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#TwitterCop and the Riley County Police Department

I read comic books. I love superheroes and anything geeky. I love movie references, pop culture, and things with character. I don’t own a pair of plain dress socks nor do I think that bow ties are a thing of the past. I spend a lot of my time on Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit.com and I was once an internationally awarded and published photographer and graphic designer. I happen to also be a cop, the original #TwitterCop.

The Riley County Police Department started its Twitter account in 2009 and within 6 tweets it went silent. There were 53 followers when I was hired in 2010 and overall the department’s online presence wasn’t anything to write home about. My command staff saw this as an area that we could improve in and realizing that the majority of our jurisdiction was young (nearly mirroring the demographic of Twitter users); they decided to allow me and several others at the department the opportunity to breathe life into RCPD online.

We redesigned our website (RileyCountyPolice.org) and started using Twitter and Facebook on a regular basis. So much so that our community started to ask who was responsible for the tweets. This (at the time) unnamed officer was dubbed the Twitter Cop and quickly we had community members trying to figure out this cop’s true identity. This nickname quickly became the online and public speaking persona “#TwitterCop.”

I’m Mat Droge, and I am the Public Information Officer for the Riley County Police Department and I have with great pride accepted my current lot in life as the original #TwitterCop. I happen to be a cop, but I’m also a member of a great community and a self-proclaimed geek. Being true to who I am has been the foundation of what I consider to be a great career and a great social media program.

Currently social media at RCPD is handled mainly by me, but I can’t do it alone. There is an officer (Ofc. Wilkey) as well as a sergeant (Sgt. Hagemeister) and several members of our dispatch center that on occasion have the ability to post to the official Twitter account (@RileyCountyPD). These people are a big part of our success and they can’t be thanked enough.

So what makes #TwitterCop and the RCPD’s social media as successful as it’s been (when compared to our jurisdiction’s population the equivalent of approximately 14% of our population follows us on Twitter alone. This percentage rivals other jurisdictions in larger markets)? I attribute several things to our success and hope that other law enforcement agencies might be able to learn from us (as I did from the Kansas City Missouri Police Department, follow them and consider this my shout out @KCPolice).

Being personable, real, honest, and know your audience.

Knowing your audience is an important part of the process. Our tweets may work in Riley County, but might not in another market. When tweeting or posting online, I try to keep things light hearted when appropriate, always professional, and never untruthful. I can’t stress this enough, never tell an untruth on social media. This is a quick way to lose public trust and lying to the public isn’t the business we are in. For example if RCPD tweets that we are running radar and checking for traffic violations in the 800 block of Bluemont Avenue, we are. Disinformation is not a part of our social media program and I take this very seriously.

I interact with the majority of tweets that mention us and do what I can to engage our community to “Be Social with RileyCountyPD.” When I tweet, I generally do so in my own voice. I don’t try to sound like what some might think a cop would sound like. Along the same lines I do also vary my tone and word choice depending on the situation. A light hearted response to “what donuts are favored” at my department is very different than an announcement of an unfortunate or tragic incident.

It’s not a building doing the tweeting, it’s a person.

#TwitterCop started as a “character” we used online, but it has become part of who I am and we are using this to our advantage. It’s not uncommon for someone to recognize me as #TwitterCop and we often get speaking engagement requests that specifically ask for me by that nickname.

I often tweet references from Dr. Who, Star Wars, Star Trek, or other movies and internet memes. We use our social media to communicate to the public and through doing so we are showing them that we are alike, we just happen to wear different clothes to work. This has gone a long way to build and maintain good rapport with our college student population. I often attempt to use humor or some sort of entertainment value in order to gain better rapport with our community as a whole and pass along information that may otherwise be over looked. It’s much more fun this way as well. Wouldn’t you rather read a tweet that calls our cops “#Copsicles” than just a boring winter weather advisory? This is a concept that is also used by @TrooperBenKHP with the Kansas Highway Patrol. He also suggests that social media posts contain a message as well as an element of entertainment if appropriate (also a really great guy and should definitely be followed).

There is a time and a place.

