4 Reasons Why Police Don’t Talk Back On Twitter

Being a former police officer I am kind of baffled why law enforcement is failing to build community via Twitter.  I have been following numerous law enforcement agencies over the past year and they Tweet out information, which is informative, but there is no two-way Tweeting. What is lacking is the community building opportunity that law enforcement has laid at their feet via Twitter.

So why isn’t law enforcement embracing Twitter to build community? Here are 4 reasons why Twitter is leery to engage in two-way Tweeting. Not all of law enforcement is missing the opportunity to build community on Twitter, but overall most law enforcement agencies are missing the mark and here is why.

1) Legal Worries – Law enforcement is worried that Tweeting could be official statements that can come back to haunt them. Therefore they only push out factual information relating to crimes, crime prevention, etc. They apparently don’t trust their own officers to Tweet officially, but they give them guns?

2) Skepticism I feel most police agencies are on Twitter only because other police agencies are Tweeting. Overall, law enforcement does not trust Twitter as a way to communicate with their shareholders or citizen residents. Police don’t trust much, that is the nature of the job, but Tweeting is the same as talking only you are doing it on a computer. It really is not much more complicated than that.

3) Financial Reasons – Probably the most common reason police are not building community through Twitter is due to financial reasons. The cost to have a police officer Tweeting is probably unrealistic in this day of budget cuts and crime. However, in more progressive departments there are ways to use Twitter without huge financial burden, think outside the box.

4) Lack of Value – Another reason law enforcement has not embraced Twitter other than a one-way communication channel is the lack of perceived value of participating on Twitter.  This is probably largely due to a lack of basic understanding of how Twitter works.

Now here are 4 reasons why law enforcement needs to deepen their participation on Twitter.

1) Community – Police have a great opportunity to build a community around their Twitter following. Reaching out to folks on Twitter broadens their reach, introduces them to local Twitter followers, etc.  This could be seen as virtual community policing. Getting the cops where the people are, online.

2) Communication Power House – Twitter has a huge reach and getting others to re-Tweet you usually comes only as a result of two-way communication. By following proper Twitter etiquette law enforcement agencies can realize Twitter love and re-broadcasting of their messages. This could be of particular importance in cases like missing persons, kidnappings, and the sort.  Loads of value and broader reach is a no brainer.

3) It’s Dirt Cheap – There are also low cost out of the box solutions to lessen potential costs for law enforcement agencies participating on Twitter. How about allowing cops to Tweet from a mobile phone, mobile computer in their cars, etc. Possibly have officers designated an official Twitter handle, as certified by Twitter (that’s legit) and allow officers to use this as an additional method to communicate with citizens. Thus agencies are not realizing any new costs, but just allocating new methods of communication.

4) Crime Prevention - Ultimately law enforcement mission is to reduce crime. By following and becoming friends with citizens of their jurisdiction on Twitter they can realize a more crime stoppers tips. An example is the Toronto PD who nearly increased their crime stoppers tips 70% by using Twitter.

Law enforcement is missing a huge opportunity to build community on Twitter and to reap the benefits of those communities. Social media is not very social if only one person is talking, come on coppers get in the conversation.

  • http://emergencycommunicationsnetwork.wordpress.com/ Mike Ellis

    What a great post Lauri! Keep up the great work.

    • lauri26

      Thanks Mike,
      Kudos go to Mike Vallez. He’s joined the blog as a partner (more on that later). We’ll be seeing many more great posts like this one in the future.

    • Allan Joyner

      An interesting article and a great point for discussion so thanks Mike. I think it misses one of the largest single causes of that lack of utilization by lots of organizations, not just police.

      Mike says “By following proper Twitter etiquette law enforcement agencies can…”

      It seems a lot of people who use Twitter assume that everyone knows HOW to use Twitter. Establishing what is or isn’t proper Twitter etiquette is not simple. Twittering seems simple in a way but until you get into it and figure out all the nuances there is significant risk in stepping into the ring on behalf of your department. Its difficult enough for an individual to weigh in and figure out how it all really works, let alone one who is carrying the weight of her or his department’s reputation on their shoulders.

      Has anyone found sound training for personnel who want to learn Twitter?

      • lauri26


        Thank you for your thoughtful comments. You’re right. Many people, not just law enforcement whether on Twitter or not, assume there’s very little to know about using Twitter. But using it, and using it well for real in-depth engagement governed by a strategy, isn’t widely known or practiced at all.

        One of my main missions is to promote strategic social media implementation – with governance – and supplemented by training.

        With regard to your training question, I’ll email you separately. ~Lauri Stevens

        • Paul Rizzo

          Lauri, I’d be interested in the training information also.


  • http://www.interchangepa.com Massimo Bergamini

    Mike, you’re bang on!

  • http://www.politie20.nl Marga van Rijssel

    Mike, thx for this great post.

  • Pingback: Growing ConnectedCOPS.net | ConnectedCOPS.net()

    • Joe Vargas

      Mike very good article. I would like to add contributing to the lack of organizational value is a propensity for senior managers of law enforcement agencies to fail to keep up with the changing technologies and how they impact or can impact law enforcement. As a retired Captain I sat through many meetings attempting to explain the value of Twitter and Facebook to my colleagues and you could see the glazed look come over their eyes and comments about how fast my hat propeller was spinning. Many agencies are going to find themselves seriously left behind as the technologies and capabilities continue to evolve.

  • Mike Vallez

    Thank you Joe.

    Yes, emerging technologies on the web baffle the police. I think mostly because it is not physical and real. There are some departments that have stepped light years ahead of others and are using web 2.0 tools for a variety of things (crime prevention, community policing, communication, etc).

    There are also individuals in departments who have the knowledge but seem to work in web capacities almost on their own initiative.

    thanks again.


  • http://www.arcadiapd.org Tom Le Veque

    “Mike’s points hit home for me not just with Twitter but also Social Media in general. We actually started by focusing on a blog. Over time, it appears that we are seeing more response to our Facebook and Twitter accounts. Lauri hits on the real-time aspects of Twitter and Ron makes points about responding…two key aspects to true engagement and use of Twitter. Information, news, and comments are many times happening “now” on Twitter. Take advantage of that for intel, not just for investigations but to learn about your community. Seek out and respond to comments that you find, answer a question, tell someone that they are heard, explain misunderstandings, ENGAGE. It does not have to be 24/7, but make your response as timely as possible. This engagement will buy tons of credibility.”

    I posted the above comment on LinkedIn. Take a look at the discussion at http://www.linkedin.com/groupAnswers?viewQuestionAndAnswers=&discussionID=28582909&gid=2200970&commentID=22301413&goback=%2Enmp_*1_*1_*1&trk=NUS_DISC_Q-subject#commentID_22301413

    There are some great points being made in this conversation about Law Enforcement involvement and use of Twitter. Twitter is a valuable tool for our industry. If nothing else, use it to listen. You may be surprised at what you hear and see about your community and agency.