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Instant Messaging for Policing

Earlier this month, Captain Mike Parker of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department spearheaded two networking sessions to highlight use of instant messaging for policing to many Southern California law enforcement agencies.  Representatives from 63 agencies were in attendance.  Captain Parker was joined by law enforcement partners; Commander Laura Farinella, Long Beach PD, Lieutenant John Romero, Los Angeles PD, and Sergeant Tom Le Veque, Arcadia PD, who all shared real-time examples, demonstrating the importance of instant messaging platforms for emergency communication in law enforcement.  The two main platforms presented were Nixle and Alert LA County.  The conference sessions also detailed and encouraged use of the Los Angeles Regional Crime Stoppers program.

Nixle is a free Community Information Service that can deliver important and timely information to residents in your community and is offered to local governments nationwide.  Nixle is operated in conjunction with NLETS, the secure, international public safety information network.  Nixle is the only system affiliated with NLETS and is therefore able to offer secure and authenticated messaging.  There are other excellent emergency notification systems, such as CodeRED, available and in use in some Southern California agencies.

The information distributed through Nixle is controlled by your personnel.  Notifications or alerts of an emergent nature, community information, traffic or road closures, crime information, are just some of the examples of what can be communicated to the residents who subscribe to Nixle.  The information is disseminated via email or by text message to the resident’s cellular phone.  The information can be sent to the entire user group or a specified target area based on locations related to the information.  For example, a crime bulletin may be sent to a particular neighborhood or a specified radius, such as within a ¼ mile of the target address or area.  This Nixle service is known as Tier 1 and is free to all agencies and subscribers.

Representatives from Nixle, including President and founder Craig Mitnick, were also on hand at each session to further discuss Nixle with any interested agency.  Captain Parker offered a demonstration of Nixle’s “Tier 2” functionality and explained the benefits of this contracted component.  Tier 2 offers subscribing agencies use of text (SMS) notifications/communication to personnel as well as “keyword” notification to the public.  LAPD successfully used this component for internal communication to personnel during May Day demonstrations earlier this year in Los Angeles.  LASD also utilized the “keyword” notification during the Crown Fire (July 2010).  This gave the community the ability to subscribe solely to alert information pertaining to the fire from LASD and LA County Fire.  “Keyword” notifications are activated by anyone with a text capable cellular phone sending the designated keyword to the number “888777”.  Please note that Tier 2 is a paid and contracted feature unlike the free Tier 1 service.

Alert LA County was launched in 2009 as the emergency mass notification system for Los Angeles County.  The system is available for use by all LA County agencies and can deliver reverse emergency calls to every landline phone in the County.  Alert LA County can also deliver the emergency message to cellular phones or email accounts registered by users.  Every landline phone number has been loaded into the system without the need to register by residents.  The Sheriff’s Communication Center receives the request for an emergency notification from a particular agency and places the message in a recorded voice and text format.  The message is then delivered to phones in a specified geographic region.  Calls will be repeated should the phone not be answered.  Alert LA County negates the need for individual agencies within the County to purchase costly, individual reverse emergency notification systems.

The Los Angeles Regional Crime Stoppers program is on track to become the largest Crime Stoppers program in the nation.  Crime Stoppers is recognized internationally and offers the ability to deliver tip information anonymously via the phone, text, or web.  Crime Stoppers programs are organized as a not for profit organization, funded by private donations and annual fund raising events. NO TAX DOLLARS are involved. The reward money paid out by the program is from the fund raising and donations from concerned citizens and businesses.  Tipsters are eligible to receive up to $1,000 based on the severity of the crime involved, but, despite this, many callers choose not to collect their rewards.  When tips are received, the Los Angeles Regional Crime Stoppers program prides itself in delivering relevant tip information to the appropriate jurisdiction in a very timely manner.

Many agencies are now placing links directly to Crime Stoppers on their websites.  Tools are also available that allow agencies with a Facebook page to place a “Submit a Tip” button directly on their Facebook page.  The “Submit a Tip” button then links the tipster directly to Crime Stoppers.  This button can be modified and linked to any Crime Stoppers program based on your location.  Using tools like this give your community immediate, recognizable, and ready access to programs such as Crime Stoppers.

