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Placing Public Safety First Within FirstNet

The author, Mike Bostic, on the #IACP2012 show floor, sporting his new ConnectedCOPS headgear

“We’re on the precipice of redefining public safety communications,” said Charles Dowd, deputy chief with the New York City Police Department, earlier this year when Congress passed legislation that reallocated the 700 MHz D Block spectrum to public safety. “This is going to transform public safety communications the same way that two-way radio did in the 1930s. That’s how big of a change this is going to be.”

As I have followed the development of FirstNet with great personal and professional interest, Chief Dowd’s enthusiasm sums up my own views regarding the future of public safety. For the past four years I’ve been working with a group of exceptional engineers at Raytheon. The knowledge they’ve shared has made me even more excited to see the development of a broadband network as I know it can go far beyond the limited capabilities and available technology first responders have today.

The FirstNet board has just held its initial meeting. The board includes 12 public sector members; the remaining three members represent the federal government. FirstNet – the First Responder Network Authority – is responsible for overseeing the building and operation of the new nationwide public safety broadband network.

The board has four outstanding people representing the operator’s needs of a new system, one member each to represent police chiefs, the fire service, EMS and the National Sheriffs’ Association. This is fantastic. The challenge for the other board members will be listening to this minority group. The board as a whole can’t allow the politics of business and Congress to shape a system with limited capabilities and limited competition, like we currently have in the public safety field.

I view this challenge through simplistic, definable areas, with complex and competing interests on all sides of the issues. Ultimately, I believe FirstNet can most effectively move forward by laying down these ground rules:

  • Putting the operational needs of public safety first and they should outweigh all other issues in FirstNet’s decision-making process.
  • Local autonomy in a national system should be allowed otherwise the push back from these local entities will doom the effort.
  • Once built, the processes and applications of the system must be based on a platform that allows any agency to tailor it to their own needs. No one entity should control that process, otherwise manipulation by competing industry interests will limit capability, much as it does today.

After spending most of my adult life serving in public safety, I know that departments and agencies have long had to make do with what a small group of companies have been willing to build based on profit margins. All along the tables should have been turned, with industry responding to definable operational needs and demands in dynamic, well-crafted RFPs.

The business world won’t let go of the status quo easily. But I’m confident that the public safety leadership has the strong will to control the future by placing their operation needs at the forefront in FirstNet discussions. If this happens, we would see public safety designing systems that work for them and industry responding to those needs – for the first time.

IBM launches the IBM i2 Group Intelligent Law Enforcement platform at #IACP2012

IBM is working towards becoming the “convener of the eco-system of public safety”

Today at the IACP Conference in San Diego, The IBM team including the i2 Group announced a new initiative to promote the higher level of intelligence analysis – calling it the IBM i2 Intelligent Law Enforcement platform. But, it’s not just another law enforcement solution for intelligence analytics, IBM is demonstrating its profound understanding for the need for integration among and between stakeholders beyond law enforcement in its provision of a solution to do just that. In addition to integrating the informational needs of several lateral stakeholders beyond police, IBM is acknowledging the connection between economic development and a safe environment in which to live.

In the screenshot above, the blue pins represent burglaries, the red pins are fires and the green are medical emergencies.

With the acquisition of i2 Group a year or so ago, IBM has Coplink and Analyst’s Notebook. But with the latest rendition of its software they’re integrating all of that and beyond by combining Big Data with analytics.

In a white paper which addresses in part the need for public safety agencies to do more with less and to link spending to outcomes:

In many developed economies, agencies are tasked with facing these challenges with state or decline real expenditures. … While Public safety agencies in emerging markets may not be faced with resource issues, the pace of organizational change required to deal with the growth in crime means they need to find new ways of working.

Martin Nathan is IBM’s Product Manger for i2 Group’s product line. He acknowledged that a lot of good police work is about a cop’s gut instinct, and added, “police officers are really bright, but there are only so many points of information they can take in. This type of technology grows that ability exponentially.”

What might be even more compelling is the platform’s portrayal of threat to the responding officer. By combining its tactical lead systems and analytical systems into one hub, the front line officers get feedback on suspects in a visual manner that could be lifesaving.

