Twitter

Social Media Quick Tip: Tweet Often

During a recent recruiting initiative, Bellevue (Neb.) PD used Twitter constantly to relay important information

It’s called a Twitter stream. Think of it like a stream of water—sometimes a voracious river—and it never stops flowing. Most of your followers see it that way. Some people hang on your department’s every word, and will check your page and read every tweet. But that’s not the norm.

I’ve seen it said that a tweet’s life is anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes. If you have an important topic to tweet about, in order to maximize chances of it getting read by the most followers, consider sending it out two or three times a day every day leading up to the event. You’ll have to write each Tweet differently or Twitter may not send it, but that forces you to be more creative.

For four weeks leading up to a recent recruiting initiative, the Bellevue (Neb.) PD tweeted information about testing and deadlines. The department tweeted a couple times the first week and more frequently as the deadline grew closer, with two or three tweets a day the final week. The department also put information on its Facebook page once a week. The combined strategy generated a great deal of conversation and awareness in both venues.

You can use Twitter management tools or social media dashboards, such as Tweetdeck or HootSuite, to write all the tweets at once and pre-schedule them to go out.

This Social Media Quicktip was previously published on LawOfficer.com.

Social Media Quick Tip: Should You Tie Your Facebook & Twitter Accounts Together?

Remember: They are two totally different animals

Although widgets exist to auto-post everything from one to the other, should you do it?

The short answer is this: If everything you tweet is on Facebook (FB) and everything you post on FB is on Twitter, you might annoy some followers and lose them.

Generally, turning everything you post on Facebook into a tweet is harmless as tweets are short-lived and read “on the fly”. But remember the following:

  • Don’t let it be a replacement for actually using Twitter for what it’s for. Send other content-rich information in separate tweets.
  • When you’re writing a post to Facebook, remember it’s going out on Twitter too. Sometimes, a FB post, when read as a tweet, can be nonsensical.

On the flipside, sending all your tweets to FB is a bad idea. All it does is fill up your FB page and pushes the meatier content down. Post about the same events and issues, but refrain from letting one do the other.

You should always use Twitter to drive traffic back to your FB page, blog or YouTube channel. But do it with separate, carefully written tweets.

 

This Social Media QuickTip was first published on LawOfficer.com.

New Social Media Duties for Dallas Police Officer

On February 16, 2011 I was given a new assignment in the Dallas police department’s media relations office as the social media officer. Little did I know what was in store for me! The department was joining the 21st century and my job was to help get us there. Our social media sites are now allowing us to reach thousands of Dallas residents and to get information rapidly out to and receive feedback and assistance from our many followers.

The Dallas police department has twelve social media sites that I oversee: three Twitter accounts, eight Facebook accounts, a YouTube account, and a Nixle account. The department has seven patrol substations and because of our size, each substation has its own Facebook account as well. Each station also has an officer who periodically posts to and monitors those accounts. Although those accounts are monitored by another officer, I have the responsibility for conducting on-going checks on them.

Once I got settled into my new office, I immediately went to work on updating these accounts. Our Facebook, Nixle, and one of the Twitters accounts are public sites that are open to the community. I am continuously posting information on our Facebook page which is in turn linked to our public Twitter account. This allows me to get information out on both simultaneously. Some examples of items that get posted on our page include: surveillance videos of cases where our homicide or robbery units are asking for the public’s help, department-sponsored events and fundraisers, award announcements, and press releases. I use our “Notes” page to post answers to questions most commonly asked, from “How to Commend an Officer” to “Obtaining Offense and Accident Reports.” Also I created a takedown policy for inappropriate posts to our Facebook accounts and placed it on our information page. This informs the community about what types of comment and photos will not be permitted on our page. One of our Twitter accounts is for departmental use only. This page was set up so that I could get departmental information out to police personnel rapidly and efficiently. Items usually sent out on this account range from retirement and award announcements, fundraisers, and information regarding sick or injured officers.

As I was getting our social media sites up-to-date, I also had to take on the many responsibilities of our other public information officers. This includes responding to media requests for information, photo assignments, press releases, and media interviews.

This first month has been a whirlwind and I have learned many things. I love challenges and am looking forward to helping the department move forward with our many social media projects.

