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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



Start the discussion: Social media can make seconds count when the police are only minutes away.

A message saying “If you need help you’re on your own for a while” would rightly panic the community. Public trust would be shaken and the chief would likely be out of a job.  Citizens believe if they are being assaulted an officer should be only seconds, not minutes away. In reality, at the first sign of trouble it takes minutes for officers to arrive. A citizen must first place a call. The dispatcher then gathers the information and places it in a queue with a set priority. Finally, the officer who is assigned the call must decide the best physical route to get to the person who placed the call.  This all takes time; time the citizen did not anticipate, but the offender likely did. Offenders know they have time before responding officers will arrive. They also know the greater the distance between them and the victim, the better chance they have of getting away with the crime. Together, we can now use social media to stop crime before crime happens.

But crime occurring in our communities now goes way beyond the physical realm where someone takes an item or assaults another person. While mail fraud has been around for a long time, crime now occurs at the thickness of a hair and width of a fingernail. Our citizens are connected at the speed of light through fiber optics to people around the world and these connections allow someone to be victimized through long distance contact. We have all seen internet scams that made the news because they were successful. The average citizen needs to know how to protect against crime in the cyber world, and this for us becomes a new responsibility. It is not acceptable for law enforcement agencies to say we can’t protect people, particularly from internet crime. Therefore, our agencies need to understand the different social media platforms not only to fight crime, but to warn against criminal schemes as well as go out to community events and show people how to change the settings on their computers to better protect themselves from being attacked.

Traditional communication methods used between police and citizens are becoming an anachronism.  Our sense of communities has changed. People are as likely to hang out in their cyber neighborhood as they are in their actual neighborhoods. As a force multiplier, social media can significantly impact the treatment of crime in a community. By integrating social media into its overall communications strategy an organization increases its ability to look for crime by the number of observant eyes in the community. The closed minded will argue, “We have been doing this with National Night Out”, or “We use emails to warn the citizens of crime.” As successful as National Night Out has been, look at the number of people who attend versus the number of people who live in the community, and look for way to connect to more people.  By using social media, law enforcement can connect to the people who don’t want or are not able to hang out with their neighbors. But don’t they have a vested interest in improving their communities? Emails do get information out, but it is in real time? Social media platforms can provide real time information to residents on issues and potential treats to their safety better than websites can. Think of a website as a traffic cop directing the person seeking information to the right resource or like a library to give you basic, static information.

Websites can be great as a brochure for your organization, but are hard to use as stand-alone social media platform. There are hundreds of different social media platforms one can use.  Facebook and Twitter can be used as the work horse for immediately connecting people. Police / Community Facebook pages can be used as a posting board for informing people of crime safety tips, any suspicious activities, arrests; or, as a platform for officers and citizens who may infrequently talk in public to discuss their points of views on different issues. Twitter could be used to connect citizens with the beat officers 140 characters at a time. By using the hash tag #Your Neighborhoods Name Here anyone can be instantly alerted to suspicious activities in the area. People can tweet a picture of the activity to officers, dispatchers and the rest of the community. The technologies allow everyone to be a crime fighter in their own way, as part of a neighbor action team or an individual who simply wants to improve their neighborhood. Together, individuals connect with their neighbors and police to create a new definition of community team which interacts face to face and in cyber space.  When thinking about the different uses of social media to improve services an organization is only limited by its imagination and fear of new technology.

It will always take minutes for officers to respond to calls even when seconds count. But we can significantly improve our services by embracing the latest technologies available in social media platforms.  We develop a deeper sense of community by embracing social media as a strategic tool to improve connections between officers and citizens.  Instead of having to say, “When second’s count the police are only seconds away”, it is better to live, “I am one person connected to my community; together, we are one in preventing crime.” Such can be the power of social media.


Sergeant W. Michael Phibbs, Richmond Police

Mike Phibbs has 19 years of police experience. He has received the Police Medal for valor and spent a career developing innovative techniques to improve organizational effectiveness and efficiency.  Mike has created a splash in the public safety community in the past few years. He has authored cutting edge articles on organizational development covering such topics as Sector Policing, Employee Engagement, Chief Score and Organizational Branding in Public Safety. His articles have been published twice by the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, Virginia Center for Police Innovation, and on line magazines, websites and blogs. He helped developed the Pyramid of Performance Factors which show how an organizations structure and individual officers / firefighters emotional commitment combine to impact engagement and performance.   He has taught at the Virginia conference of the International Police Chiefs Association, Mid-Atlantic Fire Chiefs Conference, and been among a hand selected cadre of national leaders to teach at the award winning Virginia Fire Officers Academy. Mikes social media writing is intended to use humorous stories to show how different leadership techniques can make an emotional impact on individuals and then be used to transform organizations. 


Heroes Behind the Badge, see it at #IACP2012

Here is what people are saying about Heroes Behind the Badge:

“I am a Deputy Sheriff. The movie brought tears to my eyes.”
“HBTB made LEO’s feel appreciated, respected and recognized for the dangerous job we do.”
“If this doesn’t touch the ore of your emotion of the life and danger of an officer I’m not sure what will.”
“This film touched my heart. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house tonight.”
“I believe that many more people need to see and hear this message.”
“It made me think about how much unselfish work police officers do.”
“Profound, poignant, personal. Must be seen by all concerned citizens.”
“HBTB brings the self sacrifice and commitment to the for front and reminds us of our duty to support our protectors.”
“I wasn’t expecting the emotions that welled up while viewing this film.”
“This was a HARD film to watch but its a very important story that needs to be told.”
“It humanized officers and their families in a very real way.”
“Riveting, revealing, realistic, emotional, impactful.”
“This is a full box of Kleenex movie.”
“Exceptionally insightful into the sacrifices we tend to take for granted.”
“About time we recognized our Heroes.”


“Thank you for opening my mind. I can never take a police officer for granted again.”

The Heroes Behind the Badge movie will screen at the IACP Conference on Saturday, September 29th at 10 a.m. Join us in the San Diego Convention Center in Room 6A, Upper Level. The movie producers will also be announcing other screenings in the coming weeks.

The movie will also screen a the next SMILE Conference™ in Sunnyvale, CA in February, 2013.

See also:

National Law Enforcement Memorial Foundation 

Heroes Behind the Badge on Facebook

Heroes Behind the Badge on Twitter

Movie Trailer on YouTube

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