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Why dragging your feet on a Social Media Policy is going to bite you

Recently a local police department was assigned a part of the security detail for a visit from an
important dignitary. It was a prestigious affair for the town, as a dignitary of this magnitude had
never visited this area before. The police force did a fantastic job and things ran like clockwork
throughout the event. Kudos came from the local media outlets on how smoothly the event went and the
chief was quite proud of his department.

The officers involved in the detail were quite proud as well.They took pictures and video of the
dignitary’s motorcade as it went by and posted their evidence on Facebook to share with friends and
family. Unfortunately, as things often do in Social Media, those pictures and videos soon spread beyond
the officers friends and family. Soon came criticism of the officers for taking pictures and video while
they should have been paying attention to the protection the dignitary.

But you cannot hardly blame the officers. It was an exciting event and besides, no one ever told them
they shouldn’t post this kind of thing on Facebook. As a matter of fact, the department had no policy in
place for Social Media at all. This is a major fail for a department at this point in the game. Social
Media is no longer brand spanking new. Social Media is how many people communicate these days and this
department had done a great disservice to its officers and reputation by stalling on getting a policy

This situation was not something that was going to incite the public to riot, but officers have posted
things much more damaging. For example read this recent story regarding an officer’s posting of a
photograph. It is simply not fair to expect officers to know what may and may not be acceptable when a command staff has not even broached the subject because of their own ignorance of the reach and consequences of Social Media.

So, if your department has yet to draft a Social Media policy, you need to get off the stick yesterday,
as you are far, far behind the curve on guiding your officers and protecting your departments standing
in the community.

Don’t delay! Post 999

The recent publicity campaigns promoting the new 101 Police telephone number have all been at pains to emphasise that the number should not be used in an emergency.

But 999 (911 in the USA, 000 in Australia) is not the only way to contact Police in an emergency. Indeed, the US Government has started to put in a place a system which allows members of the public to text or send multi-media messages to call for help.

Recently, I have come across a number of stories of people using Facebook to contact the police in an emergency.

Some of these stories are bizarre, as Facebook police stories often are.

For instance, a 29-year-old woman in Minnesota posted to Facebook in January this year that she was being threatened with a gun. Her Facebook friends picked up on this and called the police. When they got to the address, they found a man with a shot gun who had been threatening the Facebook poster. He was duly arrested – and so was she. It turned out that he was threatening her because she had stolen some of the drugs in his house. Since she was wanted on a warrant and was a suspect for two drug-related crimes, the Facebook poster ended up in custody too.

So focused are many young people on their Facebook status, that they forget about other means of communication. Take the case of two young girls (age 10 and 12) who were trapped in a storm drain in Adelaide, Australia back in 2009. Instead of simply dialling “000?, they used their mobile phones to update their status on Facebook to report their predicament. Fortunately, one of their Facebook friends called emergency services. You can read the full story here.

However, in some domestic violence situations Facebook has been the only way for people in danger to contact the police.

Just before Christmas in Wyoming, a man seriously assaulted his partner and would not let her leave the house, taking her mobile phone away. Several hours later, he fell asleep and she took her laptop to the bathroom and updated her Facebook status:

“So not a joke…Please before he wakes up please help me he took all the phones and my purse and won’t let me out the door he beat…me help.”

One of her Facebook friends contacted the police and the perpetrator was duly arrested. Further details here.

Facebook came to the rescue again in an even more serious case two weeks later in Sandy, Utah. A man who had previously been imprisoned for assaulting his partner returned to her home on release and imprisoned her and her son for a period of five days while submitting her to continual assaults.

Again, he had destroyed her mobile phone and prevented her from leaving the house. After five days she was able, eventually, to hide in a closet and update her Facebook status. In this case, the Facebook friends who picked up her posts only knew her in the virtual world and it took them some time to work out her address. Fortunately they succeeded and the police were able to make an arrest before the situation became fatal.

The video below gives the whole story:

Is it time to allow the public to contact emergency services by social networks? Most police services emphasise on their Facebook pages that social media should not be used to report crimes or emergency situations, for the obvious reason that social media pages are not monitored in real time.

