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Portland OR Police Bureau embracing social media

In May 2011, I had the opportunity to attend the SMILE Conference in Chicago and I came back incredibly energized with moving forward on our use of social media. One of the ideas presented at the conference was from Chief Grogan of Dunwoody, GA, about promoting an event via social media to draw followers.

On Friday June 3, 2011, the Portland Police Bureau released the artwork for its new police car logos via Facebook. A news release was sent out 2 days prior and informed the community that the new design would be launched on Facebook. We encouraged people to come “like” us to see the design.

Portland Police Bureau Facebook numbers had been growing at roughly 40 per week but in the 3 days leading up to and following the vehicle design launch, 451 new people “liked” the Portland Police Bureau. Twitter followers jumped as well and the hope is that it will continue to increase because the Portland Police Bureau’s official Twitter handle (@PortlandPolice) is going to be on the new patrol cars. In addition, the Bureau also maintains a second Twitter handle (@ppbpio) for media releases and information.

In the very near future, the goal is to have officers in each of the three precincts and the Traffic Division maintaining Twitter and Facebook accounts to connect directly with the communities they serve. The Bureau has recently purchased iPads for the two PIOs and is looking at smart phones for officers to use in the field.

The Portland Police Bureau is developing a strategic communications plan and social media is playing a big role in its development. The Office of Public Information is staffed by two full-time sworn Public Information Officers, and three non-sworn members. Part of the communications plan includes a push toward social media journalism and producing stories to be delivered directly to the community via social media platforms.

Though traditional media remains a constant news stream for community members, the ability to tell our own story directly to community members via social media is beneficial. Recent studies conclude that people are getting their news increasingly from social media and our agency is working toward being connected with those people.

Become a “friend” of the Portland Police Bureau at Facebook.com/PortlandPolice and follow us on Twitter @PortlandPolice.

Sergeant Pete Simpson is an 18-year-veteran of the Portland Police Bureau. Sergeant Simpson worked in the Gang Enforcement Team for 11 years as an officer and detective before promoting to Sergeant in 2008. Sergeant Simpson was a Hostage Negotiator for 7 years as well as an instructor for the National Gang Center in Tallahassee, Florida. Sergeant Simpson is currently assigned to the Chief’s Office as one of the Public Information Officer’s for the Portland Police Bureau.

Using Social Media for an Investigative and Tactical Advantage

Law enforcement officers in general are reluctant to change, especially when it comes to new technology. For that reason many departments and their people are behind the “electronic eight ball.”

Social media has interconnected our lives more than we think and best of all it is free. You can’t miss an advertisement on television or in print that doesn’t end with the “Follow Us” tag. It is the biggest thing for law enforcement since the use of DNA in criminal investigations. For law enforcement, social media provides a treasure trove of information without many of the traditional legal hurdles involved to obtain it. But are you or your department embracing this developing technology? I remember when the job turned from typewriters to computers and there was a mass exodus of the “old timers” and with them left a tremendous amount of experience. Social media is here to stay and might just make your investigative life easier.

Law enforcement finds itself at the electronic crossroads where intelligence gathering and investigations meet. Intelligence is important, but real-time intelligence is invaluable. Investigators now have the ability of developing real-time intelligence with just a couple of clicks or swipes. Everyone these days is a handheld journalist. It might not be someone posting directly at the scene but a witness from another vantage point chattering about it. The question remains, “Are you listening?” Investigative teams and especially supervisors when planning the traditional Canvass for Additional Witnesses, the Surveillance Camera Canvass, etc., should have an investigator devoted entirely to conducting a Social Media Canvass. One properly trained and versed investigator armed with a department issued tablet or smartphone can accomplish this task. However there is a caveat. As law enforcement officers we always want to use the secret passage into the “other world” and not the general admission door. You never want to use your personal account that can be traced back to you and your family. Departments must address this situation.

A suspect’s “conversations” aren’t the only ones that need to be monitored during the Social Media Canvass. Quite often the traditional news posts information from the suspect’s social media pages. If you look at the way departments use social media it almost seems as if they are apprehensive. Social media for law enforcement is a give and take situation. The department disseminates information to the general public, but should also want to collect information. I examined hundreds of police department social media sites and found that many don’t follow their own local media pages and I have to ask the question, “Why not?” Law enforcement agencies should be plugged into local media sites as well as any other page that provides useful information.

In addition to the investigative resource, law enforcement must embrace the new social media revolution as a tactical one as well. For instance, during a hostage crisis in Utah on June 21, 2011, the hostage taker used social media to communicate with his family. However, his friends that were on the scene posted messages to him about SWAT deployments, which could have made a bad situation worse. Hostage negotiators often look to get the conversation started and interview family and friends for help. Negotiators should ask during the interviews if the person has a penchant for social media and if they do what user names are involved.

Social media is transforming the way we conduct investigations and should be treated like every other major change we have gone through. Social media cannot be an individual choice of whether or not it should be used, but embraced by the department as a whole. When investigators glean productive and actionable information from social media, they should protect it as operational security – keeping secrets secret. If not, we may see similar situations that make our job more difficult such as suspect’s bleaching crime scenes, setting fires and the use of throw away phones.

