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Leveling the Playing Field

How Public Safety Demands Are Changing Buyer/Supplier Dynamics

For decades, buyer and supplier dynamics in police and fire departments have been based on an uncompromising, static relationship – if you wanted to buy hardware, you chose a vendor and you were pretty much tied to that company for upgrades and replacements. That’s because vendors sought to monopolize their market and secure future earnings through repeat sales. While this made smart business sense on the part of suppliers, it often meant first responders were left with products that cost substantially more than their consumer counterparts and trailed in technological advances.

The whole situation reminds me of Wile E. Coyote holding an Acme explosive while the Road Runner zips away.

Fortunately this lopsided business arrangement is correcting itself, largely because of two factors. First, we’ve got the pure speed of technological change in our Internet-driven world. Chiefs can no longer realistically expect a product to remain top of the line for a significant number of years, even with updates. Additionally, there’s the pressing need to establish interoperable communications networks between agencies to enhance public safety response during a crisis, an agenda item that gained momentum after the tragic events of 9/11.

As public safety agencies grapple with these challenges, they’re starting to understand that they’ve been doing business backwards. They’re realizing that a vendor’s product list isn’t the only available option. Instead, chiefs recognize there are many technology companies out there and if a vendor can’t supply specific departmental needs, they can go elsewhere.

At the same time, technology companies are realizing that they have a larger responsibility than simply selling out of the box. They actually have to do what’s in the best service of their customer – public safety in this case. That’s why we’re seeing specific technologies being developed to address public safety-related issues, not just adaptations of pre-existing hardware.

But doing what’s best for public safety has a broader implication. It also means companies working together for the greater good. We saw this recently on a commercial level when Superstorm Sandy battered the East Coast. At its peak, power outages shut down 25 percent of cell phone towers across 10 states, overburdening the remaining infrastructure and resulting in millions of dropped calls. To bolster service, AT&T and T-Mobile announced they would switch calls seamlessly between their networks in storm-damaged areas of New York and New Jersey, depending on which network had better reception in a particular area.

Another great example occurred in August at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., where an interoperable communications network assisted law enforcement. Leading technology companies, including Raytheon, Cisco, Nokia Siemens Networks, Reality Mobile and Amdocs, joined forces to integrate fixed camera feeds, live video transmitted from smartphones, GPS-enabled blue force tracking and Land Mobile Radio P25 push-to-talk voice resources.

The combined efforts of these companies created a system that marked the first time federal, state and local first responders simultaneously used a private broadband network for a national special security event (NSSE). This initiative proved that an interoperable system can function on a large scale and its success could serve as a blueprint for the larger FirstNet National Public Safety Broadband Network architecture.

It’s encouraging to see this type of collaboration take place both on the commercial and public safety levels. Technology companies can no longer take a proprietary view that shies away from open architecture and cross-platform partnerships. In our multidimensional and complex world, partnerships offer cost-efficient, workable solutions for public safety.

What to Tweet?

what to tweet… think, think think

Tweeting as an organization can be an interesting exercise, but it doesn’t have to be like cuffing a naked and bloody mental patient (if you’ve ever had the opportunity, you know what I mean). As a Law Enforcement organization, we are not tweeting about the great cheesesteak we had last night, the shellacking the Sixers just put on the Knicks (sorry NYPD), or the smelly person that just sat next to us on the subway.

Content, especially for tweets, is all around us. Tweeting is a great way to let people know what you are doing on other digital media. “VIDEO: Suspect wanted for Robbery in the 3rd District” and a link to the video is all it takes. Traffic updates are another easy thing that people love to see. We are often the ones closing the streets for auto accident, fire scenes, parades, etc. A quick tweet, “TRAFFIC ADVISORY: Today until 9pm, 18th to 20th St from Race to Callowhill including Logan Cir closed for Franklin Science Fair” lets people know they need to plan a different route and that we are looking out for them.

Tweets can also give your citizens a peek “behind the badge.” Is one of your coworkers retiring? Getting an award? Snap a picture with your phone and tweet it. Are your officers doing some high-speed training? While we do not have provocatively dressed crime scene investigators using green lasers to find a single hair in a warehouse to blow the case wide open (if you do, call me when you are hiring!), one of the most popular things we have ever tweeted, was an impromptu picture of officers doing Patrol Bicycle training. Sweaty cops after a bike ride, who knew?

