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Breaking News: from the law enforcement newsroom

BREAKING NEWS…Any City, USA – Law Enforcement now has the ability to immediately communicate and engage with the community via social media!  Stay with us for the story, coming up at the top of the hour…

David Krajicek, veteran police reporter and true crime author, wrote an informative article recently, appearing on Poynter.com: With social media, police and reporters grapple over control of the ‘message.’ In the article, Krajicek quotes a number of excellent social media sources intimately familiar with the use of social media by law enforcement.  Krajicek fairly states that social media is now a “primary mode of communication” for many policing agencies and notes that this platform is fundamentally changing the way law enforcement communicates and interacts with both their citizens and the media.  However, the chosen article title leads one to possibly believe there is a behind the scenes battle between these two professions.

Some may say that law enforcement traditionally was known as being tight-lipped when it came to information sharing: be it with the media, other agencies, and even internally.  Right to know and need to know was a phrase taken quite literally in law enforcement circles.  In the days before governments were forced into opening some doors via public records statutes, many in law enforcement saw fit to not share a word.  Technology, legal mandates, budgetary concerns, and society have changed the manner in which we share information, and law enforcement is now adapting to these changes.

There is now the potential for there to be a citizen journalist, photographer, or videographer on each and every street corner, and the speed of information flow or “news” is virtually immediate.  This flow of information is where the true grapple is for media, not with law enforcement.  No longer does media have the sole control of the message: the message may be told by a teen who immediately uploads a clip of crime scene footage to YouTube, or a ferry boat operator who sends a Twitpic of a downed plane on the Hudson River, or yes, even the local law enforcement agency who posts a press release to their website, followed by a link sent out via Twitter or Facebook regarding a newsworthy event.  Truly, everyone now has the ability to disseminate news.

When it comes to use of social media for law enforcement, is news dissemination the main emphasis?  It is fair to say that news is certainly one component to the social media presence by law enforcement, but even Krajicek in his article notes some of the most meaningful reasons for law enforcement participation, well beyond simple news.  The potential for positive branding and reputation management are key strategies for any law enforcement organization entering social media.  Law enforcement should take advantage of new technology and bring their agency story to the community.  So many times, contact with law enforcement is in a negative context: a crime victim filing a report, a driver receiving a citation, a subject being arrested for a crime, and the list goes on.  Social media gives law enforcement an opportunity to reach out to numbers of persons who may otherwise never interact with a police officer, sheriff’s deputy, or federal agent.  Social media gives law enforcement a chance to engage and communicate like I have never known in my career.

During a recent training session offered by panelists at an International Association of Chiefs of Police conference, the topics of strategy and policy guidelines were front and center in the curriculum.  Lynn Hightower, Communication Director for the Boise Police Department (ID) spoke on creating a social media outreach strategy for a police agency that is “useful, relational, and reliable.”  There is a need to humanize our departments and the use of various social media platforms helps give law enforcement that ability.  Mark Economou, the Boca Raton Police Department (FL) Public Information Manager, addressed community partnerships through use of social media and emphasized, “The community is your customer…”  Economou said that law enforcement should “go where the people are” equating the use of social media by law enforcement to an agency assigning an officer to attend a neighborhood watch meeting.  Sergeant Tim Burrows, Toronto Police Service (Canada), equated law enforcement’s use of social media to empowering the public.  By telling them what is going on, we can leverage our efforts and the use of social media becomes a force multiplier for law enforcement.

The next hurdle for law enforcement use of social media, and all public safety for that manner, is the integration of social media into emergency management.  As previously noted, the community is present on a myriad of social platforms.  The challenge to public safety: are we listening adequately on those social media platforms enough to engage with our community during a disaster or emergency?  I think not.  This topic is an important issue and is slowly being introduced into discussions.  On the other hand, use of social media and instant communication platforms are growing rapidly in law enforcement and public safety.

The use of companies like Nixle and Code RED are widely used to disseminate immediate information relevant to emergencies or “alert” incidents to local communities.  Twitter is also being used in a similar fashion by those agencies looking for a no-cost communication platform.  Some jurisdictions are even developing their own alert platforms, like that of the City of Anaheim (CA), in order to disseminate information to their communities in a timely manner.

