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DHS Engages Public Safety to Maximize the Benefits of Social Media

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) joined the spirited discussion at the Social Media, the Internet and Law Enforcement (SMILE) conference, hosted by the Santa Monica Police Department in January. DHS’s First Responder Group (FRG) is investigating how the emergency management community uses social media to alert and warn the public. They are seeking input from emergency managers, practitioners, public information officers, and experts around the country who are currently using social media as an emergency information dissemination tool.

At the conference, FRG program manager, Denis Gusty provided an overview of the Alerts and Warnings in Social Media Program, giving audience members a preview of some of the current practitioner best practices in the field. He then segmented the audience into three breakout groups to solicit feedback related to law enforcement’s use of social media for their day-to-day operations, challenges they face, and guidance they seek. Below are some of the themes that resulted from the breakout discussions:

When asked how their agencies are currently using social media, participants’ answers ran the gamut from those not using social media to those who are heavy users. Below are some ways participants are currently using social media and how they decide who gets which messages via which medium:

  • Sends out community alerts via email blasts to neighborhood watch block captains
  • Alerts and warnings platforms, such as Nixle are increasingly simulcasting via twitter and other social media platforms
  • Use Facebook to communicate with neighborhoods and business owners by disseminating press releases, special event information, police department success stories, and changes to personnel that are relevant to the public.
  • Public Information Officers tailor messages based on circumstances (how fast or urgent the info is needed) and the method (press release, website, Facebook, Twitter)
  • Gain trusted followers in the community, even if they’re not part of law enforcement because community members have lots of followers

Agencies face many obstacles when trying to implement social media programs. Many participants sited they had a lack of buy-in from city or agency administration and a reluctance from superiors to disseminate information to the public. Participants also discussed that they lacked resources and staffing to engage the community and maintenance in keeping current with technology trends. Almost everyone had concerns about liability and a need to institute a social media policy for their agency.

If these obstacles did not exist, participants would have trained and trusted supervisors to disseminate information, to engage in transparent two-way dialogue with the public. This dialogue would alleviate inquiries from the public and other agencies by releasing information to the community. They would also engage in different technologies ranging from Twitter and Nixle to using iPads or mobile devices to check-in via Foursquare or other applications to demonstrate engagement.

Stay tuned for additional details on this program as the FRG will publish guidance documents related to these issues and others on the First Responder Community of Practice in the spring of 2011. The First Responder Communities of Practice is an online network of vetted, active and retired First Responders, emergency response professionals and Federal, State, local, or Tribal Homeland Security officials sponsored by the U. S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science & Technology (S&T) Directorate’s First Responder Technologies (R-Tech) program. Registered members of this professional network share information, ideas, and best practices, enabling them to more efficiently and effectively prepare for all hazards.

For more information contact Denis Gusty at Denis.Gusty@dhs.gov.

Law Enforcement Research Help Request from Colleague in The Hague

Dear reader,

For a study on the process of identifying suspects in the judicial chains, I request your cooperation by guiding this request to the officer in your organization dealing with this. It is not a formal investigation by the ministry but a personal investigation which should contribute in becoming a PhD in the future.

When the police arrests a person suspected of a crime, they must determine the true identity of this person, both in an administrative way as in a biometric way.

1. Is an appropriate procedure or process description available?

  • how is this process organized?
  • what characteristics make up the identity of the suspect?

2. what are the uncertainties when you try to identity the person ?
3. What official would tell me more about this?

  • Is it possible to distinguish between the various forms of law such as criminal law and immigration law.

My intention is to include a number of European countries, (bordering the Netherlands) as well as the United States of America to see if we can learn from each other. Please contact me at the email below. Find me on LinkedIn at http://nl.linkedin.com/in/clemenswillemsen

This personal investigation may take a few years to finish and as for now there are only a few general questions. When I have received all the answers, you will be asked for more details by e-mail or phone.

The answers will be made anonymous and your name will not be published.

Thanks for your cooperation,

Clemens Willemsen
Ministry of Security and Justice
Tel: (031) 70-3707153 b.g.g. 4533/6481
E-mail: c.willemsen@minjus.nl Room H 18.32
Schedeldoekshaven 100, 2511 EX The Hague, Netherlands
PO Box 20301, 2500 The Hague, Netherlands

Clemens Willemsen works for the Dutch Department of Security and Justice as a strategic manager of information systems in the chain of law enforcement. Sharing information about suspects and convicted criminals helps organisations like police, public prosecutor and correctional facility to establish a total view on the criminal. It is essential to identify the criminal in a correct way with the use of identity documents and biometrics in which areas Clemens is keen to share his knowledge with experts and fieldworkers. Clemens has written a booklet*  titled “biometrics, how it works” and is a guest teacher at the Dutch Police Academy. Currently Clemens is working on his dissertation to identify suspects by the law enforcement agencies in the Netherlands as well as internationally.