However, the virtual culture is so integrated into many, particularly young people’s, way of communicating with the world that last year the US Federal Communications Commission announced that it was developing plans to allow members of the public to contact the 911 number by text and multimedia messages. This initiative will require significant upgrading of equipment and systems and is not expected to be available for another 5-10 years.

One of the big advantages of this approach is that it will enable first responders to see photos and videos of an accident en route to the scene and to be prepared for the situation that faces them.

Will we see similar developments in the UK?

Russell Webster

Russell Webster is a Brit who trained as a probation officer until a year working in Pittsburgh sent him in new directions. He has worked full time as an independent consultant, researcher, writer and trainer specialising in the fields of drugs and crime since 1996. He has particular expertise around young people, offender health, social networking/digital engagement and payment by results. He is a regular blogger on these issues at www.russellwebster.com

This post was previously published at RussellWebster.com

UCLA Lab Focuses on New Technology for First Responders

Public safety has made news headlines again as President Obama urged Congress to approve a national public safety broadband network during his State of the Union address. Those of us in public safety are well aware of this need. At the same time, it’s imperative we know about other efforts that are underway to push public safety forward.

At the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), the Public Safety Network Systems Laboratory held its first workshop in December. As I mentioned in a blog post last year, this lab offers third-party, unbiased testing and analysis of current and future public safety technologies.

The laboratory, of which Raytheon was its first partner, is dedicated to advancing public safety through six goals that focus on the development of networks and operations technologies, analysis of LTE technologies, adoption of devices such as smartphones, and establishment of standards for interoperable network systems.

The research team’s initial projects will focus on some of the most pressing issues first responders face as departments switch to commercial wireless technologies. They’ll analyze and design adaptive power and adaptive rate scheduling for wireless and cellular networks; look at wireless systems under severe fading scenarios in urban and indoor areas; and develop apps for smartphones.

Over the long term, public safety will also benefit from the creation of a Public Safety Research Trust. This trust is envisioned as a 501(c)(3) charter organization dedicated solely to public safety. It would provide a neutral middle-ground for public safety organizations, research centers and industry to invest in real solutions – not just products. Industry membership dues, research grants and fundraising would ensure the trust remains independent and self-sustaining for years to come.

This is a bold vision and one that’s already being embraced by those who attended the lab’s first counterterrorism workshop. Among the attendees were representatives from the FBI, LAPD, Los Angeles World Airports, City of Los Angeles Emergency Management, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department and the University of Southern California’s (USC) CREATE Homeland Security Center.

But it needs you too. First responders are well aware of the challenges they encounter in the field. Now there’s a world-class research institution working to bring you solutions.

If your agency, department or company is interested in joining the Public Safety Research Trust, contact me on Twitter @mikebostic.

PART 2: An active shooter terrorizes a military facility. An armed suspect with a bomb-like device strapped to his body enters LAX Terminal 4. A suspect with a deadly gas device is about to walk into a state building. What equipment and information would you want in a crisis? Find out what public safety leaders attending the UCLA Public Safety Network Systems Laboratory workshop envisioned as the technologies of the future.

Related post:
Bostic, Mike. March 17, 2011. From Internet to Interoperability: New UCLA Research to Benefit Public Safety Agencies

Why I am nominating Scott Mills @GraffitiBMXCop for a Shorty Award

Constable Scott Mills

When P.C. Scott Mills delivers presentations to students on behalf of the Toronto Police Service, he finishes by encouraging his audience members to “friend” him on Facebook. Students initially are incredulous to this.  Meeting an authority figure who understands the social media tools of their generation is a rarity.  Moreover, Mills communicates openly and sincerely about the kinds of issues they consider important.

As an experienced high school teacher, I have seen my share of guest speakers, motivational talks, and educational lectures.  The number of Facebook friends on Scott’s FB account isn’t about popularity as much as it is a test to see how many students he reached on any particular day. Some of these FB connections are really quite compelling, especially when one sees the kind of impact Scott is capable of making on some of the most hard-to-reach youths.