Many consider our social media accounts to be entertaining, but they are just as informative. We tweet and post links to our press releases as well as weather warnings and traffic updates. This information adds legitimacy to our accounts and helps portray to the public the fact that we are professionals and qualified to serve and protect. It wouldn’t be wise to have an account with nothing but humor; this could damage the public’s trust in your agency. There is definitely a balance of the two and that line in the sand is dependent on your audience.

Teamwork is key.

It’s really a concept that is pretty short and sweet. Though I get credited for posting all of our tweets, it’s truly a team effort. Our account has the ability to post information 24 hours a day and this has helped to reach a wider audience. Though most of our tweets are between 8:00 AM and 5:00 PM, we often offer content for the night owls. I do a majority of our posting but relying on my team to help give the community a more informative experience with us online. Tweets are often also scheduled outside of business hours and anytime I am called out to a crime scene.

One of the most exciting things we have started to do recently is allow our dispatch center access to our account. Has an accident caused traffic delays, but I’m at home asleep? Well, no longer is that a problem. This flow of information has also helped our communication with local media, as they regularly cite our social media accounts when filling their broadcasts or articles.

Keep it fresh.

Don’t let your audience become bored of your tweets. Be careful of tweeting too often or not enough. And make sure that your content is something that your audience cares about. I rarely tweet about things that the public wouldn’t have interest in and would suggest the same to other agencies. The account isn’t mine; I just have the honor of clicking the “tweet” button.

I’ve enjoyed this social media ride and look forward to being a part of more innovative social media in Riley County… Not unlike the time we allowed a college student to take over our Twitter account or the time that I job swapped with a firefighter from the Manhattan Fire Department.

JPEGRiley County Police Department Public Information Officer Matthew Droge, The #TwitterCop, has served as a sworn officer since October 2010 and has served as PIO since early 2013. He currently facilitates the social media accounts as well as acts as the department’s public relations office. Through Droge’s service at Riley County Police Department he has been assigned to Patrol (Swing and Midnight shifts), the Police Bike Unit, and the Administration Division. In 2014 he became a member of the Kansas Association of the Public Information Officers as well as the National Information Officers Association and is the former President of MARPC (The Manhattan Area Risk Prevention Coalition, which reorganized into “RED” in late 2014). Droge was elected to the Riley County Extension Council’s Community Development board of four community members in 2014. Prior to working at RCPD, Droge worked as an internationally recognized and awarded photographer and graphic designer.

But first, please take a selfie

A picture is worth a thousand words and its worth in regard to police legitimacy is priceless.

The history of the “selfie” is extremely short as with the history of most concepts in social media. This I imagine is the reason its importance isn’t yet widely valued in law enforcement (which has a history of being behind the times and slow to change).
According to Huffington Post (link) the selfie originated and evolved from the “MySpace Pic” which was propagated by the influx in popularity of the, then, newly released Facebook.com in 2009. Social media exploded at this point and now in 2016 we find services like Instagram, Snap Chat, and a whole slew of online platforms that encourage the use of the front facing camera which has become standard on mobile devices since the release of the iPhone 4. 

The concept is simple, all you have to do is take a picture of yourself (or let others take a picture of you for that matter, for the purpose of this article I broadly use the term “selfie” to reference any sort of photo that is taken of you for the purpose of use on social media). So why aren’t police officers posing for more pictures? I have three theories. 

They are afraid they’ll be made fun of. Yes, you read correctly. I firmly believe that many officers refuse to put themselves out-there because they are fearful that they’ll be made fun of. I assure you, if someone is going to make fun of you they absolutely don’t need you to pose for a picture. I was once called the most photographed cop in the nation at a speaking engagement on community relations and to this day I have yet to find a photoshopped image of me (please, don’t take that as an invitation). A way to combat this fear is by being the first to make fun of yourself (when appropriate). When I began using Twitter on the department’s behalf there was a competing parody account which at the time was extremely popular and let’s be honest at times it was hilarious. We had community members and news organizations following the wrong account and I decided that something needed to be done, more on this in a later article. Ultimately, through our tone on social media and through showing the public that we don’t take ourselves too seriously that parody account has since gone dormant.

