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QR Codes – 8 Ways Your Department Can Use Them

QR codes were created in the 90s to help Toyota keep track of the parts in it’s factories. Today QR codes are being used by businesses, government entities and individuals to create graphical scannable links to websites, phone numbers, maps.etc. These codes provide an engaging way for people to get to desired information easily just by launching an app and pointing their mobile phones camera at them. In addition, QR codes can be easily printed onto paper, stickers, signs, and placed digitally into webpages.  Because not everyone has a QR reader or knows what a QR code is, it’s important to provide alternate forms of getting the same information.

QR Code Tools
There are lots of QR code generators and readers out there.  For instance, QRstuff.com allows you to generate a code and customize it’s color. QRlicious.com can take your badge, patch or logo and insert it as part of the QR code. And Winq is a newer app allowing you to put several pieces of information relating to one QR code. But the person reading the code must also have Winq to read it.

Below are some ideas on how your department could utilize QR codes every day. This is not an exhaustive list and I’d sure love to hear some feedback on how departments are using or are thinking of using QR codes.

Note: When I mention “web pages” or “website” below, you could substitute Twitter, or Facebook, or blog pages, etc. instead.

1. Place a QR code on “attempt to locate” or “wanted” bulletins shared with the public. A QR code could direct citizens to a web page or PDF that contains more information about the person(s) being sought or direct them to information on where to report tips.

2. Put QR code(s) on informational bulletins. In cases of serial perpetrators you could include a QR code to direct citizens to web pages or phone numbers to call that would give more information or keep them updated on the  events.

3. A QR code could be supplied to the media to post with an article or video news packages to provide a  link where citizens could submit tips and leads to your department.

4. If your department gives tours of your buildings to groups, you could place QR codes on walls, doors, etc. so citizens could scan the QR codes to get more history or information about an area or unit.

5. If your department hosts a citizens academy, you could use QR codes as tips to clues during an investigation re-creation or other projects. You could also use QR codes on hand-out materials to point your attendees to your website.

6. QR codes could be posted on signs in the pd lobby linking to give more information about retrieving police reports, fingerprinting requirements and times, and information about vehicle impounds among other things.

7. While recruiting for officers you could place a QR code on recruiting materials directing recruits to the recruiting section of your website or even to a copy of your General Orders.

8. QR codes could be used on business cards to direct people to your website or unit page. In addition, you could place a QR codes in your email signature.

Again, this is just a brief list of the many different ways you could use QR codes. Please share more ideas in the comments section below and let us know how your department is using or hopes to use QR codes.

Enhance Marketing of Your Agency with a QR Codes, by Tom LeVeque

Reflections on The SMILE Conference

Social Media the Internet and Law Enforcement, Chicago, May 9,10,11 2011

Deputy Chief Constable Gordon Scobbie

How often do you attend a conference which fills you with enthusiasm; perhaps it might give you a ‘feel good’ factor, but it changes nothing you actually do when you get back to work?

Well, I’m pleased to say that my experience as a presenter attending my first SMILE conference has genuinely expanded my knowledge and understanding of social media and its positive application to policing.

In my role as the UK Policing lead for social media I have the ability to influence national thinking on the subject. I will use the learning from The SMILE Conference to highlight key issues as a speaker, for example at both Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland spring conference and the Association of Chief Police Officers in England/Wales summer conference, and generally through interviews, articles, blogs and my ACPO/S business area.


I have given the conference a great deal of thought and began writing this blog on the overnight flight back to London. I felt that the conference had drawn out a number of themes, (I’m not sure if this was intentional or that other participants would agree with my thoughts), which I thought were worth sharing:

1. The Generational Gap

What came through in the early part of the conference was evidence of a clear generational divide. This was not just in terms of the use and understanding of technology, but in attitudes to privacy. What does this mean for policing?

Current attitudes are reflected in the stance which some professional standards departments take; namely that social media is bad and incompatible with being a police officer/police staff member. Whilst I can accept some foundation for this view, younger officers and those described as ‘digital natives’ do not recognize it. For them, ‘privacy’ means something different from what it would to a more traditional police officer who did not grow up in the digital age. They are totally comfortable with social media and their appetite for sharing personal information with others is quite different from the non-digital generation.