I have known Scott in a professional capacity for several years, meeting him for the first time after one of a talk about one of his passions: legal graffiti.  Some neighbourhood kids had defaced the garage of my childhood home and I wasn’t prepared to listen to anyone talk so passionately about why the city needed opportunities for graffiti artists.

By the end of the talk, I was a convert.

This is not the first time that Scott has taken down fences in order to get the dialogue started with someone who is angry, skeptical, and cynical. Want to read an amazing story about a highly unlikely friendship?  Have a look at #HomelessJoe which is attached to numerous tweets documenting @graffitibmxcop’s history with “HomelessJoe.”

Not convinced that Scott embraces the idea of legal graffiti and knows how to be an intergenerational voice to youth?  Just ask @wellandgood, @bubzart, @artofphade, @kalmplex, and @schoolofhustle what they think of @graffitibmxcop.  Think that the BMX is just a ruse?  @heidibezanson and @torontobmx would have something to say about that.

Scott is certainly a game-changer when it comes to law enforcement and social engagement. A prolific proponent of social media, he is a frequent user of Facebook and Twitter as crime prevention tools as well as a means to canvass for leads after an occurrence.

At other times, Tweets may be an alert about a missing person, a warning about break-ins or perhaps just a shout-out for individuals who are mentoring young people in the community at a BMX bike park, fitness program, or art and design workshop.

Scott has logged what must amount to thousands of contact hours on social media and this activity indicates not only a strong presence online but also comfort in using these tools as part of modern day policing.

In addition to talks to the education community, he has delivered numerous in-service professional development sessions to colleagues, teaching them how to integrate Twitter and Facebook into day-to-day policing and how to remain mindful of the kind of impact officers can make with their own online presence.

Scott has also been one of those essential voices of the Toronto Police Service, willing to listen and also proactive about effecting change that leads to an improvement in services or policy.  One of the reasons why I will be nominating him for a Shorty Award is because I will be forever in awe of how Scott is able to use his communication skills and gift in diplomacy to engage and often win over individuals who are skeptical about the police.

The police might have been the original street corner politicians but Scott Mills is definitely the mayor of social media.

Note: If you would like to vote for Scott Mills for the #lifesavinghero Shorty award, click here and fill in the form.


A Case Study: Social Media Key To Crime Stoppers Programs’ Success & Community Safety

Crime Stoppers International Used LiveStream, Youtube, Facebook & Twitter In Search For Missing Girl & Alleged Fugitive Mom

In today’s reality, social media tools and platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Foursquare, Webdoc, QR Codes and Google Plus are important two way communication tools that improves the reach of the Crime Stoppers mission of helping to stop, solve and prevent crimes together. It is important to have access to all the social media platforms that your program is using to reach your communities on your websites in the form of the service provider icons like Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, LinkedIn and Google Plus hyperlinked to your accounts.

Many Crime Stoppers programs in Canada and throughout the world have adapted a social media presence that has resulted in some notable success stories. There are still many programs struggling to establish their social media, and a number who simply don’t know how to do it. At the Crime Stoppers International Training Conference in Jamaica in 2011, an online guide for social media set up was provided.

This guide is available on the official Canadian Crime Stoppers Association Facebook Page and on the official Crime Stoppers International Facebook page by clicking on the Webdoc app on the top left corner of the pages. Social media terms of use, styles and settings are constantly changing. The ‘Webdoc’ format has been adapted because it is free and is easily to update everyone who is operating a social media set up for a Crime Stoppers program. In addition, as you will read below, Webdoc is a great way to pull all of the information from traditional media and social media on a particular case into one location online, and is very easy to update

In dialogue with the President of the Canadian Crime Stoppers Association, Ralph Page, I was asked to describe a ‘case study’ using social media. I decided to describe one case that social media was used for a case of an abducted child and a wanted fugitive to give those programs some basic suggestions on how to set up social media for their programs.