They fail to see its importance. At times I feel that some of my co-workers think what I do is a joke. They see what I want them to see (after all, no one wants to read tweets or see pictures of me doing my quarterly community engagement reports) and their perception is that my job isn’t more than having a good time at community events and tweeting about donuts and cattle out on the highway. This is where I jokingly mention that some of my PIO friends have more serious things to discuss sometimes. Most of these comments are made out of ignorance that social media and the selfie are both important to law enforcement. They are a small way in which a department can make a big impression. Several months ago, while I was out of the office, a group of college students came to the department as part of a social media scavenger hunt with the goal of getting a photo with a police officer. I was shocked at how long it ended up taking to find someone in uniform to walk out to our lobby and help them. All I ask is that when refusing to take a photo with someone you place yourself in their shoes and consider the feeling of rejection you may be causing (you are creating a negative experience with one of your community members). Also, please don’t have a debate about which officer will be in the photo right in front of the person requesting (this is the “last picked in dodgeball” feeling and it doesn’t reflect well on you or your agency). I’ve taken tons of selfies that honestly at the time I wasn’t really into, but it’s about the overall department image when you are in uniform or in a position that represents your agency and it’s not hard to suck it up and smile. A simple picture spread through social media can have a huge positive impact on your department and it can help strengthen the relationship your department has with your community.

They think that public relations is someone else’s job.
 This couldn’t be further from the truth. An agency that really has a great relationship with their community didn’t get there by the work of one person, though one person can be the driving force and help push the department toward the end-goal. If the entire department doesn’t jump on board the agency’s message can’t be consistent and consistency is a great way to bolster community support and most importantly, trust. I was once researching ways in which we could create a better customer experience in our speaking engagement program and taken aback by comments a sergeant made to me when I asked why we were cancelling events and not telling anyone. “If we cancel a speaking engagement it’s not my job to inform them, public relations is your job,” in so many words was possibly the most eye opening comment I’ve heard in my time as a PIO. Community relations is an agency endeavor and if there isn’t complete buy-in from the top down you have just become that agency that says one thing and does another. Public relations is everyone’s job, because the PIO can’t be expected to handle every interaction an agency has.

So how does a selfie relate to police legitimacy? 

For an agency to be successful they need to have the support of their community. To get this they need to be viewed as legitimate authorities and not overbearing outsiders. It is important for the community to “like” the department as a way to maintain the support the department already has or to begin mending a relationship that through years of separation has crumbled. A selfie is a way to show a somewhat large group of people that a department is willing to interact with their community in a positive way. It shows that the agency is part of the community and that their officers are approachable. It doesn’t cost anything and it takes literally seconds to do. Most importantly, it doesn’t hurt to be nice and accommodate a request that takes such little effort on the officer’s part. 

I mentioned that I was once called the most photographed cop in the nation and whether that is true or not I feel now is a good time to offer some tips to help officers take better selfies. 

Smile. Everyone can see you’re a cop, you don’t need to look like they do on TV. You’re a human, act like one. Have fun, they are asking to take a picture with you because they like you.

Do a mental checklist. To take a better picture, make sure the camera is held at a level above your nose and remember to slightly lean forward. Roll your shoulders back, stand up straight, and have fun with it. Don’t like the way you look in a selfie that you’ve taken? Try using a filter to mask blemishes.   

Get your good side. Don’t pretend that you have no idea what I’m talking about. I’ve found that this is also a good way to make a bigger impression on the subjects in the photo. “Make sure to get my good side” is a great way to get a smile and make the photo a little more memorable. 

Maintain integrity. It’s okay to say no when a selfie could be deemed inappropriate. For example, I do not take selfies with people who are holding alcohol or cigarettes. I also do not allow people to wear my handcuffs or unholster any of the tools on my belt. If requested to pose in a fashion that you or your department is not comfortable with, offer an alternative or explain why you are declining that particular request. 

