’d not only Tased a juvenile, but also failed to do enough to stop underage drinking, termination was the only possible outcome. As Hubbard told me, “The ethics were there—he just exercised poor judgment.” And therein lies the rub.

So the challenge to police administrators is not just to teach according to policy about unofficial use of government property, or liability, or the other usual suspects. It’s also how to teach people to empathize with those who feel wronged by an action, when 1) they themselves would not feel wronged if the same action were done to them, 2) they “got consent,” or 3) when the sense of feeling wronged is a normal part of life for them.

It’s not, in other words, enough to ask officers to “maintain the professionalism of the department, and to nothing to bring shame or disgrace upon yourself, your fellow officers, your department, or your profession” because when people don’t even get that certain conduct (like sexting) is shameful—because they don’t see it that way for themselves—they’re not going to think about professionalism in the same way their supervisors are.

Constant, continuous ethics training

To get officers out of their own heads and into what civilians think (and why they should care) will take commitment: “…more training and education, more mentoring and working more closely with some folks, and a lot more oversight,” says Carvey.

Best way to accomplish this, when training budgets (as in Eustis PD) are being slashed? There, ethics are being worked into the high-liability training the agency must focus on. Hubbard is also a proponent of career mentoring for young officers, helping them move toward careers in law enforcement rather than just a job at an agency.

As Carvey notes, instilling professionalism in young officers is no different than instilling anything else they don’t bring to the job. To use a street example, you can’t assume that just because an officer can run five miles means he can chase and tackle a suspect safely; he needs training to put his physical abilities in context of his job.

Carvey rightly points out: “Why does a standard have to be objectively defined? Doing so basically says that we as individuals and adults simply aren’t capable and mature enough to make our own decisions…. A lot of folks want to be cops, so they are willing to learn… if they aren’t, then they need to go.”

Taking responsibility for mistakes

One last point, something that ties directly to social media usage: as Hubbard noted, his officer took responsibility for his mistake, as did the Bozeman officer, both resigning their positions.

While an agency may bear no responsibility for its officer’s bad decisions, it does have responsibility to regain public trust. Social media cannot “save the day,” but properly applied, it can show an agency willing to take a look at itself—hiring, training, and related practices—and either to make changes when needed, or to show the public how it fulfilled its responsibility.

Eustis, incidentally, is using social media. You can find them on Twitter and Facebook. While Hubbard acknowledges that the agency is still working out how to use it, his view of how to handle bad PR fits with the “be honest” strategy:

When the news breaks, post a message from the chief. Link to all news accounts—good and bad—about the incident. Let people talk about it on the department Facebook page and other venues.

The old saw about “an ounce of prevention” still holds, however, and standard-setting should be based on Carvey’s take: “Set the standard, then reinforce and mentor. Don’t just address those who come close or fall short, but address those that do well, those that encounter a situation and choose correctly. Create a sense of ownership and build confidence in the standard.”

Image: cambodia4kidsorg via Flickr

Twitter: Not If, but How

Image: <a href=CNN.com recently reported on how police departments are using Twitter, while it garnered a mention on PoliceOne. Twitter is, without a doubt, a great tool. But don’t jump on it just because a lot of other departments are. Jump on it because it’s a powerful means of connecting—and don’t restrict yourself to just one use.

Most agencies use Twitter to broadcast. They tweet police logs, traffic reports, dispatch calls. They are frequently followed by a number of people in their communities. They use it, in short, as another communications channel like TV or radio.

But Twitter is part of the “social” web. Most people who use it expect and intend to talk to other people: to network, share news, discuss things (yes, even in 140 characters or less). And while they may not expect their police department to follow them back (much less have discussions with them)–how many cops do that in real life?–it doesn’t mean tweeting officers shouldn’t do just that.

Consider what one of my favorite social media experts had to say about Twitter:

When I say be human, I mean that I’m a person, not a company. I run a company, but I’m a person. Thus, I get cranky, or I tell jokes, or I run at the mouth sometimes. Whatever. It’s part of the tapestry, not a flaw. If you’re not treating Twitter like a personal communications device that also happens to be a business tool (or some mix of the two), you’re missing what makes this fun and vital.

How can a police tweeter use Twitter to best effect?

  • Follow followers back. Not necessarily all of them; feel free to be judicious. (The more people you follow, the more “noise” you’ll see; the more difficult it will be to listen and talk to people.)
  • Following followers back enables them to direct-message you. This can be a valuable channel if they have a question or other issue they need to discuss privately. Even if you can’t help them yourself, a DM shows they trust you enough to believe you will get the ball rolling.
  • Pay attention to your “@” replies. This is a key function of Twitter software as well as twitter.com. They will tell you when someone is talking to you. Software like TweetDeck will also access Twitter Search, telling you when someone merely mentions your username. (Be sure to check Twitter Search periodically for misspellings.)
  • Broadcast department news, but also consider “retweeting” relevant community news (many local media outlets are beginning to join Twitter too). This is easiest when you follow those outlets.
  • Consider following other interesting people: other cops, private investigators, other government bloggers, or people who blog about government bloggers.