Before I chronicle the story here, it should be pointed out that the undisputed leader when it comes to using social media for abduction cases, for his own case, and to help others facing similar, and complicated situations is Mr. Stephen Watkins. Stephen has leveraged every social media tool there is to try to locate his two boys and seek justice. I have often followed his lead on the effective use of social media, and Stephen is to be commended for always thinking of making the tools and resources that he has found through his personal case available for others to use effectively to bring peace of mind to so many people who are searching for answers due to an unsolved crime. The same social media approaches can and should be used in crime prevention, to stop violence before it starts, and Crime Stoppers is one of the keys to success worldwide, in my humble opinion.

The case I will talk about is that of a missing little girl named Pearl Gavaghan Da Massa who was alleged to have been abducted by her biological mother from England, and last seen in the Parkdale area of Toronto when I was asked to get involved using social media by a fellow officer, Constable Wendy Drummond, a media relations officer for the Toronto Police Service. I subsequently worked very closely with Henry Da Massa, Pearl’s biological father, the officers in the the Toronto Police Service Fugitive Squad led by Detective Rick Mooney, as well as the Missing Children’s Society of Canada, who had offered a reward in the case.

When we started out, Henry had a Facebook profile called ‘Missing Pearl’ that had about 400 ‘friends’ on it, all of whom were following Henry’s journey to find his daughter. We assisted Henry to set up a Facebook Page for the case, and encouraged all Facebook traffic to be directed to the page. The reason for setting up a page, is that multiple people can then post officially as “Missing Pearl”. This could include investigators, family members or Crime Stoppers affiliated people. The other good thing about a Facebook page is that a Crime Stoppers Leave A Tip tab can be installed to any page, which allows a reader to click on the Leave A Tip Facebook app and be directed right into the Tipsoft / Crime Reports anonymous tip submit system that many Crime Stoppers use to process tips.

Henry started up a Twitter account dedicated to his search and started a hash tag on Twitter #FindPearl. For clarification to people new to Twitter, a hash tag is a key word and clickable link that anyone can start that you post in a ‘tweet’ that allows for anyone ‘tweeting’ about the case to use, thus allowing anyone who is following the situation the ability to type into the search bar on twitter the hash tag and see what is being said and by who. One thing to keep in mind as a Crime Stoppers program using social media, is that you should always be in contact with the investigating officer of the the case to ensure that the social media posts are complimentary to what the investigators are doing on their investigation. Social media is very public, and what is being stated on social media sites quite often is being followed by the the very people that are alleged to be suspects in cases like this. We maintained dialogue behind the scenes with the investigators to ensure that we were not stepping on anyone’s toes.

Henry also started a Youtube account, which he used to post some videos of he and his missing daughter.

It was the first time we tried to live stream an appeal using Crime Stoppers International. Immediately after broadcasting the appeal of Henry from our office in Toronto, his Facebook friends in England started sending him messages that they had seen his appeal video live!

Watch live streaming video from csiworld at livestream.com

Fast forward a month or so, and Crime Stoppers International President Michael Gordon-Gibson was coming in to Toronto from the United Kingdom to speak at the Toronto International Fugitive Investigators
Conference. Michael had asked me to co-present with him on the effective use of social media.

Here is where the true value of Crime Stoppers came into play. The partnership of the community, the police and the media, and now social media was leveraged at this Fugitive Conference.

A community member from the Parkdale area named Paisley Rae offered her assistance to make some Youtube videos appealing for information on the whereabouts of Pearl. She worked tirelessly filming and editing a video chronicling the last known places that Pearl had been seen in Toronto.

Rae’s video was posted to her Youtube account to assist the cause. Michael Gordon-Gibson filmed a video appeal that was posted to the Crime Stoppers International Youtube account that explored the value of using QR Codes (Quick Response Codes).

These codes are great for including on public handouts about the case. The idea is that a member of the public can scan the QR Code using their smart phone and get instant information about the case, who to call if they know something or how to submit anonymous information to Crime Stoppers.

Kevin Masterman, Media Coordinator for Toronto Police attended the Fugitive Conference presentation that was for law enforcement only, and wrote a story that included the appeal videos for finding Pearl, which was further shared into social media circles.