Interact with Dallas Police:

Dallas Police YouTube

Dallas Police on Facebook

@DallasPD

@DPDChief

Southeast Division Facebook Page

South Central Division Facebook Page

Northeast Division Facebook Page

Northwest Division Facebook Page

Southwest Division Facebook Page

Central Division Facebook Page

North Central Division Facebook Page

Melinda Gutierrez

Senior Corporal Melinda Gutierrez has been with the Dallas Police Department for twelve years. Corporal Gutierrez spent time at the Northeast Patrol Division as a patrol officer and also as a Neighborhood Police Officer from March 1999 to July 2008. After leaving the Northeast Patrol Division, she was transferred to Jack Evans building which is the main headquarters for the Dallas Police Department. Corporal Gutierrez was assigned to the Fleet Unit in August of 2008 in which she along with other another officer oversaw the entire fleet of police vehicles. In February of 2011, Corporal Gutierrez was given the task of becoming the department’s Social Media Officer.

Twitter at the heart of communities

After the success of the GMP24 Twitter day, when the Greater Manchester Police force tweeted all the calls for help received, the use of social media has gone back to its roots. Local neighbourhood officers have been given the power to start connecting with their community through the social network.

The first one went live on 25 October and a challenge has been how to evaluate the progress and measure success. There are some systems that you can use to gauge the influence and impact that your social media activity has. But one of the simplest measures is whether it is bringing results and support officers as they go about their day-to-day business.

Police Community Support Officer Ben Scott was the first to begin using Twitter to communicate with his communities in Didsbury, Withington, Old Moat and Burnage in South Manchester. In the space of four months he has gathered more than 500 followers.
In a recent report Ben said: “Through Twitter I can communicate with hundreds of people instantly. I, as just one officer, can connect with hundreds of people within seconds. This is something when I think about it that is truly amazing, and something that would have been impossible years ago.

“The key to the use of Twitter is that it is used in real time. This would appear to be one of the main elements of appreciation from the followers of @GMPdidsbury. I have received many messages, or mentions, from people thanking me for tweeting virtually as soon as a job has come in.”

It is the real examples of how this social media use is supporting the operational activity that are the best way to analyse the progress. Ben has had some great examples of how Twitter can support his work including tweeting personal safety tips for women students after a rape in the local area and also including reassuring messages about the work that was underway. Another example was using Twitter to help repeat victims of antisocial behaviour. A student household had problems with people throwing eggs at their house. Ben did the usual visits and action but mentioned they could follow him on Twitter. After doing that he has been able to maintain contact, they have sent messages asking for visits when Ben is on patrol and discuss any problems.

The use has also helped to expand his knowledge with people sharing information with their local police. Recently after tweeting about the support that is available through the Samaritans one follower highlighted that there was an additional support line available for students. Ben was then able to publicise that service.

There is also the opportunity to share information about public meetings and policing surgeries or general information about crime and what police are doing to make the area safer. But it is the opportunities that exist that have made the greatest impact on Ben.
“I have found that Twitter has become a foundation for innovation and is making me think about new ways to communicate and engage with my community,” Ben added in the recent report. “I look at the positive work me, and my colleagues, are doing in the community and can tell my community about it on a far greater scale than I could have done before.”

The initiative has now led to Ben considering how to make greater use of Twitter by sharing more about the positive work and challenging stereotypical and negative views of the police. This is work that will sit alongside the continued face-to-face communication that must take place. Twitter then becomes a further way to engage people and bring them out of their lives to talk to their officers.

And the final word needs to go to Ben who has really grasped the opportunity of using Twitter, “organisations need to see this as a means to bring in positive change in terms of the service they provide and a way of encouraging innovation.”

Amanda has more than 10 years experience in senior communications roles within the police service and is currently responsible for the Corporate Communications function at Greater Manchester Police.

Initially, trained as a journalist Amanda worked on local newspapers throughout the North
West of England before moving into public relations working for a number of public sector organisations.

She has led the communication team at Greater Manchester Police during some challenging times including the death of the former Chief Constable and numerous counter terrorism investigations. Amanda has been part of the Force’s work to improve community engagement and communication. She was also responsible for the development of the GMP Twitter Day activity in October 2010 where the Force published details of all calls received in a 24 hour period.

Ride Along on Twitter with Vancouver PD

Cst Mandy Scorrar on Vancouver Police Department’s ‘TAL’ – Tweet-A-Long scheduled for Feb 24th 7 pm – 6am

When I was asked whether I might be interested in being a ‘guest tweeter’ on the @VancouverPD Twitter account to share my experiences working in patrol, I immediately thought it would be a great opportunity despite my limited use of Twitter. I consider it a privilege to be able to share with the public first-hand what we are doing on the streets of Vancouver to help keep people safe. The city never sleeps, but police and other emergency responders are always here keeping an eye on things in any type of weather. I hope our Twitter followers will find this Tweet-A-Long (TAL) interesting and informative, as one never knows what types of calls or people you will end up dealing with during a shift.