Nathan illustrated a police officer viewing the crime data from the previous several hours that occurred before his shift. Only, it’s not limited to specific crimes, but also fire calls and medical emergencies. And beyond that s/he can gain insight into the individual suspects criminal records and information from social services. Coplink and Analyst’s Notebook capabilities are integrated in such a way to give officers a very comprehensive lay of the land. S/he can see the suspect’s associations with other individuals, and other background information so not only can officers know they have the right suspect, they know how dangerous they are before they approach.

Mark Cleverly is IBM’s Global Lead for Public Safety. He spoke about five areas of need for improvement which guide IBM’s public safety development effort:
1. Increasing access to information, not just for law enforcement but for public partners and citizens
2. Create trust by inclusion of everything that is relevant
3. Delivery of information to the right points
4. Predictive analysis – adding pro-action to response analysis
5. Providing broader situation awareness

Inclusion of social media data sets are in the works as well, future versions of the platform might include YouTube videos and 311 data. Nathan wants to proceed cautiously in order to maintain integrity. He said social media can be a dead-end or a distraction and that the question is how to get to where the real value is. “We have a very good vision of content for social media analytics that we will incorporate after thorough research and through working closely with clients.”

Cleverly added, “we want to be as open as we can be to all participants who play a role in public safety, and that includes citizens, it’s not just about police, fire and ambulance.”

Related IBM whitepapers:
The value of smarter public safety and security

Accelerating economic growth and vitality through smarter public safety management

Law Enforcement “Tweet-a-Thons”: A Virtual Ride-a-Long

The Guelph Police Service launched its Twitter Social Media engagement platform on November 5th, 2009. Since that time, the service has amassed over 5000 followers through its two main Twitter accounts, @gpsmedia (3156) and @Chief_BLarkin (2281).

The #GPS uses Twitter as a means to:

• Engage community groups and businesses
• Promote the great “face time” work our police officers do on a daily basis
• Solicit service delivery feedback from the community and businesses
• Provide emergency messaging during serious incidents and municipal emergencies
• Create and maintain positive police-youth interactions
• Cross promote and market community partner events

In July 2011, Sergeant Doug Pflug, program creator and GPS’s Media Relations Officer, researched ways to increase followers of his Twitter account when he came across a new article discussing a “Tweet-a-Thon” conducted in Vancouver, B.C., in 2010. Vancouver Police’s Social Media Officer, Constable Anne Longley, recently explained that, “social media has been a very successful way for us to interact with the community that we weren’t able to before. It is interactive. It is not just a way for us to push out a message” (Nguyen, 2012). The Guelph Police Service has since held three Twitter campaigns, offering on-line followers a glimpse of what occurs during a police officer’s typical 10-hour shift.

Tweet-a-Thon – Throughout the past year, the #GPS hosted three Tweet-a-Thons during high call-volume time frames, specifically the annual 2011 Project Safe Semester kick-off and 2011 Project Safe Semester wrap-up and the 2012 St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. During these three ten-hour Tweet-a-Thons, Media Relations Officer Pflug tweeted general information about each call for service dispatched to his fellow officers. Most of the complaints concerned public intoxication, noise ordinances, disturbances, and trespassing. “We wanted to give the public real insight into the types of calls we respond to,” explains Sgt. Pflug. “We wanted followers to appreciate how engaged we are while balancing the public’s rights to privacy and other pertinent legislative requirements.” During the Project Safe Semester #PSS2011 campaign, Sgt. Pflug tweeted 164 times and responded to 44 direct messages for the kick-off and he tweeted 108 times and replied to 43 direct messages for the wrap-up.

When the Tweet-a-Thon began, Sergeant Pflug provided followers a basic outline of the geographical locations and boundaries within the City of Guelph:

@gpsmedia #pss2011 call location info: N-4 =downtown, N-3 =entire city south of Wellington, N-1 =west side N-2 is east side both split at Woolwich St”

The tweeted locations remained vague. “We didn’t want people following us around or showing up to potentially dangerous situations, so the information in the tweets will be restricted to neighbourhoods rather than exact locations.” said Sgt. Pflug.

