Engaging with citizens on Twitter @SanRafaelPolice
In my efforts to connect with the community, I have always been looking to use modern technology. In 1995 while working as a civilian for the Santa Rosa (Ca) Police Department, I, along with one of their Detectives, started their first web page. Yes, 1995, when cell phones were as big as your arm and computers still used the 5 ¼ floppy disc. So back to modern day (March 2009)……I was sitting at my house on my day off, thinking about work when I started looking into Twitter. I really had no idea what it was because I was into Facebook and just didn’t understand it.
I started looking at Twitter and was amazed at the amount of information that was on the site. Being a sports and news junkie, I sat there for hours reading all kinds of stuff. Finally, I did a search for law enforcement and was impressed that there were so many police and sheriff department pages as well. So I did what every good Lieutenant should do, which is to ask his boss if we could join the ranks of Twitter, right??? Wrong!! I have always been one of those people like to ask for forgiveness instead of permission. Besides for all you cops out there, you know if I asked, we would form a committee to discuss it and then maybe six months later we would get the green light but with too many restrictions. So anyway, I just did it. I am lucky in my position that my Captains and Chief also trust me to deliver our message to the public in whatever form I deem necessary.
So I created the @sanrafaelpolice twitter page and off I went. I learned very quickly that two way communications was the best way to get the page going. That number that shows how many followers you have is like a drug. I needed it to keep going up and found that when I followed someone’s page, they actually followed me back. I searched for businesses in my local area as well as other law enforcement sites and began to follow them. I was still thirsty for more information about how other departments were using Twitter, so I used the Direct Message (DM) and the “@” feature in an attempt to contact them but I was ignored. I never received any two way communication from any of my brothers and sisters in blue (or tan and green). Now cops are suspicious people, it is what keeps us alive but in the social networking environment, it is important to trust a little. I am not sure if the departments ever check their DM’s or the @ button but it is a very important feature on Twitter.
I began to get positive feedback from the Twitter community and people were telling me that I was using Twitter the way it was meant to be used. They meant that I was engaging the public by being a regular person. If you asked me a question, I would answer it. I am not afraid to be funny if the occasion calls for it. I am actively asking my own questions and not waiting for people to contact me. The piece to this puzzle that I had to be mindful of is that we needed to maintain our level of professionalism, so our department and city would not be cast in a negative light. I was cautiously taking risks but always felt like I whatever I wrote, I would put myself in the shoes of a City Council member and think to myself if I was crossing the line.
Lastly, the final advice I have to the law enforcement community is attend a local tweet-up whenever possible. I will admit that my co-workers relentlessly teased me when I told them that I was cutting out of work a little early to attend a tweet-up. When I went to my first tweet-up, I was amazed that all these people that I follow on Twitter aren’t 16 year old kids, these are all people around my age (I’m 39) who are business people in the community. For me, it was like attending a neighborhood meeting. I asked and answered questions and realized that everyday I log on to Twitter and post something or answer a question, I am holding a virtual neighborhood meeting. That is an invaluable way to not only connect with your community but legitimately help them by answering questions that they might feel strange about calling the police department and asking.
So in closing to all you law enforcement agencies who either have a Twitter page in name only and don’t tweet, DM, or answer questions or all the agencies who think this is a passing phase, or to all the agencies who are too nervous to have a Twitter page, I am here to tell you to take a chance. Your community will respond in a positive way and you will show them just how cutting edge your agency is!
Lieutenant Dan Fink has been with the City of San Rafael since 1997. He worked in the uniformed patrol division until 2001 and was also a Field Training Officer. In 2001, he was selected to be the Financial Crimes Detective and investigated fraud, forgery, identity theft, and computer crimes. In 2003, Dan was promoted to the position of Police Corporal and was assigned to the patrol division. Dan worked as a street supervisor in patrol until he was selected to be the Training Manager in 2005. In 2006, he was promoted to Police Sergeant and worked in the patrol division until he was eventually assigned to the Directed Patrol Unit (DPU). In DPU, Dan and his team worked primarily in plain clothes and undercover on narcotics, vice, and gang cases. In 2009, he was promoted to Police Lieutenant and currently manages the Investigations, Youth Services, and Community Policing sections. Lieutenant Fink holds a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice Management and a Master’s degree in Organizational Leadership.
Dan, this is great. I’m one of your followers in the San Rafael community and it was through your tweeting that I learned of the Citizen Police Academy, which I’m signed up for. Also, just a Twitter note: you can only Direct Message someone who follows you. I don’t think you get an error if you try. It’s best to just @reference them to reach out. Thanks again for being our local law enforcement tweeter.
Just FYI to you both… Tom is speaking at #SMILECon and Dan is attending. So you can meet, greet and share SM “war stories”. 🙂
Dan, your second paragraph brought a smile to my face! Our Social Media journeys are much paralleled. The points you make about meeting folks are accurate. If you have the chance, make it to a “#140 Characters Conference” in your area. There is an upcoming one in Los Angeles in October – http://lax.140conf.com/. These events offer insight into Twitter far beyond just LE use. @lawscomm moderated a panel discussion with the Three Tweeting Chiefs at the conference last year – http://connectedcops.net/?p=763. And, thanks for the links on the blog!