Another important aspect of Twitter is showing off. That’s right, puff out your chest a little, you’re doing a good job! Citizens tweet some nice things at us and we love to retweet them. People enjoy seeing that their police department is paying attention and it lets our citizens know about some of the good things our officers are doing. In that vein, we also try to respond to every question. It is usually just a phone number or a link but people really do appreciate it.

We all have many other duties to perform and tweeting could be a full-time job, but making an effort to reach out to the people that we are paid to serve, even if it is digitally, is a cornerstone of good policing. So get over the fact that is has a silly name, get your department a Twitter handle, and tweet away!

Corporal Frank Domizio

Corporal Frank Domizio has been with the Philadelphia Police Department for 16 years. He is currently assigned to the Department’s Office of Media Relations and Public Affairs where he is the Social Media Community Manager. Frank is also a regular lecturer at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business on the topics of social media and content strategy.

"We're Paying Attention Policing"

Monitoring Twitter at LASD

Just weeks into launching its Electronic Communications Triage Unit (eComm) the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) is learning new ways to prevent crime. By monitoring social networks, now 24/7, the LASD has gotten ahead of hundreds of pay parties openly advertising illegal drugs and underage drinking. Captain Mike Parker commands the Sheriff’s Headquarters Bureau (SHB) and coordinates the Department’s media and public outreach.  “These types of parties tend to generate violent crimes,” he said.

The LASD deputies are having to learn new policing techniques. Parker explained, “our deputies are used to rolling up when these events are well underway.  Our deputies aren’t used to getting clear information that there’s going to be a party with a lot of illegal activity and troublemakers.” While some call it predictive policing, Parker is quick to point out that it’s mostly about paying attention.

The pay parties that are openly advertised through Twitter and Facebook are also popular with gang members, who are also monitoring social media.

Events at private residences which charge admission fees and sell alcohol without a permit are illegal in Los Angeles County.  Parker says these events are openly advertised for the world to see on social media and often include comments such as free to girls wearing short skirts, lots of illegal drugs and heavy drinking, and no effort to restrict minors from attending.

The LASD SHB eComm team is careful to forward on only those events which openly advertise illegal activity.

With regard to flash mobs “you don’t necessarily know if they’re going to do a little dance or something more.”

Intel regarding flash mobs is sent on to the handling station or agency for “situational awareness” purposes only along with a reminder of the public’s First Amendment right to peaceably assemble. Parker explains when you know something is going to happen days in advance, you can do a lot to get ready, like reallocate officers for crowd and traffic control.   They “literally paste[s] the first amendment into the email” when it is sent to the field:

“This notification from LASD SHB eComm is for situational awareness of possible impending gatherings or protests, so that the law enforcement can prepare for traffic and crowd control needs while the public exercises their rights guaranteed under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”

U.S. Constitution – Amendment 1 – Freedom of Religion, Press, Expression

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The eComm Unit includes one civilian Social Media Dispatcher (previously assigned station desk dispatchers) around the clock, supervised by Public Information Officer LASD Sheriffs Headquarters Bureau eComm deputies.

“Sheriff Lee Baca recognized the importance of sharing information via social media as well as monitoring and listening,” said Parker.  “This is just a fraction of the responsibilities and successes of SHB eComm, which continue to expand each day.”

Facebook: Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide

I’ve written before about the, often ludicrous, ways in which criminals have advertised their crimes on social media and ended up being apprehended as a result.

This week, three rather more serious stories which demonstrate how difficult Facebook makes it to stay anonymous in the 21st Century.

First, a story from the US on the new difficulties facing undercover law enforcement personnel.

Woman arrested for posting Facebook photos of undercover cop

A Texas woman was arrested earlier in the month for revealing the identity of an undercover police officer who had testified against her friend in court in a drug case.

The friend had found a photo of the officer on Facebook while researching him online.

He and his brother then used the photos to make fliers which they intended to post all over town.

The woman herself posted the photo on Facebook and identified its subject as an undercover policeman.

Full details here.