The Tweet-a-Thon Pflug’s frequent tweets highlighted the variety of calls dispatched to officers, hourly cell and prisoner checks, arrests, offences committed, tickets issued for public intoxication, urination, and other offences. At the end of the evening, Sergeant Pflug tweeted:

@gpsmedia EVENING WRAP UP 3:55 am – 193 calls, 12 males, 2 females and 1 youth in custody at GPS HQ @Deputy_BLarkin #pss2011 Thanks for the follows!!”

Following the Tweet-a-Thon, Sgt. Pflug reviewed the results, including several messages from followers and tweet statistics. The Tweet-a-Thon was deemed to be a success. “This new approach provided a great opportunity to engage the social media community and incited several positive and supportive comments.” Below are just a few examples of the positive responses from members of the community:

@SociableGuelph: Fantastic work @GPSmedia @Deputy_BLarkin for tweet-a-thon #pss2011. Amazing work you do for #Guelph – fascinating to follow just one night

@joey_lotion: tweetathon rly showed the high demand on GPS. Thx for making it happen! Hopefully repeated in the future. @gpsmedia @Deputy_BLarkin #pss2011

@karenjconnelly: @gpsmedia Thanks for keeping Guelph safe while the rest of us sleeps! Never forget that you’re our everyday heroes. #pss2011

Sgt. Pflug conducted a supplemental search to determine the potential re-tweet impact from other Twitter members following this real-time event. A “re-tweet” is the re-posting of someone else’s tweet, distinguished by a specific re-tweet icon. Pflug tweeted a serious disturbance call and within a short time, the message was re-tweeted to 21,795 Twitter accounts.

“It’s astonishing that one 140-character message can appear on over 21,795 hand-held devices, tablets, laptops, etc. in just a few moments,” commented Sgt. Pflug. “We credit Twitter messaging and re-tweets for assisting us in locating a missing elderly male in December 2010. His vehicle plate number was tweeted, picked-up by media and broadcasted. A short time later, a radio listener saw his vehicle beside a rural corn field. Police were called and the elderly male was located in a disoriented state. We believe that had he not been found so quickly, he may have easily succumbed to the weather and perished.”

Since this time, the police services in Sarnia and Chatham-Kent have conducted similar law enforcement Tweet-a-Thons, mirroring the successes achieved by their predecessors. Approximately 30 percent of police forces currently have Twitter accounts. “It is yet another tool used to reach out to the community, display transparency, and at the same time, help us do our job.” Said Sgt. Pflug.

Although still in its early stages throughout North America, the concept of social media in law enforcement has proven to be a very good community engagement tool. The Guelph Police Service further utilized Twitter as an information-sharing tool last summer after a large gas leak in a residential neighbourhood, resulting in a near citywide power outage. “Once we confirmed the power was out, we immediately began tweeting messages to followers advising them of the outage and asking they to provide their location and whether or not they were experiencing any interruptions. When your power goes out, so does your phone, TV, computer and radio.

Once the power was restored, many followers expressed their gratitude as everyone seems to have a hand-held device and our tweets kept them up to date in a time of crisis. As a result, we are currently investigating the formal application of Twitter during municipal emergencies as part of the City of Guelph’s Emergency Management Strategy.” said Sgt. Pflug.

Little academic literature exists to effectively measure the impact of social media on policing. However, the emerging benefits has led most police personnel to believe this is not a fad but rather a fixture for police services to efficiently engage the community in times of crisis and buttress positive police-community interactions.

Sergeant Doug Pflug

-Sgt. Douglas Pflug has been the Media Relations Officer for the Guelph Police Service since June 2008. He is the Vice-Chair of the Ontario Media Resource Officers Network. He has lectured in Canada and the United States on the benefits a comprehensive social media platform can provide your police service. If you wish further information or assistance with your “Tweet-a-Thon”, please contact (519) 831-9285, @gpsmedia, douglas.pflug@police.guelp.on.ca or www.facebook.com/gpsmedia.


Nguyen, Linda. “Follow That Force: Cops Take to Twitter”. The Canadian Press. 30 Jun 2012. msnnews. Web. 11 Aug 2012.

Google and LAwSComm offer free workshop for Massachusetts Law Enforcement

What a Plus!