Ride Along on Twitter with Vancouver PD

Cst Mandy Scorrar on Vancouver Police Department’s ‘TAL’ – Tweet-A-Long scheduled for Feb 24th 7 pm – 6am

When I was asked whether I might be interested in being a ‘guest tweeter’ on the @VancouverPD Twitter account to share my experiences working in patrol, I immediately thought it would be a great opportunity despite my limited use of Twitter. I consider it a privilege to be able to share with the public first-hand what we are doing on the streets of Vancouver to help keep people safe. The city never sleeps, but police and other emergency responders are always here keeping an eye on things in any type of weather. I hope our Twitter followers will find this Tweet-A-Long (TAL) interesting and informative, as one never knows what types of calls or people you will end up dealing with during a shift.

I hope to give people a realistic look at what I deal with in a typical night shift, and that will include some personal feelings and reactions to certain events. It’s difficult to predict what will happen on any given night but whatever happens I plan to keep it ‘real’. My duties as a police officer will obviously come first, and both officer safety and the safety of the public remains my priority. I will be updating my activities and letting people know what’s happening when I’ve completed a call or when I’m in-between calls. Luckily I will be working with a partner that night, so he will be driving which will leave me free to be able to tweet while in the patrol car.

I’m looking forward to this opportunity for the public to ‘ride-along’ with me during my shift and hope I can provide insight into what a typical night is like for a Vancouver Police officer.

Mandy Scorrar

Cst Scorrar is in her 15th year with the Vancouver Police Department after serving a dozen years in the Canadian Armed Forces. She has spent the majority of her career working as a patrol officer in the NE district of Vancouver which includes the downtown eastside. Constable Scorrar has also worked in the investigative division in the High Risk
Offender’s Unit, and brings a wealth of experience, knowledge and insight to her daily duties. She is also a dedicated student and is a few months away from completing her Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology from the University of British Columbia.

Officer Safety: On Facebook, Remove Yourself from Public Search, Bing Still Finds You

One of the first things in the privacy settings on Facebook that many people like to take care of is to take themselves out of public search.  It’s a smart thing to do with a personal profile if you’re a law officer. Keeping private profiles as limited as possible to close friends and family is a good idea. If people can’t find you in a search, you don’t have to worry about what to do with unwanted friend requests.

If your Facebook profile is used as a professional profile, it’s a good idea to leave Public Search active so constituents can find you.

But taking oneself out of public search on Facebook does not mean the removal of your information from showing up in Bing search results, when a person is logged in to Facebook. So what this appears to mean, is that if a person can’t find you by running a search on search engines outside of Facebook, they can log into Facebook, run a search for you and you will show up in web results if you haven’t removed yoursellf from Bing. In this November 2010 announcement from Bing, it’s confusing, but it is explained.


To take oneself out of public search, the first step is to – in the upper right corner where it says account – click and pull down to “privacy settings”. In the bottom left corner, under “Apps and Websites” click “edit your settings”.


On the next screen click the “edit settings” button at “Public Search”.


Uncheck the box.


Then click “see preview”.  You might get a confirmation that looks like this.

You think you’re done. You’re not. Anyone with a Facebook account – more than 500 million people at last count, can still log in and search your name. You will show up in web results from Bing unless you do the following.


Go to the Facebook Help Center and click “Search”.

Then click “Search on Bing.com”


Then click on “How do I control what information appears in Bing results?”


Then click the third bullet point down Block Bing “here”.

Sneaky huh? More to come…..

Officer Safety: Survival Guide for Cops on Facebook

There are two words that should never be in the same sentence: Facebook and Privacy. The exceptions, of course, are if in the same sentence are other words like “don’t bet on it”, “not a chance”  or “aint happenin'”. This post isn’t about slamming Facebook. I wouldn’t do that, I’m a Facebook fan. Nor is this a post about the stupid things some cops have done on Facebook which have caused embarrassment to their department, the compromising of a case, disciplinary action taken against them or even dismissal from their jobs. This post is about being a cop, being on Facebook and not compromising your safety or that of your family members or co-workers in the process.

I’m a huge proponent of law enforcement using Facebook and all social media in the strategic ways that make sense for their departments and their roles within them. In these cases, officers should always be using professional profiles, department email addresses and official photos. When citizens can go to their police department’s Facebook page and see posts by, and interact with, real officers, it’s a win-win for everyone. It’s especially essential that the officers in the very public-facing roles (Community Police Units, SROs, K9, etc) have visible profiles, as appropriate, and leverage these tools to the fullest extent possible. But that’s where it ends.

In October of 2010, Phoenix Police made a DUI stop and discovered a CD with many photographs and names of more than 30 Phoenix police officers and civilian employees which had been culled from Facebook profiles. On a flier distributed to law enforcement, posted here with permission, Phoenix PD’s Counterterrorism Unit advises to set profile settings to “friends only”. That’s a good first step. But it’s not enough. People who really want to harm you, like the people who create CD’s as described above, can still find you. The next several posts on this blog will take you through some crucial Facebook settings for officer safety.