Each agency represented by the presenters takes advantage of and use these platforms.  Instant messaging in emergency situations allows our community members the opportunity to become and stay informed.  None of these tools or services is meant to be the one and only solution for law enforcement.  However, smart use and using them to compliment one another greatly enhance our service delivery and ability to actively engage our communities.  Most all jurisdictions are currently faced with tight budgets and Southern California is no different.  These informative networking sessions offered a great opportunity to explore no cost tools and applications.  As Captain Parker put it, “Today is free day.”  Thanks to all who participated!

Ex-con encourages #police to use social media to reach out to kids

You never know from where that one encouraging word will come and how long it will take for the word to take root. My name is Anderson Dixon, and I grew up in Chicago, Illinois on the North side in the uptown area. The place was called Hillbilly Heaven because so many families from the South lived in the uptown area. As with many immigrants before us, we formed our own gangs and laid down our own moral codes of conduct; a code that often ran afoul with the Chicago P D. I can remember more than one time having my backside kicked by a Chicago police officer. There was one police officer however, who told me many times that I could do better if only I could learn to believe in myself and stop being a follower. For whatever reason, I did not hear him then.

I grew up in a family of criminals, and by the time I was 10 years old I was stealing cars and doing burglaries. In my family you got respect by being a good earner, so I set out my life course to be a good earner, a course that landed me first in reform school then in prison. I spent 27 years in prison. While there I got absolutely tired of living a life of practicing violence and a them-against-us mentality. Even though I had a life sentence without parole, and knew that I’d die in prison if I did not get relief through the courts, I decided to change. I didn’t change for my family but for myself. I wanted be able to say at some point of my life I was a nice person. It had always been my desire to be a nice person; I just did not know how to stop following my family, and turn it all around.

I began to reflect on my life, and for the first time I listened to the words of all the people who had tried to give me guidance. I remembered the Chicago police officer who had been kind to me, and I realized that there were good people who did care. I also knew that the change would have to come from me. It was no ones fault but my own that I spent half my life in prison. Could any programs have giving me a better chance to divert my life from prison to a career and years of freedom instead of incarceration? I believe the answer is yes, but there were no programs when I was growing up that dealt with children in families that had a pattern of generational incarceration. Unfortunately, there are still not any focused, long-term programs today that deal directly with this issue. My focus is that “Generational Incarceration Children” get a fair shake from the system, and that their special set of circumstances be addressed. Real programs need to be implemented to plan a future for these kids other than a prison bed. That is the genesis of Youthturns. We want to educate and raise the awareness of generational incarceration, or as a Boston Police Officer told me the other day, “Generational, hell. I’m seeing whole families that go to jail together”. Police Officer are the first ones in society to see the devastation caused by repeated generational crime cycles. Diverting these children from prison beds to careers is a win-win for all of society. It will save billions of dollars and lives.

Just as a kind Police Officer’s words came back into my mind years later and helped me on my journey to healing, a kind word today can do the same. The same Boston Police Officer I quoted earlier told me a story of how he was telling a kid to get his act together and take care of his responsibilities, only to be told by others that he was wasting his time with the young gang banger. Undaunted by the negative statements, he continued his advice. Months later he saw the young guy again who stopped him on the streets just to let the officer know that he had gotten a job and was doing right, and it was because he had taken to heart what the Officer said. Sounds corny enough to bring in the violin and cue up the tears, right? Of course not, the point is you never know what a positive word can do. God bless Cops who go that extra mile never knowing what effect their kind words have on youth. If not for the kindness of a Chicago Cop who told me I could do better, who knows where I would be now. Even though it took a long time for the seed to grow in me, the point is that it did grow.

Police Officers today have many tools available to them to effect change. One that’s important is social media, like Facebook and Twitter. I think police officers can use these tools to promote and encourage change both inside and outside the department. While keeping close to the people who they serve and protect, it is a wonderful way to stay connected with each other. When officers stay connected to their communities, they can have the best effect on protecting it by stopping trouble before it begins. They can also connect to others who experience common frustrations over various social issues. When conversation begins over issues that seem impossible to solve (such as entire families going to jail due to lack of early intervention of dysfunctional family dynamics), the dialog can eventually lead to positive solutions. It is a brave new world out there for sure, and it has always been police officers who see the worst of it first, report it, and document it, thereby giving us the information to change it.

One thing is for sure, when we put our minds to it, we in America know how to respond to challenges, and we usually do it with charity that is motivated by a desire to do good. Some times those ideas need a little adjustment to keep them on track. With that said, let’s make some adjustments so we can stay on track and really keep America safe.