Days of the local beat reporter stopping by the station to read the “call log” or “reading board” for crime activity are long gone.  The personal relationship and trust that was built through daily contact between law enforcement and the local press was replaced with email and perhaps a phone call between persons who knew nothing of one another.  I will offer to the reader that law enforcement use of social media has had the opposite impact on media and police relationships.  Media at all levels participate in social networking and most are quite amenable to engaging.  Locally, I have had the opportunity to meet and speak with local reporters, writers, and news editors, all via contacts initiated on social media.  Many of these contacts have resulted in repeat and beneficial exchange of information that extends beyond just the job.  Without social media, the contact may very well have remained the impersonal email or phone call.

Participation in social media by law enforcement is no longer a choice, it is a necessity.  If you choose not to engage and share your agency’s story and information, then who will?  This grapple is certainly not unique, nor simply between law enforcement and the media:  this grapple involves and impacts everyone.  The true battle is how to best use these new platforms to deliver the information the public wants in an efficient, professional, and meaningful manner, while at the same time, effectively dealing with the immediacy of information flow via the Internet.  The community resides in social media and so should law enforcement in order to engage and reach that community.

Social Media Quick Tip: When it Comes to Strategy, It’s Not About Any Tool

Know what you’re going to do with your social media profiles before creating them

So your chief wants you to get the agency onto social media. Your first thought is “where do I start?”

One mistake often made by law enforcement agencies is to create their social media profiles without first knowing what they’re going to do with them. For this reason, I created and advocate for the C.O.P.P.S. Social Media Method. C.O.P.P.S. stands for:

* Citizens
* Objectives
* Plan
* Policy
* Schedule

The C.O.P.P.S. method, in a nutshell, provides a framework with which police social media practitioners are reminded that first and foremost, figure out who your audiences are, then ask yourself what your goals are with those audiences and only then can you determine what tools to use and how to use them.

For example, you might suggest your audience is “everyone” in your jurisdiction and that’s true. But social media allows you to reach the micro-audiences that have been previously difficult or near impossible to reach. The C.O.P.P.S. method helps you define them, describe them, analyze them and then determine how best to reach them.

This Social Media Quicktip was previously published on LawOfficer.com.

The iPIO – Part 2

Potential Scenario – The PIO on-scene with the iPad

There has just been a shooting at your local mall. Your PIO is on scene. He/she needs to get word out to the public that this highly trafficked area is locked down and they need to stay clear, so he posts a Tweet and Facebook note with vital information including a link to a map of the area to stay away from via the iPad.  The media is, of course, now hounding your department for information. The PIO sends out updates including a mug shot of the perpetrator and staging information for the media via email on the iPad. He/she then films and posts a quick video press release via YouTube or maybe even broadcasts a live Skype session on the iPad. The PIO then monitors press coverage via the iPad to make sure media aren’t broadcasting information sensitive to the securing of the scene.

Once the suspect is arrested and the scene secured, your department holds a press conference to go over the events at the mall. Your PIO again sends out notices to the press via email and social media outlets from his/her iPad letting them know about the presser. During the press conference the PIO uses the iPad hooked up to a projector to present maps, pictures and mug shots aiding the explanation of events to the media.

The PIO writes and sends a summary press release from his iPad providing any additional information regarding the event. Then prints or saves all of the news articles written or broadcast from his iPad for future reference.

Although the above scenario is a bit ambitious as far as what one PIO may be able to accomplish on-scene, the iPad does make all of this a possibility.  Below, I cover some of the items you would need to accomplish the tasks covered in the scenario. Please remember that for on-scene use, your iPad will need a connection to the Internet via either cellular or Wi-Fi as discussed in part 1.

In part 1, we covered the iPad and how it could be used right out of the box by your PIO and save him or her mountains of time and effort. Now, let’s cover some of the apps (aka applications) and accessories that make it a more powerful tool. By the way, there are thousands of apps out there, I am only listing some I personally use and might recommend for PIO use.