Next to Australia with a similar story.

Facebook refuse to take down undercover cop page

Criminals in the Australian state of Victoria have apparently got sufficiently organised to crowdsource information about local unidentified police cars which they have posted to a Facebook page.

The page has more than 12,500 followers and as of 21st October 2012, Facebook were refusing to remove the page stating, rather disingenuously, that it couldn’t stop people taking photos in a public place.

True, but they could decide not to host the page with those photos on it.

Again, for full details, click here.

Internet PrivacyCreative Commons License o5com via Compfight

Finally, we return to the UK for a story of how a private individual used Facebook to investigate a serious crime that had not been reported to police.

Husband tracks down wife’s rapist via Facebook

A number of  newspapers carried reports two weeks ago about a trial taking place at Maidstone Crown Court.

They concerned a husband whose wife confided in him that she had been raped by an old boyfriend ten years earlier.

The husband took to Facebook and started talking to old friends to track down the alleged rapist.

He claimed to be organising a surprise party for his wife and managed to get in touch with his wife’s attacker and find out his address.

The husband confronted the man and assaulted him.

The wife then reported her rape to the police


It seems that it’s equally risky for law enforcement officers and criminals to have a Facebook presence unless they are very careful with their privacy settings.

This story was first posted on Russell Webster’s blog.

Social Media Heating Up Cold Cases

Joe Giacalone is @coldcasesquad

The explosive growth of social media has been amazing to watch. As a former law enforcement officer I used social media during investigations to try and tap into the electronic street for information. Whether it was to track the whereabouts of wanted individuals or to try and catch a tidbit of information, social media often provides what you seek when properly used. Now, that I am retired, I am exploring new ways that LEOs can use social media to help solve more cases by using the existing tools that are already out there. The focus of this article is how law enforcement can use social media to help stoke interest in cold cases. I was surprised to see how many police department websites don’t have a page dedicated to missing persons and unsolved crimes.

Social media can play a bifurcated role in help solving cold cases. First, for the victim’s family, it keeps the case relevant. There is no better way to give the case life then injecting a fresh look at things. Birthdays, incident dates and holidays can all be used to garner information. Using social media also helps bridge the gap that develops in cold cases between the family and the police. It brings good will and a renewed interest. However, before I started any social media campaign for a cold case, I would ensure two things: 1) that the case has some solvability factors and 2) that I spoke with the family and explained what is happening before going live. Family members always want to see the case closed with an arrest, however, the emotions brought out when renewing the relationship weighs heavily on them.

For LEOs, social media provides a home base for the collection and dissemination of intelligence information for people that knew the victim(s), followed the case carefully and may be able to provide further information. It can also serve as a database of eyewitnesses that now may have scattered throughout the nation or identify ones that were originally reluctantly to come forward. With the many location finders on social media, investigators can save hundreds of hours tracking down people that were involved with the case. What is better than them coming to you? In essence, the social media page acts as an online memorial and tribute to the victim. They always seem to bring about chatter and conversations which may in turn provide a viable lead. It is important that the page be monitored and investigators should respond and engage comments posted on the site.

Whenever you create a website or post, you have to think about Search Engine Optimization (SEO). SEO is a tricky thing for non-techies like myself, so I will encourage you to read up on it. However, there are a few simple things that you can do so that your site gets the maximum attention from search engines. Make sure you include Tags and or Labels. Tags and Labels are the words that describe what is in your post and will be picked up by search engines and each platform, Blogger, WordPress, etc. calls them different things, but they have the same goal, optimization.

When designing a cold case page or post, ensure you include the following tags and or labels so that if anyone inputs the label in a search, your post will show up in the results:

  • Victim’s name
  • Hometown
  • Location of the incident (if known)
  • Date of incident
  • Local Police Department’s name and contact info

Social media can help investigators garner new information and leads, however, it is still the mainstream media that drives the point home. Many cold cases come from the era that predated the Internet, so television news spots, newspapers and radio are still vital in investigations. That demographic cannot be ignored. Social media can be used to attract the mainstream media, which can gauge the public’s interest on a particular case and cover it, supplying law enforcement with the amount of exposure necessary to turn the heat up on cold cases.

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