So go ahead, when the moment arises jump in, make a “duck face” and show your community that you’re human. Your selfie could be worth a thousand words of support for your agency and it’s a great way to make your day a little more fun.

TL:DR; Selfies are a simple way that officers can show their community that they are approachable, fun, part of the community, and deserving of support. They should be embraced and for goodness sake, when someone goes out of their way to show that they value you enough to want your picture, say cheese.

Matthew Droge, PIO

JPEGRiley County Police Department Public Information Officer Matthew Droge, The #TwitterCop, has served as a sworn officer since October 2010 and has served as PIO since early 2013. He currently facilitates the social media accounts as well as acts as the department’s public relations office. Through Droge’s service at Riley County Police Department he has been assigned to Patrol (Swing and Midnight shifts), the Police Bike Unit, and the Administration Division.  In 2014 he became a member of the Kansas Association of the Public Information Officers as well as the National Information Officers Association and is the former President of MARPC (The Manhattan Area Risk Prevention Coalition, which reorganized into “RED” in late 2014). Droge was elected to the Riley County Extension Council’s Community Development board of four community members in 2014. Prior to working at RCPD, Droge worked as an internationally recognized and awarded photographer and graphic designer. He was raised in Kansas and has lived and worked in Arizona and California. He has been awarded several accolades for community service including the Jefferson Award and received the Meritorious Service award for his work on the department’s internet presence in 2012/2013 as well as a letter of appreciation for the department’s website and is a recipient of the department’s professionalism award. Droge is available as a consultant for crisis communication and public relations and has conducted training for public informations officers in several different industries. Speaking engagements can be scheduled upon request.

What’s Your Communications Preparedness Level?

by Julie Parker

At a time when law enforcement crisis messaging is arguably scrutinized more than ever before, how ready is your police department for when the unthinkable strikes? Ready not from a tactical or operational standpoint, but rather from a communications preparedness level. Think of any of the recent mass shootings this country has experienced. Now consider those heinous acts purely from the way those law enforcement agencies tackled the daunting task of managing the explanation of the inexplicable. Consumers of news quickly form a perception of a department, accurately or not, based on the way in which the news was released. In just a few terrifying hours, you act as a voyeur, from the safety of your home, car or workplace and watch or listen to the news that agency is sharing and make a judgment. If the emergency hits home, your law enforcement agency may solidify its community’s trust and confidence in it, at a minimum, damage it, or worst case scenario, lose trust and confidence altogether. There are ways you can prepare now to ensure you’re ready for what will hopefully never be needed.

1) Relationship with local reporters and assignment editors

While you may well be on a first name basis with reporters who regularly cover your agency, what about the editors or assignment desk editors, many of whom would also likely be reaching out to you during a crisis? Make an effort now to get to know some. Visit a newsroom. Invite those editors to a media breakfast at your headquarters or district station. Keep newsroom phone numbers handy for when you need the media to get out information immediately on your behalf.

2) Relationship between government agencies

Ensure you have established a working relationship with fellow PIOs. The time to meet someone is not during a crisis. You should have spokesperson contact information for major fellow agencies such as your Sheriff’s department, Fire, Schools, Mayor or County Executive, Office of Emergency Management, etc. or neighboring LE agencies to include federal, state and local counterparts. Consider hosting a crisis communications drill and include your counterparts in your city or county government.

3) Internal relationships

Does your chief of police or sheriff know you, the PIO, need to be seated by his or her side through a majority of a crisis? When you’re racing the clock and under the intense pressure of an international media circus, it’s not the time to sort out whether a PIO is on the command bus or in the EOC or JIC with the principles. Has your PIO ever discussed with the commander of your SWAT team or the appropriate designee that communications during a crisis has to be relayed to your media or public affairs division? That may well be the furthest thing from that commander’s mind and establishing that concept in advance is crucial. If you have a staff who reports to you, is the team prepared for what to do the moment that first call comes in indicating what’s unfolding?