The conclusion I came to was this….officers who are technically competent and understand the way social media tools can enhance policing are an asset to be utilized. Strategic leaders need to accept that the learning in this field will come from the bottom up, namely we will have to learn new skills from more junior officers.

Equally, experienced ‘non digital’ officers, lacking in social media skills, can help the ‘digital natives’ understand the risks around privacy and the consequences of revealing too much personal information on officer safety and organizational reputation. We can help them see where the line needs to be drawn.

2. Convergence of social media and policing skills

Some people are doing great stuff around social media in policing. They are using multiple social media platforms to communicate with the public and understand how the technical capability of hardware and applications can be used to best effect in a policing context.

Convergence is apparent in the breadth of use of social media in policing. We saw great examples in community policing; crime prevention; Crime Stoppers; gang prevention and crime detection through the use of open source information and forensic examination of web based material.

Scott Mills

Constable Scott Mills from Toronto Police excelled in his presentation on the use of tools such as Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare to engage with night time economy participants. Here the effectiveness came from being physically present on the street at the same time as using social media tools. He demonstrated the power of blending physical public engagement and community reassurance with real time virtual public engagement. Using social media in this way to compliment traditional policing methods simultaneously is a very efficient and cost effective method of increasing visibility with the public.

Convergence then, for me, is not just about the widening scope of social media across traditional areas of policing, but how we blend an understanding and application of social media skills with an understanding and application of policing skills.

3. Public first for information

Social media is a game changer for how we deal with managing media related information. Captain Mike Parker, LA County Sheriff Dept, reinforced the need for the police to revise its traditional approach to media relations from one of giving everything to the press first to one of making information public through ‘news releases’.

Mike Parker

The changing nature of news, driven by digital and social media, requires the police to be more proactive, speaking directly to the public rather than being filtered through traditional news media. His department now place ‘news’ in one place on their web site, rather than the press having access to information before the public. Mike agrees that there are challenges with this approach, but he gave clear examples of still being able to work with the press for a win/win outcome. He firmly believes that there is just too much going on now to have separate channels for media relations and the need to connect video, Twitter, Facebook and the web site is clear.

Mike reinforced the need to be on the front foot particularly in forces generating their own content for posting on their web site and with positive messages to the public. He stressed that this was crucial during periods of negative publicity, when the media might choose to present a partial story to the public. The ability of the police to present a more balanced view directly to the public, (by perhaps making available additional video material), has become more important due to the increased availability of publicly generated on line video content.

Mike did point out 2 key risks. Firstly, the police have never been good at providing timely information and we must improve in this area if we are to remain a credible source of information. The public are already turning to social media for up to date information and we must be able to respond to this challenge to remain relevant and credible. Secondly, our information must be accurate. If we are communicating directly to the public we will not have news editors tidying up our sloppy work!

Lastly on this, Mike ran through his 11 C’s of media. They have been heavily tweeted so I will not repeat them here but have a look here.

4. There is no Privacy

How topical given the privacy debate currently ongoing in the UK involving super injunctions and the role of social media in undermining the law!

Dave Marcus

Dave Marcus from McAfee gave an outstanding presentation on some of the real risks involved through our use of social media. This was particularly relevant for those involved in policing where the protection of identity and personal information can be crucial to officer safety.

I get tired when some senior officers talk about the ‘risks’ of social media use by police officers. Generally their concerns relate to things that officers might say on social media sites which might embarrass the force or compromise the professionalism of the individual. Whilst not dismissing these issues, they are dealt with in the UK through the ‘Engage’ guidance document produced by the NPIA. I find it amusing that for the last 30 years I have trusted officers to patrol the streets, mostly unsupervised and attend public meetings, trusting that they will say and do the right things. Mostly they do! Social media does pose some risks in this regard, but they are overstated and can be easily mitigated.

What we should be concerned about are the real risks that Dave highlighted to us. This was a true learning experience for me, and one that I have already taken back to the UK and taken action on.