I hope to give people a realistic look at what I deal with in a typical night shift, and that will include some personal feelings and reactions to certain events. It’s difficult to predict what will happen on any given night but whatever happens I plan to keep it ‘real’. My duties as a police officer will obviously come first, and both officer safety and the safety of the public remains my priority. I will be updating my activities and letting people know what’s happening when I’ve completed a call or when I’m in-between calls. Luckily I will be working with a partner that night, so he will be driving which will leave me free to be able to tweet while in the patrol car.

I’m looking forward to this opportunity for the public to ‘ride-along’ with me during my shift and hope I can provide insight into what a typical night is like for a Vancouver Police officer.

Mandy Scorrar

Cst Scorrar is in her 15th year with the Vancouver Police Department after serving a dozen years in the Canadian Armed Forces. She has spent the majority of her career working as a patrol officer in the NE district of Vancouver which includes the downtown eastside. Constable Scorrar has also worked in the investigative division in the High Risk
Offender’s Unit, and brings a wealth of experience, knowledge and insight to her daily duties. She is also a dedicated student and is a few months away from completing her Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology from the University of British Columbia.

Policing: Further Adventures on Twitter

Over the past 24 hours, the Local Policing Unit from Birmingham South have been tweeting live incidents and their officers’ responses to them. Armed only with a hashtag (#bsp24) and a new twitter account, they have ventured out into the world of social media. Judging by the excellent feedback they have received, I am sure they will be extremely pleased with the results.

Two weeks ago, I spoke to the Commander from Birmingham South, Phil Kay, and discussed the idea with him. He is really forward thinking and had already set the ball rolling with his communications team. At that point they had around 70 people following them on Twitter. By the end of the 24 hour output they had well over 1000.

I have blogged before about the need for police forces to engage more pro-actively in the area of social media, and the example above really does illustrate the point. The communities of South Birmingham clearly want to engage with and talk to the Police. The Commander and his staff now have the ability to communicate with 1000 more people than they had at this point two weeks ago, and perhaps more importantly (and this is the key strength of social media), the community has a way to talk back.

Throughout my years in the Police, we have always struggled to get some communities to engage with us. We labelled those communities as ‘hard to reach.’ It turns out that they were not that hard to reach, we were just reaching in the wrong places. Social media platforms provide us with an absolutely fantastic opportunity to have conversations with people, to recognise their problems and to tell them what we are doing about them.

In the 18 months or so since I first blogged about this issue, the situation in UK policing has improved significantly, there are now some fantastic examples of officers using social media in new and innovative ways. However there are still large areas where there is no social media presence, where officers are actively prevented from engaging by force policies which have simply not caught up with the technological advances of the last decade.

There are now hundreds of officers up and down the country using social media. To my knowledge no riots have been triggered, no officers have been sacked, we have not had to spend huge amounts of money and there have been no breaches of the official secrets act. What we have had is lots of conversations with the people we police and forged some really positive relationships.

To those police areas not currently engaged, I ask the same question as I did in my first blog; Why are you waiting?

Using Twitter Hashtags for Emergency Management

Relationships+Technology (Social Media) to Prevent Violence

Relationships and technology are the key to community safety.  The importance of #WeDay is something we all must understand!

Twitter hash tags are very useful tools for police, school boards, media outlets, parents and students for dealing with fast moving emergency management scenarios.  This post will provide insight into the use of Twitter hash tags by police and partner agencies in two 2010 gun related calls in and around Toronto schools as well as a missing mentally challenged person case during extreme cold temperatures in downtown Toronto.

What is a ‘hash tag’? “A hash tag is simply a way for people to search for tweets that have a common topic. It is a word within the 140 characters allowed in a tweet that has a # prefix. (The # is a hash symbol, hence the term hash tag or hashtag.) source article on “The Twitter Hash Tag: What Is It?”

In the fall of 2010, the Toronto Police Service Corporate Communications team worked in partnership with the Toronto District School Board Communications Team, and used Twitter hash tags to effectively communicate with the community , emergency management partners and the media to manage the situations effectively.

Something very important in this story is a commentary at the end of the post, provided by TJ Goertz, the Toronto District School Board Communications employee who was working @TDSB_Official twitter accounts for both of these scenarios. Working in multidisciplinary collaboration for effective emergency management is the key to success.  It all happens very fast, and the more comfortable you are as a police communications person with all the agencies and their functions around you during an emergency, the more effective you will do your job.

