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.