4) Relationship with your community and the greater public

Evaluate your social media presence. A new year is the perfect time to take note of your various platforms and the following you’ve built. Are your audiences as robust as they could be? What can you do to get them to grow? Those followers are not the result of a popularity contest. They are an audience you’ve built based on sharing valuable and accurate content. They will turn to you and share your message exponentially when you have critical and possibly life-saving information to share. Beyond social media, is your department actively engaged in community policing, citizens advisory councils, police youth groups, etc.? Having a core group of supporters who can share your message within their neighborhoods is invaluable.

All of these points will be central to helping you be prepared for a crisis. It’s important for your executive command staff to know your agency will strive to get out your messages early, often and accurately. And that you’re not doing that simply to “help the media.” Reporters will be sharing your story and, ideally, it will be told as your agency would like. However, ultimately, the goal is for your citizens to understand precisely how its public servants are serving them during their hour(s) of desperate need.

parkerj250Julie Parker will be presenting on this topic at the upcoming SMILE Conference, April 25-28 in Alexandria, VA. Parker has an extensive background in television and radio news, media relations and crisis communications. Ms. Parker also serves as the Director of the Media Relations Division for one of the nation’s largest law enforcement agencies. Ms. Parker serves as principal communications advisor to the Chief of Police & other executive command staff and is responsible for key messages, media strategy and the creation and management of a robust social media operation. Her work is credited with helping rebrand a once-troubled department’s reputation. Ms. Parker also spent 13 years reporting, anchoring and hosting in Washington, DC, most recently for ABC7 News where she won both an Emmy Award and an Edward R. Murrow Award. You can find her at @PGPDJulie or info@julieparkercommunications.com.

The Levels and Types of Armor Available for Officers

by Chris Taylor, SafeGuard Armor

Officers are required to fulfill a wide range of roles and responsibilities working in law. These responsibilities can vary greatly from situation to situation and from location to location. For example, officers working in rural locations will face greatly different challenges and threats compared to an officer working in an urban location, or even working in a different rural location. Nevertheless, any threat facing a law enforcement officer can potentially be a serious one, and keeping our officers protected is of the utmost importance. Violence and injury may never be removed from an officer’s line of work, but protection is available, and body armor is a useful method of doing so.

However, there are a wide range of body armors available, all with their advantages and disadvantages. For example, body armor is available in different styles depending on the situation, and in various protection levels depending on the threats they can protect against. Understanding the options available is important for Officers to choose the protective option most suitable for their work.

Officers will already be well aware of the importance of body armor, as the last year saw nearly 60,000 assaults on Officers according to Government statistics. It is imperative that those brave men and women charged with protecting and serving our communities are protected against attacks, and yet it is not only violence that can cause serious injury and even death to Officers. In 2013 49 law enforcement officers were killed accidentally, with the majority of these deaths occurring in automobile accidents. Most do not realize that bullet proof vests can provide some protection against impact trauma, meaning that even in a car crash body armor can save an Officer’s life.

Mobile Applications: Five Questions Parents Can Ask To Keep Kids Safe!

This post was written by RCMP civilian member Jean Turner and Constable Aaron Sheedy – Royal Canadian Mounted Police, “O” Division (Ontario). It is posted with permission from RCMP Ontario.

New technologies in the form of mobile applications (Apps) can be a fun way to stay in touch with friends or meet new ones, but it is important to recognize that some Apps may not be suitable for children.  Parents should know that the clever and fun features of many Apps also have the potential to be used by adult offenders to take advantage of our young people.  As with any new technology; having a conversation with your kids is the first step in being safe online.

It is worthwhile for parents to be aware of the capabilities of the Apps their kids are using. As Apps change frequently and are often re-released with new names and features it is difficult for parents to keep up with a list of all Apps their kids may be using.  Instead, here’s a general overview of how some of the popular Apps work and what risks they may carry in the hands of less mature users.

1. What is the purpose of the App?

Is it a game? A communication tool? Or a utility? From brain teasers to photo sharing to dynamic shopping lists and free phone service, mobile applications can make life easier, more fun or help us stay connected in creative ways.  If you’re considering letting your child use an App, first ask what it does and why your child wants to use it. Keep in mind, most Apps have blended purposes, for instance, you can chat with friends while you play games.

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