Sometimes when I write or try to explain the effectiveness of social media applications to people, especially fellow police officers and civilian managers.. I often get told “get to the facts” .. If you stop reading now.. you have the facts.. and the moral of the story.. “Using Twitter and hash tags for emergency management works.”

If you are the hands on person who will be in charge of using social media, in particular-Twitter- and want to know how to do that effectively using relationships and technology …. patience is a virtue.. read on.

If you are a police, school board or media manager type, and don’t have time to read on, or simply don’t want to, here is what I would do if I were you:  Invest funding and human resources in training and staffing for effective use of social media for your agency immediately, and initiate corporate partnership strategies with your partner agencies integrated and linked in social media.

#WeDay turned into  #CTGun day for my partner and I on a school day in Toronto a month into the 2010 school year when a shot was fired in a large downtown Toronto high school just after the noon hour.

About a month later, a day of social media policy making meetings at Toronto Police Service headquarters turned into action when the Toronto District School Board Communications Team contacted the Toronto Police Communications team about another gun call that indirectly was effecting two of their schools.  The hash tag #54Gun was used.

On both occasions the situation involved many people asking for information about an emerging community safety situation all at the same time.  How can you effectively handle these situations using modern day technology? It is simple..

  1. have an everyday presence and following on Twitter and Facebook
  2. create or start tweeting official information using a new or already created hash tag immediately about the emergency incident as soon as it comes to your attention
  3. engage contact in person or on the phone with the police and school board persons in charge of the incident, as well as your local media personalities.

Relationships and technology strategy over the past five years could never have been more important than at these moments that I am about to describe for you.

Incident #1


Toronto cop Tony Vella has worked in the media office at police headquarters for a number of years.  I became his colleague in the office in April, 2010 when the position of “Social Media Officer” was added to the “Corp Comm” team by the officer in charge, Deputy Chief Peter Sloly.

There have been growing pains for social media implementation into the daily business of the Toronto Police Service Corporate Communications office for sure, but never between Tony and I.  Tony is new to Twitter and Facebook and I am new to the day to day grind of the traditional media and cop relations, although not totally new.. due to all the work I had the honour to do with the Toronto Crime Stoppers program prior to joining the Corp Comm team.

September 30, 2010 started off like any other at 8am when I arrived in the downtown core by GO Train to Union station.  Several students were in the station that day from all across Toronto, and all across Ontario, as they were arriving to attend “We Day” at the Air Canada Centre (the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team and Toronto Raptors basketball team).  This was a day to build community and trust with the kids in a theme of community building and featured performances and speeches from great names like @CraigKielburger of Free The Children and now famous Canadain rapper K’Naan “Like A Waving Flag’ song fame (http://Twitter.com/IAMKNAAN )

The good thing about the We Day celebration in my mind was that it was going to be live streamed on Facebook .. and it was an opportunity similar to when Barack Obama was sworn in for the world to particpate in dialogue on the Facebook feed.

My focus that day became to log into the live feed at http://WeDay.com to join the conversation using my official Toronto Police Social Media Facebook profile.  I decided that I might be better accepted in the crowd as my original Crime Stoppers Facebook Profile which is http://Facebook.com/ScotMills (http://Twitter.com/GraffitiBMXCop).

I proceeded to log in to the concert and watch it live, and participate in the dialogue both tweeting and using facebook.  Some of the comments I was getting from others who were doing the same (students both in the audience and following the stream around the world) were posts like “Wow, there is a cop on facebook”.  It was an interesting dialogue to say the least.

During all of this, our office received a call that a gun shot had been fired in Central Technical high school on Bathurst St.  My supervisor, Meaghan Gray, Director of Issues Management at Toronto Police Service Corporate Communications gave the order to attend the scene and use social media officially for Toronto Police Service as best as we can.

Constable Vella (http://Twitter.com/OfficerVella) and I quickly changed into our full police uniforms, and drove an unmarked police car to the scene.  Tony drove and I tweeted on my blackberry.  It should be noted that I brought a power inverter with me, as I anticipated a potentially long situation where power to my blackberry could become an issue.

I immediately created the Hash Tag #CTGun.  The incident commanders from 14 Division had already designated a staging area for the media at the southeast corner of the school on Harbord Street at Borden Street.  I updated the media using Twitter that @OfficerVella would be the media spokesperson for the incident and that we would be updating from the scene with using hash tag #ctgun.