The police now realize the value of open source data on the Internet as an investigative opportunity and an intelligence tool. Equally, organized crime groups recognize the same opportunities. With 500 million people on Facebook, they only need to be successful in criminally targeting 10% of this number to have a significant impact.

What many don’t realize is that social media sites share user data with other sites. That makes ‘user generated content’ particularly vulnerable and valuable to criminals. This could include information about you!! For example:

  • Criminals will watch online conversations and join in at appropriate times, asking you to click on a link. This potentially allows the criminal to exploit the user. Worryingly, about 75% of people will click on such links!
  • Search engines exist that will pull images from Twitter which could be exploited or compromise officer safety
  • Information from Twitter can be mined to create ‘twitter maps’ showing routine behaviour. Think of the possible impact for officers if routine locations are identified.
  • Non-locked down Facebook profiles can be searched, giving access to potentially personal information.

All of the above tools are currently widely available on the web and are free!

So what can we do to better protect ourselves?

Dave puts much of the blame down to ignorance of settings, both in the devices used to access the web and in the applications used. So here are the main points he highlighted:

  1. Be familiar with the settings on your device. Know the settings that pin point your location and understand that there may be several settings on one device that communicate your location.
  2. Be familiar with the settings on your applications. Be aware that they may change (Facebook does this) without your knowledge.
  3. ‘Healthy Scepticism’ is the best defence. If you don’t know the source of something sent to you, don’t open it.
  4. Decide your level of transparency and comfort and make sure your settings support this
  5. Take action and change behaviour.
  6. Do regular diagnostic tests on your own profile to check how much information you are ‘leaking’ onto the web.
  7. Tell others about the risks and show them how to protect themselves

CJ Wren

All of the above was brought into focus through a case study presented by Detective CJ Wren involving the targeting of police officers through Facebook, where images were obtained from personal profiles and made available to criminals via DVD.


Julie Clegg

Julie Clegg, an internet forensic specialist reinforced the potential for criminal use of the web by harnessing its power to exploit the human need to feel part of something bigger (flashmobs). Police forces around the world are now having to cope with the spontaneous actions of large groups of people, organized through social media, impacting on resources and potentially affecting public confidence in the police. This is an area which has the potential to be exploited by criminal networks.

Julie then went on to explore the implications of facial recognition. More applications such as Facebook have the ability to search the web for tagged images; what might this mean for officer safety? Increasingly, applications have the ability to search the web on a full menu of personal information and pull this together, including images. Again, what are the implications for officer safety and covert operations?


Lauri Stevens did a great job in bringing together some fantastic speakers. I got the feeling that most people got something useful from the conference and will make some changes back in the workplace.

For me it reinforced our current strategy looking ahead which is themed around 3 areas:

  • Keeping up
  • Joining up
  • Leadership

All the content convinced me of the need for policing to keep up with current advances in social media and technology or risk losing credibility and legitimacy in some core areas of business.

It also highlighted the need to join up and take a more holistic view of the impact of social media across the broad range of policing activities, not just public engagement.

It was also clear that many of the challenges are ones of clear strategic leadership that gives our people the permission to release the full potential of the digital world to deliver better policing for our communities.

DCC Scobbie presented as the opening day keynote at The SMILE Conference in Chicago. He also keynoted the first SMILE Conference in Washington, D.C. in April of 2010 via Skype. He is the Social Media Lead for Policing in the UK. Gordon joined Strathclyde Police in 1980, serving operationally in uniform and CID through the ranks, as well as in other areas of the business including Force Personnel; introducing a national performance appraisal system for Scotland and being the first police force in the UK to achieve accreditation for investors in people. He then served for 3 years at the Scottish Police College delivering leadership training before returning to force to establish a disclosure bureau to provide conviction and non conviction information on those wishing to work with children and vulnerable adults. He then served as an operational Chief Inspector before transferring to West Midlands Police on promotion in October 2004 as Superintendent, Operations Manager at Coventry City Centre . He was then promoted to Commander at Solihull in August 2006 and following completion of this years Strategic Command Course he was successful in his application to join West Midlands Police as Assistant Chief Constable in June 2009. Gordon joined Tayside Police in the fourth quarter of 2010 as Deputy Chief Constable. @DCCTayside

Social Media to the Rescue When Disaster Strikes

A tornado rips through your city, destroying hundreds of homes and killing dozens of people.