Finally, if you or your administrators are uncomfortable with “@CityPD” talking more personally to people, consider establishing a personal account, whether or not you connect it to the agency account.

Likewise, if you’re uncomfortable with the idea of followers “@-ing” or DM’ing you, put a policy in place. Decide how you plan to deal with requests, what you will and won’t deal with. Most reasonable people will respect reasonable explanations.

Information sharing

A personal example of Twitter’s networking power: several weeks ago I was online, working late at night. One of the patrol officers I follow posted a question asking whether anyone could help him recover video evidence of an assault from Facebook. I follow a number of digital forensics examiners, both sworn and not, so I “retweeted” his request.

Within minutes we were getting responses. Some suggested tools he could use. Others warned him to be careful with whatever he used to get the video; collecting online evidence must remain legally defensible, and most tools aren’t made for this purpose. And at least two offered their assistance. He was able to get the video that night.

My point: Twitter is a place to exchange ideas and information with other cops, with concerned citizens in your own town—and beyond. If you want to try something, chances are someone else is also trying it or has tried it, and will be able to offer advice and insight. Even opinion can help shape policy.

So by all means, now that traditional media have shown other departments trying out this “new media,” feel comfortable jumping on board. Just don’t be afraid to flex its muscles even if other departments aren’t—yet. It took only a few agencies to start a trend; a few more taking it in another direction can be models for a kind of community involvement that many feel has been missing for too long.

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Categories? Tags? What’s the big deal?

Now that we have our blogging platform, and our theme or front end, we need to start working on the backend of the site.

One of the areas that seems to be the biggest hang up for organizations stepping into the social media/blogging realm is the idea behind categories and tags. Which is what and what is which? It really confuses a lot of folks. And it confused me for a long time. I couldn’t quite grasp what each was for and what the difference was.

I am still working on my analogy but I try to explain it to people, potential bloggers like this.

The “Blogosphere” is a Super Wal Mart.

Your blog is the grocery section

Your category is the vegetable aisle

Your tags are the different vegatables in the aisle

Example. Your blog is titled Groceries at Super Wal Mart. Your blog post is titled Potato Chips. Your category might be Snack Foods and your tags would be Lays, Wise, potato chip, Cheeze Doodles, Cheetos, pretzel sticks, pretzel knots and my personal favorite, Munchos.

Did I completely lose you in the bread aisle?

ScreenShot001My main blog, Scott’s Morning Brew, has 7 categories.


Currently, I have about 400 tags.

One of the trickiest tasks involved with setting up my agency’s blog, was choosing the categories. Each section of a magazine theme is generally defined by a category. There are five secions on the front page, not including the sidebar. I wanted to make sure that the sections displayed on the front end of the blog were relevant, interesting and provided enough information that visitors didn’t have to dig to deep. The categories on the front page are self explanatory and the reasoning behind choosing them is probably pretty obvious. If not, ask me.

Press Releases

A sixth category is General Information and is not displayed on the front of the blog. It is the catch all and the category that I move some entries out of other categories to. For example, an event that has passed would be moved to General Information for historical purposes. That way it stays a part of the site but not on the front page in the events section.

*The Featured category is a hybrid. Any entry from any other category could go here. This is the article, or blog entry that is in the top left most corner of the blog. The “FEATURED” section. The entry may also be in Press Releases, General Information or Announcements. Once it’s usefulness of being a featured article has passed, it is removed from this category and place in a category of it’s own.

Since my agency is a police department, an example might be an article concerning a bank robbery, where a suspect’s photograph was taken. The investigators release the photo to the public along with a press release describing him/her. We put the photo in the FEATURED category and it displays foremost on the site.

Once that suspect has been dealt with, or another entry takes precedence it is moved down to it’s preferred category. In this case, press releases.

Using that same example of a bank robbery, we might add the tags of Bluebird Bank and Trust, robbery, armed, and firearm.

Once the blog starts getting populated with information, visitors can then search on “Bluebird Bank and Trust” and find all entries, regardless of category that mention it.

Tags can also be useful for SEO, or search engine optimization as well as on sites like Technorati and other social bookmarking/catalog sites.

I hope this clarifies the Category/Tag difference and their usefulness. If I managed to muddy the waters for you, please let me know. I will try to explain further.