I also tweeted a few times using my @GraffitiBMXCop twitter account into #WeDay hash tag stating that there was a school shooting at Central Tech and to follow #CTGun.  I also advised that I was switching over to the @TorontoPolice account for official updates. Within 15 minutes #ctgun was a trending topic in Toronto.  We had accomplished our community safety communications goals of emergency management.  A spin off possibility is that the potential for suspect information being called in to the police or ‘tweeted or facebooked’ to the police increases because of the improved communications.  Exact telephone numbers and e-mail addresses of the investigating officers were posted into social media, as well as how to anonymously submit a tip to Crime Stoppers (Talk;  1-800-222–TIPS (8477) Type:  http://222tips.com or Text TOR plus your message to CRIMES (274637) or “Leave A Tip” Tab on Facebook Pages.

The geographic demographic of the over 2000 students at the school are from all over Toronto.  Effectively, any student who was following #WeDay hash tag was now made aware of the #ctgun incident, and if they were interested in the event for any reason, whether it be curiosity or they had pertinent information they needed to communicate with the police, they could now follow the official updates on the incident using #ctgun.  In the age of most youth having a smartphone in their possession, and using social media, this becomes a quicky and effective means of communication with a large group of people who may have information in a timely fashion.

One challenge to using Twitter, is who is your ‘target audience’.  For the most part, the traditional media, as well as activists and interested persons are following the @TorontoPolice twitter account.  The youth of Toronto use Facebook.  The good part about using Twitter is the feed is linked into the Toronto Police Facebook page.. so the updates are going right into a medium that the students are used to.  All they have to do is know that this official update information is coming to the Toronto Police Facebook page and hit the ‘LIKE’ button on the page to get the feeds.  The hope is that the students will not ‘Unlike’ the page after the incident, and become part of the community safety dialogue that is ongoing on Facebook and Twitter on a regular basis, and not just for an ‘incident’.

I met Detective Sergeant Ian McArthur of 14 Division at the scene.  He was the hands on person who communicated official source information to me that I was putting out into the twitter feed.  The result was that we were able to broadcast that all the students were safe on twitter and facebook, which was immediately re-broadcasted by all the major traditional media outlets in Toronto, effectively advising parents that their children were safe.

At the scene I was able to dialogue with the Toronto District School Board staff, who were dealing with nearby elementary schools in a ‘hold and secure’ situation (one step below a full lockdown’).  The @TorontoPolice twitter feed became the lead source of official, up to date and accurate information on what was happening, what suspects the police were looking for, and that the other students were safe.  There was no panic from the students on the inside involved in the lockdown, or from the minimal number of parents who attended the scene, as the information of safety had already been mass broadcasted, and there was no need for worry or panic.

Incident #2

Communication using twitter hash tags became an important, timely and very effective means of communication once again when a high school student on her way to school on a Toronto city bus text messaged her mother saying that she overheard some youth on the bus saying they had a gun, then heard the gun cock.  Her mother called 911 and before long police had two suspects in custody, one school in “lockdown” and another in “hold and secure” .. and I was busy communicating with the Toronto District School Board,  the media and public using hash tag #54Gun.

One tactical error made on this one, which is a ‘lessons learned’ going forward is that I started the hash tag #EYGun without checking if the tag existed for another topic first.  Turned out that that hash tag was being used in another language on twitter. Once this was realized (thanks to the heads up work by @Lawscomm ) we immediately switched the hash tag to #54Gun which stood for the police division area that the incident was occuring in.  This incident successfully concluded with the apprehension of a suspect, but the gun was not recovered by police.  The media put the information out very quickly, and the official source was all taken over the phone by media relations officer @OfficerVella

Incident #3

Like stated at the outset… explaining how using hash tags on twitter works as a timely and effective means of communication works takes time… It is interesting to note what Detective Sergeant Ian McArthur stated during a discussion I had with him recently about the use of hash tags.  He stated that he still didn’t fully understand how social media worked, but knew for sure that it was a helpful tool in the Central Tech case and he reminded me of a missing person case that we effectively used social media for earlier in the year.

It was this discussion with this ace investigator, as well as a meeting with the management team at 14 Division between our Toronto Police Service Social Media Working Group member Sergeant Tim Burrows, myself and the management team of 14 Division led by Superintendent Ruth White, that truly made me realize the need for information on this topic to be published, understood and acted upon in policing agencies around the world.

Det McArthur reminded me about a missing 37 year old female named Lily Dong who had the mental capacity of a child and went missing without a coat in freezing temperatures on January 11, 2010 in the Dupont St and Dufferin Ave area of Toronto.  A full level 3 search was set up, complete with a command post at the Wallace Emerson Community Centre.  This is the highest level of search in Toronto Police policy.