Mac’s Convenience Stores contributed to the appeal by adding a video appeal onto their digital display terminals in stores across Canada thanks to Sean Sportun, of the Toronto Crime Stoppers Board.

At one point during the summer of 2011, an online canvass using Facebook Places check ins and Fourquare check ins was done at Yonge Dundas Square in downtown Toronto that resulted in a lot of people attending a concert that featured Canadian rapper Classified, Hollerado and the Crash Test Dummies.  A few photos were taken of this appeal with some of the band members to try to boost the public appeal for tips to solve the case.  Some photos of this are here:

If you are saying to yourself at this point “How do you keep track of what everyone is doing?” This is where the Webdoc application we talked about earlier comes into play.

Everything we were doing in social media, I was compiling into one Webdoc about the case, that was easily shared at any time with anyone willing to assist with the appeal in social media, whether it be a fellow officer, a community member, citizen journalist, or a reporter from the traditional media.

This Webdoc became the living breathing filing system of the social and traditional media.

The poster for the Missing Pearl case was featured in the slide show at the popular State of NOW conference in New York City.

From this document we made a QR code, which eventually was published in a book of 350 unsolved missing person cases written by retired Toronto Star reporter, and Halton Crime Stoppers program board member Cal Millar called Missing Find Me. The book was recently published and is available on Amazon.com.

By the time I got a copy of the book, 5 cases had already been solved. Ironically, Cal had included a QR code in the book for the Webdoc on the Missing Pearl case. Cal said to me he was going to have to do an update to the book because the cases were getting solved. Not even Cal quite understood the proper use of  QR Codes, but it became quickly apparent to him that the use of QR Codes was essential for his work with Crime Stoppers chronicling unsolved murder cases and missing person cases.

I quickly got my smart phone out and scanned the QR Code for the Missing Pearl case. It came up to good news.. that on September 26, 2011 Pearl had been safely located in Montreal after a tip from a member of the public to a patrolling police officer about suspicious activity by an adult female and a child.

The exact wording was as follows, with a link to a traditional media story about how Pearl was located. “Good news: Pearl was located safely in Montreal September 26, 2011. Thank you to everyone who assisted with this case – the public, media and the police.”

As it turned out Pearl was located with her biological mother. Her mother was arrested, and Pearl is now back in England with her father. By scanning the QR Code in the book, the reader was immediately given reliable and up to date progress of the case. Cal has now told me that he will be using this format for his future research into unsolved murder cases and missing person cases… and it was right after this experience with Cal, and a talk with Ralph that Ralph asked me to write this out for publication in the Crime Stoppers newsletter.

I have been told by some long time Crime Stoppers board members that this is ‘very complicated’.

It really isn’t complicated at all. It is a very efficient way to chronicle ongoing cases for Crime Stoppers programs across Canada and worldwide.

It all starts with a proper set up in social media of your program. The Webdoc on how to set up your Crime Stoppers program in a similar way to how Henry set it up to find his missing daughter is posted on the Canadian Crime Stoppers Association and Crime Stoppers International official Facebook pages at the top left corner.

Click here: http://facebook.com/CSIWorld or http://Facebook.com/CanStopCrime

Social media platforms and settings are constantly changing, and updates will be posted often to the webdoc by myself and others who are trusted contributors to Crime Stoppers, and familiar with social media. This is the beauty of using Webdoc. If someone in a program in Vancouver for instance comes up with a good way of doing things, they can post what worked for them on the Webdoc for other programs to reference, and they can tweet and facebook everyone following their social media with their updates to notify others. There are no trade secrets being shared, just very accessible data for all who care to contribute, with reliable people in Crime Stoppers moderating the information to keep our most important assets in tact… our Crime Stoppers brand, and our trust that we have with the public.

The effective use of social media for Crime Stoppers is something that all Crime Stoppers coordinators should be making a priority. It can be a little bit scary at first if you are new to social media, but with modern communication tools like Skype widely available, we are always here to assist, no matter what the question is.


To contact Scott Mills via Skype add graffitibmxcop to your contacts.
E-Mail Scott at SocialMedia@CSIWorld.org

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