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When Selfie Stands for Self-Incrimination

Celebs do them, teenage girls do them, even educated fleas do them.

Selfies – digital self-portraits which are then posted online – are all over the internet.

The advent of Vine has provided yet another outlet for the self-obsessed to add to the usual suspects of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.

This post gives a couple of examples of how self-obsession by criminals can cause more than social embarrassment.

Self portrait

Online drug dealing is not as simple as it seems

Our first story concerns a young Canadian mechanic who has obviously read about the Silk Road and how easy it is to buy drugs online.

However, rather than worrying about bitcoins and Tor encryption, he went straight to Twitter requesting drug dealers to make a delivery to the garage where he was working – only to find that the local police were smart enough to be scanning local social media:

Stoner tweeter



The police then went one stop further and re-tweeted the original to the garage owner:



Twitter of course found the whole thing hilarious. After more than 1300 re-tweets, the guy didn’t get his cannabis but is now the best-known pothead in town:


 Facebook Fail

The second story is closer to home and you may well have seen it already.

It features the two prisoners at HMP Rochester who used a mobile phone they shouldn’t have had to post a Facebook picture of their cell replete with TV, Sony PlayStation etc:

Facebook prisoners

The photo made its way to the Daily Mail and Justice Secretary Chris Grayling demanded prompt action.

The pair have lost their privileges and are likely to incur extra days inside for illegal possession of the phone.

It’s obviously not just the US & UK National Security Services who keep on top of online communications.

Coppers and journalists are pretty good at it too.


Nextdoor: Social Media For The Neighborhood

The private social network for your neighborhood. That’s how Nextdoor, a two year old startup company based in San Francisco, describes their product. What is it? What does it do? Who is it for? How much is it? Let’s back up a moment and I will answer all of those questions.

My Department’s community has really embraced our efforts with social media (Twitter and Facebook). We have a strong following on both platforms and the overall feedback from residents has been overwhelmingly positive. Any Law Enforcement agency that makes a strong effort with social media won’t have to wait long before discovering its benefits. You’ll also wonder why you waited so long to embrace it. And, yes, you will quickly learn its pitfalls and limitations as well. It can often be a trial and error process which can sometimes raise the blood pressure of management and line Officers. If you’ve been a ConnectedCOP you already know this and you also realize the benefits outweigh the risks. A lot of these topics have been covered quite extensively and I’m not going to rehash most of it in this post. I am going to speak of limitations with traditional social media and how it brings me to Nextdoor.

What are the limitations I am talking about? First, it’s audience. Who is your social media audience? Is it local? Is it national? Is it international? Probably all of the above. Our experience has been that our Facebook audience has a higher number of residents than does Twitter. But, both platforms bring in people from all over the world. That’s a great thing in many respects but it also presents challenges because it’s not just your residents you are reaching. And sometimes, you just want to speak to your residents, not the media, not the perps, not the 752 agencies that follow you, etc.

The second limitation is accommodating employee involvement.  How do you facilitate employee engagement through social media without having to wade through pages of privacy settings or dealing with numerous accounts that the agency has no control over?  Then there’s the challenge of directing all of this employee involvement through a common outlet (your agency).  Getting employees on social media is not hard. Moving them all in the right direction, under one umbrella, can be a major challenge. The term “Herding Cats” comes to mind.

Third, do these social media platforms give residents a common outlet to reach your agency and each other?  This is where our conversation started and it was related to neighborhood watch. Yes, “Neighborhood Watch”, does it sound weird? Seems like it’s old school. But, everything old school eventually becomes new school again. In my town we had a neighborhood that was very tight and really wanted to address some of the nuisance crime that can degrade the quality of life.  These folks had a system going with a Yahoo Group that was working very well and many of the members were using the group primarily through email, a great tool. However, in my own mind, I could see a problem for us moving forward.