There was considerable community concern and media attention to this case due to the freezing temperatures and the mental capacity of the missing woman.  We immediately started tweeting about the case.  Within minutes, Toronto Mayor David Miller @IamDavidMiller was re-tweeting our appeal for information to his thousands of twitter followers.  The police ended up receiving a call from a citizen spotting the missing woman on Lakeshore Bv, about 10km away from where she went missing.  She was located safety and returned to her family.

It is difficult to say if social media was the reason this missing person was found, but it surely helped, as stated below by Det McArthur: “I would suggest that this is an excellent example of how quickly social media assists law enforcement in timely awareness of local community issues.  Again, I can’t say for certain that social media was the sole source for locating this missing woman, it certainly helped in creating awareness and bringing this to a successful conclusion.”

What follows is a message from Mr. T.J. Goertz of the Toronto District School Board:

T.J. Goertz

Using Hashtags and Twitter During School Lockdowns

The TDSB Perspective

By T.J. Goertz, Communications Coordinator, Toronto District School Board

We’ve been using Twitter to communicate with TDSB parents, media and the wider community since the beginning of the 2009-10 school year. In September 2010, we actively began using Twitter hashtags, in cooperation with Toronto Police Services, during school lockdown and hold and secure situations.

Our first major incident was a shooting at Central Technical School in late September. I spoke with Constable Scott Mills early in the investigation to confirm details and we then tweeted frequent updates using the #ctgun hashtag. We also used specific hashtags during later incidents at East York C.I. and Riverdale C.I.

We’ve found Twitter to be extremely useful in updating both the media and local communities as quickly and effectively as possible. For example, during the Central Tech incident, the National Post quoted directly from a tweet we published in an online news story. We also received positive feedback and a “thank you” from a tweeting parent who was concerned for her son’s safety at Riverdale.

By working with the police and the local school, using social media, we are providing one more way for parents and guardians to get the information they need, as soon as it’s available.

~T.J. Goertz

Conclusion from Constable Mills:

I guess being the author of the blog post, one reserves the right for the last comment… please revisit the first words of this post Relationships and technology are the key to community safety. The importance of #WeDay is something we all must understand!
. In Toronto we have come a long way with relationships between professionals in a multi-disciplinary manner within our agencies. We still face a number of challenges, not unlike any other major urban centre. The reality of the Central Tech school shooting.. is that the police didn’t recover the gun used in the shooting, just the shell casing. Despite intensive police and school board investigation, no evidence to indicate who had the gun or fired the shot was uncovered. In the #54Gun incident, the suspect was arrested, but the gun was never recovered.

The importance of #WeDay is something we all must understand.

Seizing the Virtual Scene

The Art of the Hashtag on Twitter


Intro

When law enforcement arrives on the scene of a situation, there’s no mistaking who is in control. The cops string the yellow tape and take over and no one is allowed to enter the restricted area. But faster than the yellow tape goes up, the virtual scene has been created with the conversation that starts in social media. These days, it’s most certainly on Twitter.

Law enforcement can’t control the virtual scene. But there is absolutely no good reason why law enforcement shouldn’t be participating in it. Get into the conversation early and you can wield more influence than you might think, on Twitter, it’s all in the hashtag.

#hashtags defined

A hashtag on Twitter is simply a word, or an acronym that is preceded with the hash mark, aka pound sign (#). In Twitter, beginning a word with that symbol makes it clickable. You click on it and you get all the tweets sent with that hashtag IN them. What’s the relevance? If you just tweet as the PD, especially in a contentious situation, who do you think really sees those tweets? MAYBE some of your followers. But the people who you really want to see the tweets won’t, because THEY aren’t following you, they’re following the hashtag(s) for the event.

What’s the magic about?

You’re ABC PD and you have a situation – let’s say a protest, or a shooting in a school, or any event. Sometimes you know ahead of time that the event will happen, sometimes you don’t. It doesn’t matter. Often, people are already tweeting about the topic or event with a hashtag. If so, use it. If not, don’t hesitate, create it yourself.

A hashtag can be created immediately, right on the spot. If the media or the public hasn’t created a hashtag that is relevant to your event, create it yourself. Keep it as short as possible as it uses up some of your 140 characters in every tweet. Then, check to see that it’s not being used to signify something else (with a quick Twitter search), then just USE IT in your tweets. Others (media) will follow and also use the hashtag.