Andy Dixon

Andy Dixon is an ex-con with convictions who started Youthturns.Org an organization dedicated to stopping the cycle of generational incarceration. He is also a singer and song writer who while in prison did a music video and documentary with country music stars Mark Collie, Tim Mcgraw, and Kelly Willis. Andy is very passionate about the need for programs to help generational incarceration children.

Global Police Yammer

Let me quickly introduce myself. My name is Sjors Provoost and I’m working as in Innovation Broker for the Rotterdam-Rijnmond Police in The Netherlands. Be sure to check out the department’s cool new website, but that’s not what I want to talk about here. I do not have a police background myself, but I work with a very experienced colleague.

Our job is to facilitate innovation within our region and my job is to bring in fresh ideas from outside and ask difficult questions. I talk, tweet, blog and read about subjects such as social media and government as a platform. How does one make a solid business case for a new methodology (or any methodology for that matter) in an organization not driven by profit, but by a very complex and ever changing combination of politics, public opinion, criminals and people in need? Get in touch with me if you find the answer…


Let’s talk about real time internal communication. Internal – in my view – can mean within your local police department, within the police force of an entire country or even the global police world. I’d like to discuss one particular tool: Yammer. Yammer is like Twitter: you send short messages out to the world and anyone interested in you will read them. This is different from email or letters where you – the sender – chooses who should read it. In social media it’s the reader who decides who to listen to.

The difference between Yammer and Twitter is that Yammer offers a bit more privacy. By default it only allows access to people with a department email address. That means only your colleagues can read and write messages.

But what I especially like about it is that you know that each and everyone on the network is talking about work related interesting things. It makes it really easy to find new colleagues to keep in touch with.

In The Netherlands 18 out of 26 regional police departments and 3 national organizations are experimenting with Yammer. Anyone with a department email address can join without permission (from a technical point of view; verification is handled by Yammer). Most join because they were invited by a colleague. There is also a national Yammer network. Anyone can join automatically if they are a member of any of the regional networks, others are verified manually.

There’s 250 cops on the Dutch Police Yammer and almost 1000 spread over the local networks. The numbers keep growing rapidly, even though it has no formal status, our work computers are barely able to use the website (outdated browser) and there aren’t many company smart-phones (many colleagues use a private smart phone). I think that says something about enthusiasm and I’m sure that with those problems out of the way, many of the remaining 61,000 Dutch cops will climb on board in no time.

Topics on the National Yammer network are usually related to social media best practices. That’s a good thing and it’s probably due to social media enthusiasts climbing on board first. But I’m also seeing other topics pop up like video conferencing, links to newspaper articles about us and the potential use of QR Codes. There’s a strong innovative bias, which is great if innovation is your job.

Global Policy Yammer Community

After the SMILE conference in April we decided to take things one step further and start a global police yammer community. To sign up, go here and follow the instructions. A moderator will need to verify your identity. This is a little tricky in international context, so please also email a quick introduction to me (sjors.provoost@rijnmond.politie.nl) or to Lauri Stevens (lauri@lawscomm.net).

The Global Police Yammer Network was created by Ed Sabel, the web advisor and Editor in Chief of webservices at Police Brabant Sid Oost, inn the Netherlands.  He explained, “Yammer is a mobile closed community, but gives us the possibility to pull vital information of the society in our law enforcement organisations by use of a combination with Twitter. It also is an opportunity to coöperate in law enforcement worlwide, whereever you are (mobile use) and whenever you like. ‘We’ know more than I”.

Most of its current members are Dutch cops politely chatting in English, but there are already a number of international colleagues. Messages can be longer than on Twitter, but let’s keep them short. Long discussions are better held in places like LinkedIn.

A note of warning: the global police yammer is inherently not ultra secure. Neither is any group setting, but the problem grows exponentially with these kind of technologies. Don’t yammer around highly confidential information, not even as a private message to a femme fatale unless you want it to end up on WikiLeaks. In other words; it’s as private as room that you haven’t checked for hidden microphones. That leaves plenty to talk about.

Potential and trust

Wouldn’t it be great to have something like Yammer to discuss top secret stuff as well? What if you’re working on a case involving suspects and victims in ten different countries? What if you could instantly add a bunch of colleagues from all over the world to an ad hoc chat network dedicated to a specific case or problem area?