NOTE:  Apple recently announced the release of iOS 5.0 (possibly in September), an upgrade to the operating systems used by their mobile devices. The 5.0 upgrade to the iPad2 may lead to some of the apps we’ll discuss becoming less necessary as many of the functions they provide will be built into the iPad software itself.

APPS to consider


  • Zite
  • Flipbook

Zite and Flipbook are news aggregators – these apps capture stories you may have an interest in and displays them in a magazine format all in one convenient place for you to read.  Zite and Flipbook are two of the best.  Most local news outlets will usually have free apps or websites for you to follow local events too.


  • Dictionary
  • Quick Office

Dictionary is pretty self-explanatory. Quick Office lets you view and write Microsoft documents, spreadsheets and Power-Point presentations.

Social Media

  • Blogpress
  • Twitter
  • Hootsuite
  • MyPad+

These apps help you post to your departments blog or Twitter and Facebook accounts.


  • E-projector
  • Quick Office

E-Projector allows you to project your slide presentation and laser point or electronically sketch on the screen to emphasize something.  Quick Office allows you to build and show Power Point presentations right on your iPad too.

File Storage

  • Dropbox
  • Instapaper
  • Stash
  • Apple Cloud

Dropbox is an online storage site that you create an account for and simply upload your files to. These files can be accessed from anywhere as long as you have an internet conection. Instapaper allows you to save new stories you’ve come across posted on Twitter, Facebook, and the web so you can read them later. Stash allows you to store documents, images and videos securely. Apple will be releasing its new cloud service where you can save and download items. This is similar to Dropbox.

Manipulating Photos and Scanning

  • PS Express
  • Scan to Pdf

PS Express is a very watered down version of Photoshop for the iPad. However, it should allow you enough tools to do basic editing on photos you might take or need to send. Scan to PDF lets you scan a document and save it as a pdf file to send out.

ACCESSORIES to consider

Logitech iPad Case and Keyboard by Zagg – $99 – This is an invaluable item. Run, don’t walk to buy one after you get your iPad. It is a hefty metallic cover that doubles as a Bluetooth keyboard.

Apple AV Adaptor – $39.00 – You can get either a digital or VGA adaptor to connect your iPad to TV’s and projectors for presentations, etc.  Another no-brainer purchase.

Apple iPad Camera Connector Kit – $29 – This one’s optional in case you want to use an external digital camera instead of the internal iPad camera.

We have barely covered just some of the things the iPad can do and how it can aide your iPIO on the job. If your department has an iPad and uses it for PIO work or other tasks, please share your experiences and what apps and accessories you use in the comments area.

Social Media Quick Tip: Control the Virtual Scene

LEOs can take command of, or at least greatly influence, the story told online by witnesses, speculators & the media

Just as police officers can control a crime scene by cordoning the area, they can also use social media to control stories told online by witnesses, speculators and the media.

Police officers are quick to block off a crime scene by cordoning the area with yellow tape. It’s amazing how that 3″ plastic tape keeps law enforcement in control of the crime scene. It’s some powerful stuff.

Social media, especially Twitter, is also a powerful way for law officers to control, or at least greatly influence, the virtual scene, that is, the story that’s told online by witnesses, speculators, the media and you.

Any time a serious event happens or there’s a protest, such as with the announcement of a verdict or sentencing in a high-profile case, people are going to be on Twitter talking about it. They follow the conversation on Twitter with the use of a hashtag, which is the # sign in front of any word or acronym. Placing the # sign in front of a word makes it clickable. Click on it and you see every tweet with that hashtag in it.

Law enforcement can inject messages of public safety into the Twitter stream of any conversation by also using the accepted hashtag for that event. If you find yourself involved in a situation with naysayers spreading rumors, set the record straight by tweeting the real deal right into the conversation by including the hashtag in your official tweets.

This Social Media Quicktip was previously published on LawOfficer.com.

