Law enforcement now has plenty of resources for communicating with the public online; the past few years have seen an explosion in the use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and others. But where do I go to communicate with others in my field or find advice when an issue arises?
Lately, I’ve been using a great tool called the First Responder Communities of Practice, and it is increasingly the place I turn for networking and sharing information with others in the field. After joining the site, located at http://Communities.FirstResponder.gov, members have unprecedented access to practitioners across the country representing nearly every expertise imaginable. I’ve been impressed with how easy it is to locate and ask questions of other public information officers and first responders whose years of experience well surpass mine.
Site members use discussion boards, shared document repositories, wikis, and other tools to collaborate on projects and share information with one another. The site was created by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science & Technology (S&T) Directorate to foster information sharing across all homeland security related fields. I’d encourage anyone who is interested to sign up for an account and begin exploring what’s available. It’s also easy to share your own resources and get your name out in front of a nation-wide audience.
You will quickly notice the unique chance for cross-disciplinary information sharing, meaning that you can discuss common issues with groups such as the fire service or non-profit organizations. As the world becomes more interconnected and strained budgets force further coordination of operations and resources, I think the site is an impressive place to connect on these efforts. It’s hard to imagine the wealth of knowledge and potential for collaboration opportunities on another site. And the best part, especially in today’s budgetary environment, is its free!
In addition to the Communities of Practice site, I am also participating in the DHS S&T led Virtual Social Media Working Group (VSMWG). It has been fascinating to explore the potential of social media tools and to hear from other practitioners across the country regarding the integration of these technologies into their agencies. Our discussions so far have reinforced the fact that social media for law enforcement is all about engaging the community, humanizing the agency, and keeping citizens informed at all times. What better way is there to achieve these goals than for agencies to come together across geographic region and public safety discipline to share best practices?
Soon, the working group will release to the public a Social Media Guidance document containing a breakdown of all the issues to consider when implementing social media in a public safety organization. It is a great resource for users of any skill level who want to get an overview of the benefits and strategies for social media in police work. As the world embraces social media and the technology is integrated further into the lives of our community, I feel confident that the members of this working group will keep public safety at the forefront of these changes.
Both of these initiatives have me more excited than ever about how these tools will shape the way we work online, engage our community and most importantly, keep them safe!
To join DHS S&T First Responder Communities of Practice and learn more about the Virtual Social Media Working Group, visit http://Communities.FirstResponder.gov
Stephanie Slater became the Boynton Beach Police Department’s Public Information Officer in April 2007, following seven years as a newspaper reporter. Slater, a New York native, is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, where she majored in print journalism. Slater is the spokeswoman for the Boynton Beach Police Department, serving as the liaison between the officers, the media and the public. She writes the department’s press releases, provides television news interviews, maintains the department’s Web sites (bbpd.org, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) and oversees the department’s Officer of the Month program. Slater is a member of the National Public Information Officers Association and an executive board member with the Florida Law Enforcement Public Information Officers Association. Follow the Boynton Beach Police on Facebook (www.facebook.com/boyntonbeachpolice) and Twitter (@bbpd).