Google+ Workshop for Massachusetts Law Enforcement
Wednesday, October 10th 6:30pm – 8:00pm
Google Cambridge, 3 Cambridge Center
4th Floor (Kendall Square)
LAwS Communications and Google have teamed up to provide a free workshop for MA law enforcement professionals.
Come learn about Google+ and other trends and strategies in online social marketing at Google Cambridge!

Google+ is much more than another social destination. It takes all the Google products that you use and allows you to add the power of social media to offer an engaging identity, to build strong public relationships and to come together for collaborative sharing.
Learn how to leverage such features as Google+ Hangouts. A free tool where your organization can connect live, face-to-face with the public, simultaneously on Google+, YouTube, and your own website.

Please RSVP today as space is limited.
Email Lauri Stevens: lauri@lawscomm.net

Ethical considerations with the use of technology by law enforcement

This is the first in a series of articles that will focus upon law enforcement personnel’s use of technology and the implications it has for both the employees and their agencies.  The focus of these articles is on potential employee misconduct and its prevention through education and training.

Over the last several years, a tremendous emphasis has been placed upon policy development relating to law enforcement employees’ use of technology particularly social media.  Policy development is critical for agencies to ensure that they provide employees with clear guidelines while also ensuring their ability to run efficiently. Many agencies have or are currently developing social media policies as well as other technology policies.  These policies will need to be regularly modified and adapted as the courts provide legal direction and new technology emerges.

Developing a clear and legally defensible departmental policy performs two primary functions.  The first is to clearly outline to employees the rules and regulations.  The secondary function of a departmental policy is to address employee misconduct.  Historically the vast majority of law enforcement employees will conform to departmental policies.  However when policies are unclear, changed without proper notice, and involve employees off duty conduct, there is a greater likelihood that they will either intentionally or unknowingly violate a policy.

Policies that involve technology and social media are often times very technical, need regular revision and can regulate an employees conduct off duty.  For these reasons, there is a very real need for meaningful training on the ethical use of technology, applicable policies and the consequences to the employees and agencies with inappropriate use of technology.

As trainers will attest, law enforcement employees want to understand the benefit and consequences from the training they receive.  By discussing the technology being used both on and off duty, explaining potential ethical pitfalls and the scope of departmental policies, agencies can be preventive rather than reactive when dealing with employee’s use of technology.

As a training manager I understand the challenges of law enforcement training.  Law enforcement agencies face shrinking training budgets, cuts in training staff, perishable skills training mandates, state mandates and the need to provide training in a variety of skill sets.

Faced with these obstacles, it is important to develop and implement training in a variety of formats that will ensure the greatest retention and impact upon employees.  Training formats, allotted time and the method in which it is delivered varies greatly from agency to agency.  We have all been to those courses that provide a one size fits all mandated training format.   Students are provided with an 8-hour training plan take back to their agencies and implement.   While great in theory if this isn’t realistic within the constraints of the individual agency the end result is often that no training is provided.

The training should be developed to meet the needs of the individual agency.  Time frames allocated for training can vary from one to eight hours.  Formats can include roll call modules, weekly training cycles, annual officer training, etc.

The focus should be on quality training that will emphasize the new and wide reaching effects of technology and social media usage for officers in both their personal and professional lives.  I look forward to your thoughts in the coming months as we discuss a variety of topics related to law enforcement employees’ ethical use of technology.

Sgt Nathan Steele, West Sacramento Police

Nathan Steele is a Sergeant with the West Sacramento Police Department where he has worked for the last 16 years.  As one of his current duties he created and runs the Police Departments Social Media program.  In addition he is an Adjunct Professor for the Los Rios Community College District teaching courses in the Criminal Justice Division.  Nathan has 14 years of experience as a Law Enforcement Trainer in a variety of fields.  Nathan holds both a Bachelors and Masters Degree from CSU Sacramento and is a graduate of the California POST Master Instructor Program.  Nathan has created a first of its kind 1 day and 3 day California POST certified courses on the Ethical Use of Technology by Law Enforcement.  Nathan travels throughout the State of California providing training to officers and their agencies to educate, prevent and mitigate the damage caused by inappropriate use of technology by law enforcement employees.

Nathan can be reached at nsteele@dprep.com or 916-529-9498



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