Power is out. Power lines are down. Roads are blocked and covered with debris, making it next to impossible for emergency services to efficiently respond for search, rescue and recovery efforts.

When the dust has started to settle, how do you as a city get the word out immediately, both to residents and people nationwide who may have family members in your city or want to offer assistance?

You use Social Media.

A day after a tornado barreled through Joplin, M.O., killing more than 100 people, 5 Facebook pages were created about recovery efforts and missing persons and survivors.

The Joplin, MO Tornado Recovery page had 138,281 people “like” the page within 48 hours of the disaster.

Posts include information from Joplin residents about which streets are closed/blocked, donation drops sites, benefit concerts and phone-a-thons, a local restaurant that was serving free lunch, and people nationwide asking how and where they can help; one woman from Louisiana who said she was driving to Joplin with a car full of diapers and formula.

There’s also the Joplin, MO – Missing Persons & Survivors Page, which had more than 4,300 followers by Tuesday morning. People looking for information about their loved ones are posting on that page. They are also updating the page when loved ones are found.

The City of Tuscaloosa, Alabama has also been using Facebook and Twitter as a means of spreading information about tornado relief efforts there. The Tuscaloosa City Facebook page has more than 3,000 followers and more than 4,700 people follow @Tuscaloosacity on Twitter.

The information shared on these sites includes volunteer resource center hours, recycling drop off locations, updates on storm debris removal, school schedules, photographs, facts and figures, including this one on May 14: @tuscaloosacity Of the 7,274 residential structures impacted, 2,375 were destroyed, 2,349 had major damage, 1,025 had minor damage & 1,525 were affected.

It may not even be possible to get on a computer or mobile phone following a disaster in your city to update a Facebook status or Tweet, but those are the first places people seeking details about the disaster will turn to for information.

That’s why it is so critical for cities, police departments and fire services to use social media on a regular basis – before the big one hits. City residents should know ahead of time that if there’s a disaster, they can also turn to Social Media for information from local officials. These are vital free resources that will help you keep the public informed and safe following an emergency management situation.

Social Media is not meant to replace your use of local media to get the word out. It’s an added resource, and in a time of crisis, you need all the help you can get.

Stephanie Slater

Stephanie Slater became the Boynton Beach Police Department’s Public Information Officer in April 2007, following seven years as a newspaper reporter. Slater, a New York native, is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, where she majored in print journalism.  Slater is the spokeswoman for the Boynton Beach Police Department, serving as the liaison between the officers, the media and the public. She writes the department’s press releases, provides television news interviews, maintains the department’s Web sites (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MySpace) and oversees the department’s Officer of the Month program. Slater is a member of the National Public Information Officers Association. Follow the Boynton Beach Police on Facebook (www.facebook.com/boyntonbeachpolice) and Twitter (@bbpd).

Connecting with the Community & Media via Social Media

So your agency has decided to participate in social media. You’ve sent out a couple Tweets and Facebook updates but there’s been no response. Is anyone listening?

Many law enforcement agencies use social media as a one-way, notification tool, but there are other agencies that are successfully using social media as a communication tool. The three keys to law enforcement communication through social media are:

  • content
  • consistency
  • and sharing.

Content is the most important factor in your social media efforts.
Content can include traffic alerts, breaking news, event postings, department news, press releases, crisis communication, photos and videos from in the field and responses to questions or comments from the community and the media.

Once you decide what you’ll be saying you need to consider how you’ll say it. As a former reporter, I can tell you that I wanted and needed frequent communication with my sources. Social media has become a place where reporters can get information and ask follow-up questions. Think about it: instead of fielding a dozen phone calls from local reporters, post a link to a media release and answer a couple questions. This saves you and the reporter time and energy. And, it’ll build your credibility with the media and show reporters that you care about getting out timely information and fielding their questions.