Using Twitter Hashtags for Emergency Management by Scott Mills

West Midlands (UK) Police: Twitter on the Frontline by Mark Payne

Seizing the Virtual Scene by Lauri Stevens

Toronto Crime Stoppers Student of the Year uses social media to fight crime

Editor’s note: How does a teenager in a major metropolitan North American city come to embrace social media in the fight against crime? This is the story of one such kid who learned from one police officer the true value of creating relationships with technology and how one person can, in turn, use his own voice to spread messages of public safety, responsibility, and what it means to be a participatory citizen. Nicholas Maharaj was recently named the Toronto Crime Stoppers Student of the Year.

Nicholas Maharaj, doing it his way

With the use of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, millions of people can connect to each other across the world. You can keep in touch with friends, share your innermost thoughts with your contacts, or change the world, one update or Tweet at a time.

Back in November 2009, Police Constable Scott Mills, who was then serving as Crime Stoppers Youth Officer for the Toronto Police, made a presentation at North Albion Collegiate Institute. His message inspired me because one could sense that he was genuine. Afterward, I approached him about community opportunities, offering to lend a hand in engaging youths in whatever capacity I could.

At the time, I had little knowledge about social media. Constable Mills encouraged me to set-up Twitter account for outreach purposes and to widen my network into the community. Within a few days, I learned the intricacies of Twitter.

I myself did not know about Crime Stoppers nor its purpose. With some research, it became obvious that Crime Stoppers had a valuable purpose. I began attending community events with Constable Mills, video recording, tweeting, Facebooking and even editing. I entered a world where I saw how the police interacted with the community it served—it was positive and it was encouraging.

As my contact with the Toronto Police grew, I eventually met TAVIS coordinator, Sgt. Jeff Pearson whose TAVIS Facebook page was created so that the public could become familiar with the work that he and his TAVIS colleagues did. TAVIS, which stands for Toronto Anti-Intervention Strategy, is a specialized group of officers who are deployed into selected communities considered to be the most vulnerable to incidents of violent crimes. For its 2011 campaign, TAVIS will be present in the communities of Weston-Lawrence (12Division) and Brimley Eglinton (43Division).

Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS) means more officers and lots of community involvement in creating stronger neighbourhoods. Community mobilization is a way to bring the neighbourhood – residents, businesses, community and government services, and the police – together to plan and carry out activities that will resolve crime and safety issues.

A lot of youth question my association with crime prevention. I truly believe that this is the right thing to do. Public education about Crime Stoppers is the key to addressing the potential for future incidents such as school shootings, gun violence, gangs, and drugs. If greater numbers of people were aware of the program, we could be building a much more secure place to live.

I remember telling Carmen Villidar from Digital Journal, “If every police officer was as nice and reasonable like Mills, I think every youth would be engaged in programs such as BMX Riding, Legal Graffiti Art and removal and other Crime Stoppers events. Scott and my efforts to fight crime are the reasons why I want to be a Police Officer one day.”

The homicide of my former schoolmate, Courtney Facey, remains a daily and constant reminder of why I want to connect the public with Crime Stoppers. Any caring person must take a stand against crime and not let criminals get away with destroying what is good about our society.

Toronto Crime Stoppers Student of the Year

Receiving acknowledgement as the Crime Stoppers Student of the Year at the 15th Annual Chief of Police dinner in Toronto, doesn’t mean it’s over.

It’s only the beginning…

From Constable Scott Mills: Nicholas Maharaj is an example of “Zero to Hero”. Nicholas heard a Crime Stoppers presentation in his high school asking for help from youth to prevent and solve crime together using Crime Stoppers and relationships and technology through social media. He took up the officer’s request to assist, and has gone above and beyond with his dedication to community safety. Nicholas is the real deal, and a model for his peers and the adult world alike in his use of social media with purpose and process, in partnership with cops, for the ultimate payoff of a safer and happier world. The potential impact of one youth is seemingly endless. Nicholas is living proof of “Each One Teach One”.

Related stories from Toronto Sun:
May 10, 2011. Teen crime fighter recognized by Crime Stoppers
October 2, 2010. Teen crime fighter’s pal gunned down

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