Imagine that you know a protest is coming. There are thousands of people in your streets. As in any mob situation, a few are really angry and/or motivated and the rest are just following along.  On Twitter, all it takes is one or a few of them to begin to suggest acts of violence or spread rumors that might agitate. Until Twitter, you had no way of communicating directly to them, in the moment. The officers at the scene, even if they could get through to them (with billy sticks, shields, masks and other ominous gear) don’t really know the details themselves. But back at incident command, YOU do. So tweet. But USE THE HASHTAG.

By using the hashtag relevant to an event, you are injecting yourself into that situation/event. You are forcing people who could care less about what you have to say to see what you have to say. The protesters who are following the hashtag will start seeing your tweets. Their first reaction might be surprise to see your messages. After that, what might happen is that the followers in the middle of the pack who could be swayed either way might otherwise go with the crowd because they were believing false rumors. If they see your tweets of reality and public safety, they might think twice about their own actions and make a better decision.

Case Studies

Back in April, 2010 in Dudley, England, (West Midlands Police) Chief Inspector Mark Payne wrote about how he positively influenced the outcome of a protest between the English Defense League (hashtag #edl) and United Against Fascism (#uaf).  Vandalism was reported by the protestors and one side and he refuted it on Twitter and potential threat to the safety of another person was also refuted. Payne believes his tweets positively effected the outcome of the situation.

With the current flood situation in the Northwest area of Australia, Victoria Police are tweeting messages about bridge outages and openings and other safety messages with the hashtag #vicfloods. Without the hashtags, the people looking for information might not think to look up the police on Twitter. They will quickly find the hashtag and will likely trust the information they receive from the police as a result.

In the second half of this series is a post from Constable Scott Mills of Toronto Police describing how he positively effected a situation where a gun was shot inside a high school in his city. By quickly creating a hashtag and tweeting to the media where a Toronto media officer was located he kept the media at bay, and by tweeting that no one was hurt he calmed the nerves of 4,000 parents. It might have been a very chaotic situation. The media also picked up on the hashtag and used it and also followed him and reported the content of his tweets on the noon news.

Tomorrow on ConnectedCOPS, another case study on hashtags from Constable Scott Mills

Conclusion

When a situation happens fast, don’t forget Twitter, as crazy as it may seem. But, especially when you know you have an upcoming contentious event and you plan a strategy, include it in the strategy, the chances that you might influence the outcome in a positive way are real.

Click here for a helpful list of law enforcement hashtags from #PoliceOfficer

Drugs, dealing with the dealers

This week my officers swooped on a large scale drug supplier, we recovered about 4 kilos of class A & class B drugs, together with several thousand pounds cash. The dealer and his accomplice have both been charged and remanded. The week before that the courts granted an order taking £56,000 off another dealer and a further order setting out a repayment order of over £800,000 against him.

I tweeted the result and got a great response, people seem to enjoy seeing drug dealers locked up. I also got another familiar response, ‘Great result but what about the drug dealers where I live?’ Communities see people dealing drugs outside their houses every day, and understandably get frustrated when they don’t see the police taking action. As somebody who has run a drugs job or two, I thought I might set out some of the issues that we have to address when we are dealing with the dealers.

Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, we have to prove that they have actually dealt some drugs, or intend to deal them. This is not as easy as you might assume. People caught with relatively large quantities of drugs will often claim they are for personal use, but as they are regular users they have ‘bought in bulk.’ Although this might seem ridiculous to normal people, you need to bear in mind that we have to prove everything to a court ‘beyond all reasonable doubt.’ All the prospective dealer has to do is establish that doubt and they know they will get away with a simple possession of drugs charge which carries much lighter punishment. Therefore any dealer worth their salt will only carry small amounts at any one time, going back to their stash to stock up on a regular basis.

So if just finding somebody with quantities of drugs is not enough, we have to use different techniques to prove they are dealing. We will often watch several deals take place, arresting the buyer out of the sight of the dealer, to prove to a court that there is a course of action taking place. As you can imagine this carries quite a large risk of compromise. Dealers will tend to sell drugs in areas they know and where they are comfortable. Police activity in these areas will quickly get reported back to the dealers and they will shut up shop.

When we are told about a dealer, we often execute warrants at their houses. Again this does not always bring success. They do not leave their drugs lying about for us to stumble across, they hide them, and they actually put quite a lot of thought into it. The dealer who we took the £56,ooo at the start of this blog was burying his drugs in an old lady’s back garden which was insecure.

Taking out a good drug dealer often required many hours of painstaking surveillance and gathering of evidence. This is expensive and difficult. It requires the completion of reams of forms to get the authorities and the painstaking compliation of the evidence gathered. Drugs are exchanged in very small packages, and it is not always obvious when a deal has taken place, again the ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’ arguement is applied, we have to prove that our potential dealer is not a raging socialite who often meets up with 200 people a day for around thirty seconds at a time.