Also, don’t be afraid to become more personal with reporters via social media. If they ask a question or post something interesting, don’t hesitate in responding. This gives your agency a human face and makes you much more approachable for questions or media requests.

And while you’re answering questions, make sure to post a few of your own. Setting up polls or posting questions or quizzes will drive discussion and will encourage feedback. Agencies should also be prepared for unwelcome communication. Lynn Hightower, communications director for the Boise (Idaho) Police Department, says being prepared for any type of question or comment is key in your social media planning. “Even if you don’t ask for interaction, citizens will have questions and comments on community issues and they will try to reach out to your agency for answers and feedback,” she said. “To ignore those inquiries would not send a positive message. Agencies using social media should plan ahead for the types of interaction likely to come their way and be prepared.”

Dionne Waugh, Marketing and Public Relations Specialist for the Richmond (Virginia) Police Department, said her agency has gotten a lot of positive reaction to their Daily Good News Item and the Officer, Sergeant and Civilian of the Month videos and notes. “I think this is because they give people insight into the department and the great work of employees they normally wouldn’t hear about,” she said. “On the flip side, we’ve seen a lot of debate when we post mugshots from our prostitution stings. Depending on the operation and manpower, we post both the prostitutes’ and the johns’ photos. I don’t consider this a negative reaction. I think it’s a good thing when we can generate debate between people about the best way to reduce crime.”

Almost as important as content is the frequency which you post to social media. As Waugh said above, Richmond PD gets a lot of great response to their regular features and Boise Police Department has gotten great response from its daily Twitter traffic tip. People come to rely on these daily, weekly or monthly nuggets of information. And, as you can see, they don’t need to be huge, breaking news stories. They can be something as simple as a profile of an officer or a construction update. Each of these regular postings leads to increased agency visibility and better recognition as a trusted source of information.

Also, think about the timing of your messages. If you have a message you really want the community to read, make sure to send them at peak social media traffic times – 7 a.m., noon, 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. These are the times people are waking up, eating lunch, winding down at work and settling in for the night, and they are much more likely to see your message at the top of their news feeds, instead of wading through hundreds of messages before seeing your hour-old alert.

If you have a really big story you want covered by the media, try thinking of when a reporter is most likely to need a story to cover – at the end of the week. On Thursdays and Fridays reporters are trying to find stories to fill the weekend editions.

Retweeting on Twitter or reposting information from reliable sources will help your cause two-fold – you’ll be seen as a consistent, reliable source of interesting information and the community will start coming to you for updates. You will also be seen by those who originally sent out the information and your information is more likely to be retweeted and reposted by those people. It’s another important tool in the social media toolbox for communication and information sharing.

Image: Flickr by Scoobay

Kelly L. Reynolds is a publications specialist with the Rocky Mountain Information Network, a regional law enforcement intelligence agency based in Phoenix, Arizona. At RMIN she designs and edits the monthly magazine, the RMIN Bulletin, which includes her monthly “Social Media Corner” column. Kelly also works as a social media consultant and has several years of experience as an online/social media reporter for a daily newspaper. @reynoldsreport | facebook.com/reynoldsreport

Taking Public Safety to the Street with Twitcam

Simon Shilton @spshilton and Kerry Blakeman @kerryblakeman, March 22, 2011 Twitcam Broadcast

Kerry Blakeman, a Chief Inspector at West Midlands Police in England, had observed his daughter watching a live broadcast of, and sending messages to, a pop star via Twitcam. Then, it occurred to him, why not “give it a go” for policing? “So I thought actually I could do a live broadcast and people don’t have to leave their home. They can ask me questions about policing in Coventry… I wanted to reach out to different members of the community specifically young people who rarely come to one of our meetings,” he said.