One of the big issues in ad hoc international cooperation is trust. How do you know that the detective working on your case in a far away unknown foreign country with dubious democratic practices can be trusted? It takes a long time to build trust and it may take a long time to go through your (flesh and bone) social network to find out who’s on the other side of the communication.

I ran into this site by pure chance. I’m not suggesting that we use it, but it points to a possible solution. Basically it’s an online reputation and circle of trust management system. Investigator A in Rotterdam trusts investigator B in London who trusts investigator C in Shanghai with his life. Using an automated system like the investigator A could contact investigator C without having to first call investigator B for advise. This is similar to how Couch Surfing allows complete strangers to stay in your house with rarely any incidents.

This is slightly outside my area of expertise, so I’d be really interested to know if there is  (innate) need for that or these things are already happening. You can contact me in the comments, on Twitter or at sjors.provoost@rijnmond.politie.nl [Spam will be reported to the police 🙂 ]

IACP boosts social media

The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) offers some great information on Social Media basics via their website. The page is titled Social Media in Law Enforcement and offers “fact” sheets on many topics in relation to Social Media participation. For example, the Twitter fact sheet provides an explanation of what this microblogging tool is and describes its uses for Law Enforcement. The page goes on to discuss start-up and even offers some basic Twitter terminology. Having resource information like this available in one spot is a great addition to their website.

The IACP is one of the oldest membership organizations for Law Enforcement executives and is recognized globally with over 20,000 members. The IACP website states, “…the IACP has launched a new initiative to build the capacity of law enforcement to use social media to prevent and solve crimes, strengthen police-community relations, and enhance services.” This is an excellent endorsement for the use of Social Media by Law Enforcement. Hopefully, is an indicator of what is to come for engagement and use of Social Media by many more police agencies.

If you are going to be in the Orlando, Florida area in late October, consider attending the IACP 2010 Conference. IACP will be hosting multiple sessions discussing Social Media related topics, October 24-26, 2010.

Twitter: Who's following who?

This is a bit of research I did to investigate the different types of followers of a typical police Twitter channel in the United Kingdom. I looked at each follower and determined which of the nine categories they best fit. The pie chart shows the most relevant category first (local public), moving round clockwise to the least relevant category (unknown). Unknown followers were those with no obvious information on location and usually had no tweets and/or very few followers of their own. These can be considered irrelevant as they are either spam or redundant accounts.

The findings show that 44% of the total followers were relevant local members of the public or local businesses with a further 11% of local partnerships, websites and media. In total 51% of the total followers are local with the remaining 49% made up of public and businesses located outside the local area – in fact, some from overseas. It must be noted that although a large percentage of the businesses were likely to have been touting for business, the out-of-area public followers could well be ex-locals, locals working overseas, and friends or family of people in the local area. A significant number of followers were other forces and police agencies both in the UK and overseas.

Based on these findings, it is safe to conclude that around 60%-70% of followers are local people, businesses, partnership organisations and media together with other people and businesses from outside the local area who have a significant interest in the Twitter channel they have followed. About 30%-40% of the remaining followers are not particularly interested in the Twitter channel or not interested at all.

To follow or not to follow?

There seems to be a keen debate about whether to follow your followers or not. Some sources suggest that followers should be followed to show commitment to 2-way communication and establish the opportunity for both parties to Direct Message each other if required. Twitter is all about a conversation after all and not a one-way channel. If a one-way communication channel is all that is required, the RSS feeds which services most police force twitter channels are more then adequate.

However, there are also arguments that following the followers of your Twitter channel will cause an administrative burden and invite a number of incoming messages which will require timely replies and further admin commitments. It must be noted that, regardless of who is followed, messages can always be directed @ us which still require a timely reply.

Some have suggested that not following relevant followers (i.e. the 60%-70% of those highlighted above), is similar to them acknowledging us in the street with a friendly ‘hello’ but being ignored by us in return.

Comments about this post are welcomed – especially opinions about the ‘to follow or not to follow’ debate.

David White

David White is a media professional from Essex, UK and has worked for the police service for 24 years.  He has worked as a photographer within the Scenes of Crime division and as a video camera operator, editor and 3D graphics animator for the Video Unit. Since 1998 he has worked on the Essex Police website as the Web Manager and is currently researching social media and efficiency saving opportunities for the UK police service with the National Police Web Managers Group. @beaker9 @npwmg @essexpoliceuk @epolicemuseum

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