I hate to say it, but the time has come. The more I think about it, the more convinced I become that cops shouldn’t have personal profiles on Facebook. I know it seems crazy coming from me. I also know that all you cops on Facebook aren’t exactly going to heed this advice and shut down your pages. So, maybe we can agree on an approach that will help guard your personal safety, and your kids’ safety, protect your career and keep the Chief off your back. Although, I could name a few chiefs who need this information too.

I have just three main points. but each has several sub-points.

  1. Don’t mix personal with professional
  2. Figure out how to set your privacy settings and pay attention to changes Facebook makes to them
  3. Clean-up your (online) act

1. Don’t mix personal with professional.

If  you have a professional profile, keep it that way.

  • Don’t friend the high school buddies, or especially any ex girlfriend or boyfriends. But also, don’t friend family members. Keep it completely professional, friend only co-workers and those citizens with whom you interact in the course of your work. This is hard to do, especially if you live in a small town.
  • Don’t put pictures of your family, especially the kids, on any profile in which you’re identified as a police officer. Even if the only identification is that you’ve listed “abc PD” as your employer.
  • Keep the photos of you being a regular guy or girl off the professional page. This includes everything from pictures of you holding a beer to information about your off-duty hobbies and interests.
  • You can figure out the friends lists feature on Facebook but for law officers, it’s about identifying oneself as a cop vs. not identifying oneself as a cop. Even if you have the professional contacts on one friends list, personal friends on the other, it doesn’t keep the two worlds separate enough. Especially when it comes to photos tagged with your name.

On your personal profiles, you’re not a cop, seriously.

  • No photos of anything law enforcement related. As hard as it is when you actually possess a photo of a hot chick in shorty shorts, sitting on the hood of your cruiser holding a firearm. Resist temptation. Show it to your buddies personally if you must, but leave it off Facebook.
  • Most important is that identifying yourself as an officer compromises your safety.
  • Even here, keep the photos of the kids off. It’s not fair but it’s reality.

2. Figure out Facebook privacy settings.

  • I can think of no good reason anyone would have settings at anything other than “friends only” let alone police officers.
  • One reason the above often happens is because too many people on Facebook haven’t learned how to change the privacy settings, or they don’t care. As a police officer, if you don’t care or can’t be bothered to thoroughly learn to manage privacy settings on Facebook, stay off for your own good. For a glimpse of how Facebook regularly changes default privacy settings, see Matt KcKeon’s “The Evolution of Privacy on Facebook” here.
  • Click through every thing available under both privacy and account settings and lock them down.
  • Don’t play the third-party “Send a virtual drink to somebody” or “Does Jessica look better with long hair?” games. When installed they take all your personal information as well as personal information of everyone you’re connected to. When your friends play these games – your info goes with theirs. Go into application settings and delete whatever is installed that you don’t recognize and trust. And note that this is another reason to keep your private profile separate from professional. You can’t control what your friends do online.
  • The next few posts on ConnectedCOPS.net will take you through some key privacy settings. For example, one way to help prevent people from finding your personal Facebook profile is to take yourself out of public search. Unfortunately, I recently discovered that it doesn’t mean you won’t be found by the Bing search engine. Tomorrow I’ll show you how to block Bing.

3. Clean-up your (online) act

  • Law enforcement has to smarten up about personal information
  • Anything you post, any “like” button you hit, will be closely scrutinized by cop-haters and/or defense attorneys. If you “like” the Page of an organization that an attorney can use to point a finger at you and discredit your testimony or get your case thrown out, it will happen.
  • Don’t assume your so-called friends on Facebook won’t be the ones who report something you’ve posted to your Command Officer. It has happened and at least one cop in Georgia lost his job because of it.
  • Watch what others post about you and educate your friends and family. If you’re at a party and people are taking pictures, rest assured they’ll be on Facebook tomorrow. That photo of you having a good time will be tagged with your name linking to your professional profile. Even just photos of you spending time with family can be a threat to you if they appear online.  You can untag yourself, but you can’t make the photo go away.
  • Facebook has already begun to introduce facial recognition technology. Those high school photos that you don’t think look anything close to how you look now, will be traced to photos of you today that you thought nobody but your friends would see. Want to work undercover? It might cost you that opportunity.

Keeping up with Facebook is a lot of work. I started writing this blog post nearly a year ago. It seems like every time I went to finish it, something else about Facebook changed and I had to start over. I and the rest of the ConnectedCOPS writers will attempt to stay abreast of Facebook changes with the goal of having relevant information for you.  But even if you master Facebook Privacy settings, do you have that warm fuzzy feeling that your information is really safe?

If you ever have a question don’t hesitate to let me know and stay safe out there, and online.

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