Taking the Public Safety Dialog on the Road
Blakeman held his first broadcast from his dining room, but since then has teamed up with Simon Shilton, Operations Commander at West Midlands Fire Department and took the Twitcam broadcasts to the streets of Coventry. CI Blakeman tweeted asking businesses in the area if they’d offer their business wifi service to the effort, “I got five replies saying come on over”.  With the borrowed wifi, a cheap webcam, a tripod and a laptop, they were in business and could set up anywhere.

Since Blakeman’s solo dining room broadcast, they’ve done two more broadcasts together. The first was March 22nd, and can be viewed here. Both men agree the technology is a promising way reach the citizens they serve and address whatever is on the citizens’ minds right where they live. Shilton pointed out it’s a learning process and very much an experiment, “It’s new for us… we’re just learning as we go along”, he said. Blakeman concurs that right now they’re proving the concept and acknowledges there have been challenges, such as being asked a tough question and having to answer it live. He points to the time he was asked to justify use of force during a burglary, “you’ve really got to think on your feet. But when you get done, there’s a real feeling of – I’ve just achieved something. I’ve just represented the service well.”

So far, online viewers have numbered fewer than 30 but have included someone from Dubai and from the RCMP in Canada. Some locals also turn-out to watch in person. In one case, a boy-scout troop was in the audience. Even with a smallish audience they’ve already received intel from “younger people in terms of the kind of issues that we don’t normally get to hear about, like drug abuse and drug dealing,” said Blakeman. It works both ways because the citizens receive some great information as well. Blakeman said he might include a police demo in a future broadcast, perhaps even a taser demonstration.

What is Twitcam?
Twitcam is a Livestream product that’s been around since summer of 2009. To broadcast you need a Twitter account. Sign in with Twitter and click “broadcast”. Once the system accesses your camera and microphone, you’re online. Twitcam provides a tweetable link to send to your Twitter followers. Viewers can send the broadcaster messages via the Twitcam dashboard as illustrated here with a screenshot from Blakeman’s first broadcast.

To assist his colleagues, Blakeman wrote a Twitcam guide with step by step instructions and a synopsis of the questions and comments from citizens. Here is a representative sample:

  • Can you do anything to ENCOURAGE Warwickshire Police to use twitter or twitcam?
  • What is your opinion on the relationship with teenagers and police?
  • Do you think we should have elected Police commissioners?
  • Is the rumour true that all potential recruits to police will have 2 be specials first?
  • Here’s a question! How can the general public help you with policing in Coventry?
  • Burglary was at a high recently what have you been doing to drive it down?
  • Thank you so much for your Twitcam session. It was excellent. It’s a great way for you to talk to the public.
  • Glad it went well. I didn’t tune in – I was watching the football!

His colleagues are noticing

DCC Gordon Scobbie

The UK’s ACPO-appointed (Asso of Chief Police Officers) Social Media lead law officer is Deputy Chief Constable Gordon Scobbie. DCC Scobbie said he’s very excited by the potential for Twitcam broadcasts because they get at the heart of both social media and policing, allowing for the delivery of messages to the public in a very direct way. “It also shows Kerry and those supporting him to be human beings with a personality. This builds on the trust, confidence and legitimacy areas which are so important to delivering excellent local policing”, he added. Scobbie also praised Blakeman’s initiative because he “understands the power of using social media whilst being physically present in the community.”

DCC Scobbie plans to implement Twitcam broadcasts at his own service in Tayside, Scotland. But he cautions that not everyone will have the skill to deliver it successfully. “This is true for all social media, the personality and ability to connect with the community and individuals is not something that everyone can do well. Officers and police staff need to have self awareness in this regard,” Scobbie said.

Shilton and Blakeman have plans for many more public broadcasts. Shilton added, “We’re happy that people are logging on and interested in what we have to say. The proof in the pudding will be if we start losing viewers. That’ll be the message to us that we’re not doing things right. As long as we keep growing in numbers, we’ll know that we’re hitting the right mark.”

So if you happen to find yourself in Coventry and see a cop and a firefighter talking to a tiny camera, know that what you don’t see is probably dozens, if not by then 100s of Coventry citizens receiving some fantastic public safety service from a couple of very dedicated and forward-thinking first responders.

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