There are few things more satisfying than unearthing a dealers stash, knowing that you have the evidence to link them to it. Police officers continue to arrest dealers and enforce the law, but it is not as straightforwards as you might think. I hope this blog has given you an insight into the day to day battle that we have with dealers, and the reasons why it might appear that we aren’t taking action.

It is really important that people work with us. If you suspect somebody is dealing drugs, tell us. You might not see immediate action, but it starts the ball rolling, and is sometimes the little piece of knowledge that we need. We know communities want to help us, they don’t want dealers on their street corners or outside their kids school. The best weapon we have at our disposal is information from the public.

Thanks for reading, let me have your thoughts…

Mark Payne

Mark is Superintendent for the West Midlands Police, UK; a police officer for 15 years mainly as a detective.   CI Payne was part of the “Police Who Tweet” panel, moderated by Lauri Stevens, at the 140 Characters Conference in London on Nov 17th. Chief Inspector Payne has started his own blog, where this article was also published. He tweets as @CIPayneWMPolice

24 hours on Twitter for Greater Manchester Police

Call 384 report of man holding baby over bridge – police immediately attended and it was man carrying dog that doesn’t like bridges.

Call 358 woman calls about car she abandoned at petrol station in Bury after she put the wrong fuel in yesterday.

Both of these calls were real, genuine calls to the police for assistance that were logged on Twitter as part of the 24 hour initiative on Thursday, October 14th. The Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, in the UK, wanted to show people the wide range of issues that officers and staff have to deal with every day.

There were many traditional ways we could have used to achieve this – releasing statistics about calls during 24 hours or allowing TV crews to follow officers for a day. But we wanted it to be real time and to have immediacy to people. We faced many challenges to being able to achieve the end result. Not least was the practicality of getting information from the call handling system onto Twitter ensuring we didn’t breach confidentiality, put lives at risk or assist criminals.

In the end it was a manual release of the data that was agreed as the best way forward. It allowed for data to be checked, to ensure that information wasn’t released that would cause problems for investigations and to recognise the confidentiality required. This was supported with decisions that there would be a tweet for everything regardless of the difficulties it may create. This ensured honesty to the release of the data as there was no screening taking place.

The end result was a process that demonstrated openness, accountability and transparency. It allowed people to sit alongside the call handlers for 24 hours but not in just one location, across the whole of the Greater Manchester area. An area that is home to 2.4million people and is a thriving economic and tourist centre. People could use the tweets to see inside the control room, the cells, and ride along with the police cars.

It was all relatively simple get the information from the call handlers and use corporate communications staff to condense it into 140 characters. We anticipated that we would have between 2,500 and 3,000 calls on an average day. Something we deal with day in day out. Not something however, that Twitter could cope with and we ended up in Twitter jail on a number of occasions during the 24 hours.

This was no PR stunt. It was about using the most appropriate method available, in this case Twitter, to provide public information. We already provide access to pages and pages of crime statistics on a regular basis. To tweet information was no different, it was just using a different method. All this was only possible because there was a clear social media strategy that had been agreed by senior police officers. They knew what the plans were and could see how this Twitter day would fit with the strategy.

The calls were not just the random selection of unusual events including loose horses and cows there were human tragedies including burglaries, gun crime and assaults. The Chief Constable had shown through Twitter in the 3205 tweets that appeared during the 24 hours that officers and staff had to deal with a vast range of issues.

GMP24 captured the attention across the world and became a top trending subject long after the 24-hours tweets had stopped. It demonstrated what social media could do to support the police and other agencies. The important thing now is how we take it forward. What more can we do to provide people with an opportunity to understand how law enforcers keep them safe? How can we link the social media with traditional communication and work with the media? Do we have staff with the skills to make this happen?

For Greater Manchester Police the challenge now is to ensure that we build on the success of the day and find new and innovative ways to use social media.

Amanda Coleman

Amanda has more than 10 years experience in senior communications roles within the police service and is currently responsible for the Corporate Communications function at Greater Manchester Police.

Initially, trained as a journalist Amanda worked on local newspapers throughout the North West of England before moving into public relations working for a number of public sector organisations.

She has led the communication team at Greater Manchester Police during some challenging times including the death of the former Chief Constable and numerous counter terrorism investigations. Amanda has been part of the Force’s work to improve community engagement and communication. She was also responsible for the development of the GMP Twitter Day activity in October 2010 where the Force published details of all calls received in a 24 hour period.