Joseph L Giacalone

Joseph L. Giacalone is a 19 year NYPD Detective Sergeant with an extensive background in criminal investigations. He has held many prestigious positions, but his favorite was the Commanding Officer of the Cold Case Homicide Squad. Joe obtained a Master of Arts Degree in Criminal Justice with a Specialty in Crime and Deviance from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 2005. He has been an Adjunct Professor at John Jay since January of 2006 and is the author of the Criminal Investigative Function: A Guide for New Investigators, published by Looseleaf Law. You can follow Joe on Twitter: @ColdCaseSquad or @JoeGiacalone or on the web at: coldcasesquad.com


5 Tips for Mixing Social Media and the Press

Social Media offers good opportunities for your department to get information out to the public and tell it’s own story without the help of the media. But sometimes the story could use a bit more audience reach in a short period of time to achieve your goal. This means getting your story to the press. Here are some tips for getting the press to cover your stories when you need them to using both social media and a bit of your own personal charm.

1. Make Friends.

Get to know the reporters covering police topics in your area. Meet with them in person and develop a good rapport. If they know you and have a friendly relationship with you, they are more likely to help you in a pinch. Make sure to follow and be-friend local reporters, media outlets and assignment desks on Twitter and Facebook. Sometimes a media outlet needs a last minute story and they may post and ask for an idea or check on Twitter or Facebook for interesting news to cover.

2. Go Old School When You Need To.

Although it’s been a growing trend for police departments at least in my area to communicate with reporters mostly via email regarding details of an event, keep in mind that a phone call can go a long way towards getting your story covered correctly and favorably. This is mostly because it’s easier for a reporter to ask a stream of questions, get answers directly back, and clarify details with you in a live conversation.

3. Give ‘Em a Shout.

If a reporter or media outlet gives you a hand with a story, give them a shout out and thank them on Facebook and Twitter. On the other hand, if a reporter or media outlet posts a negative story, skip the urge to call them out in public. Mistakes or rogue journalism is much better handled professionally and in private. Remember, what’s posted on the Internet stays out there a loooooooooong time.

4. 10-7 at 101.

When posting about topics on Twitter or Facebook use a conversational tone. Use of police jargon is easy to fall into, but you’ll get much more response from the public and the media regarding a story if you use plain old English. Not to mention, you’ll get fewer phone calls from the press asking you to clarify what you meant.

5. Time Is Not Always On Your Side.

Release your information in a timely manner. If you want the press to cover a story, even if it’s good news, get that information out there via a tweet, a post, an emailed press release, or phone call to your local reporter. Old news is not news at all and the older a story is, the less chance the media will cover it.

It's Time for Public Safety to Come First

Making the Case for a Nationwide Interoperable Network

It doesn’t take much to state the obvious: Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites are changing the way humans interact – and law enforcement reacts. The hockey riots in Vancouver serve as a recent example, with rioters and onlookers using social media to post pictures, video, tweets and text messages from the site of the mayhem while police, in turn, utilized social media to catch the hooligans.

With 2011 being billed as the year that smartphones hit “Main Street,” this type of instant communication within the broader context of society has become so common that it’s now taken for granted.

That’s what makes the state of public safety communications all the more disheartening. After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the 9/11 Commission Report recommended the creation of a nationwide interoperable communications network for first responders. Building such a system would allow police officers, firefighters and other emergency personnel to communicate effectively with each other in times of crisis as well as during everyday operations.

Today that network is one of the only recommendations from the 9/11 Commission Report that hasn’t been acted on.

Fortunately, the upcoming tenth anniversary of 9/11 is spurring action in Congress. In early June, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation approved S. 911, a bipartisan bill that aims to create a nationwide high-speed wireless network for first responders. Introduced by committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, S. 911 was approved 21-4 in committee and now moves to the full Senate floor for a vote. The bill would designate 10 megahertz of high-quality spectrum (the D Block) to public safety and establish the foundation for a nationwide public safety broadband network.

Vice President Joe Biden has publicly stated that the Obama administration supports the building of a fully interoperable nationwide network as it unlocks the potential for commercial devices and infrastructure to be used for public safety. A recent press release issued by his office reiterates this point, saying, “Almost ten years after 9/11, our system of public safety communications remains outdated, both from a performance and cost-effectiveness standpoint.”

Whether through allocation or auction of the spectrum, this type of network is crucial in protecting and saving American lives. Large urban areas are home to multiple police, firefighting and paramedic services, requiring by necessity that they be able to talk to each other and coordinate their response to a crisis in real time.

Rural areas need an interoperable network just as much as cities do. The great distances between services makes interoperability among first responders of utmost importance as real-time coordination could make the difference in a life or death situation.

Some jurisdictions have created their own interoperable systems, but these efforts are restricted by geography and each must pay to maintain their own network. Overall, public safety communications infrastructure across the country remains fragmented.

We have waited far too long for a nationwide interoperable broadband network. Now is the time for Congress to lay aside its differences and stand behind the more than two million first responders who need next generation technologies to properly protect Americans.

The Vancouver Social Media Riot

After the rioting in Vancouver, following the Canucks Stanley Cup loss to the Bruins, the city is cleaning up and repairing the millions of dollars of damage. Identifying and arresting responsible parties is likely to continue however for several weeks if not months into the future. But, like never before, the intelligence being gathered is in large part from social media networks or websites created precisely for that purpose, and citizen observers are supplying literally hundred of photos and videos.

But it’s not without controversy. The whole episode has raised many questions and will likely fuel dialog far into the future.

At issue:

1. Are the citizen witnesses putting themselves in danger by identifying rioters and/or providing digital evidence?

2. The Insurance Commission of B.C. has offered its facial recognition technology and drivers’ license photo database to law enforcement to help i.d. the perpetrators. Civil liberties experts are crying foul.

3. What about due process?  Is what we think we see in a digital image what happened? Are people being falsely accused?

I recently co-wrote a blog post with GovLoop’s Joe Porcelli. Read the post and join us as we discuss these questions and more at GovLoop.org.


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