The problem is that crime watch traditionally needs a relationship with the police. Do we get on their Yahoo Group to stay current and communicate? What if the neighborhood nearby uses Google Groups for their watch, a Facebook group or a listserv? We want to be part of the conversation, part of the solution. How can we be effective with all of the fragmentation? I started looking for solutions. I jumped online and began looking for crime watch software. Go ahead and try searching for yourself, I won’t bore you further.

It wasn’t until my friend and coworker Troy noticed the Nextdoor logo on the National Night Out webpage that I thought I had something with potential. Troy knew we were looking for something and passed it along as a possible solution.

So, what is Nextdoor? As I said in the first paragraph, it is described as a private social network for your neighborhood. But, what does that mean? The social part is just like any other form of social media. Its all about social networking with other people, specifically, your neighbors. That is where the “privacy” comes in. In order to register to your neighborhood you have to verify your address. There’s a few ways Nextdoor does this.

• With your mobile phone
• With a phone call to your landline
• With your credit or debit
• With a postcard sent to the address you registered with

Obviously, nothing is foolproof but the effort put forth on the verification process sets this platform apart from other software, among other things. But, one thing we can’t avoid is the requirement that we register for, yet another, social media site. I’ve always been a believer in going where the audience already exists, not bringing the audience to us. Requiring folks to register for something else in order to listen to us always seems to end up with a limited audience and the need to connect mainstream social media platforms to expand that audience. Ultimately, that scenario is often a fail. Will Nextdoor persevere? I’m not sure. Whether Nextdoor can overcome the challenges that has left others in the dust remains to be seen (for us) but I’ll be following up at a later date with actual results. For now, let’s look at the product and how to get started.

Like a typical startup company don’t expect to see many phone numbers listed on the Nextdoor website. Most of your contact with Nextdoor will be via email and their contact forms on their website. It took me a week or two to get a demo of the product but once that was out of the way things went quickly and I was put into contact with two employees that have been excellent in their support.

At this point I should mention that Nextdoor can be used by residents without the involvement of the municipality. But, our interest from the start was to launch it as a police initiative. Nextdoor for cities is what it is called. Just be aware that residents may already be using Nextdoor. Not a big deal but it may affect your neighborhood boundaries.

If you’re going to get this project off to a strong start you really want to pull out a map and work with Nextdoor to get the neighborhoods divided up. There’s no GIS wizardry required here and we were able to send them a map that we marked up with a Sharpie. You may find that there are some existing neighborhoods defined by residents and Nextdoor will be hesitant to change them without the consent of the person that created it, so be prepared. Dividing up neighborhoods isn’t as easy as it seems. Some neighborhoods are painless to identify because the streets and geography already provide good boundaries. Other areas on your map may not be so clear cut. The end goal should be neighborhoods with 100-1000 households.

Once the map is completed, it’s time to recruit members to act as founders. Founders are the folks that will get their neighborhood off the ground by inviting people to join the neighborhood on Nextdoor. How you find your founders depends on the agency. In our case we used our strong following on traditional social media to recruit founders successfully. Founding members register and start inviting their neighbors, who in turn, can invite as well once their address is verified. Once a neighborhood is started, it remains in “pilot” mode until a certain amount of verified membership is reached, usually around 10. There is usually a time limit on the pilot stage and if a neighborhood is not launched in a certain amount of time it will revert to being an “unused” neighborhood.

During this process Nextdoor will setup your agency’s “City Page” so you can invite agency members to join and track the progress of your neighborhoods. However, your agency presence on Nextdoor will not be available to you or residents until an official launch. More on that in a moment. While you’re preparing for official launch you will need to spend some time getting residents interested and recruiting founding members. At the same time you can track the progress of the neighborhoods at the Nextdoor site by logging in and viewing the Google map that they embed for you. The map will show you all of your neighborhoods. Neighborhoods in green have launched, brown are pilot and red are unused. Metrics are also available and are updated every night. Data available includes how many members exist in each neighborhood, the number of invites sent out, how much content has been generated by each neighborhood and other helpful statistics. The agency can even export the data to a CSV file. This is what our map looks like, five days prior to the official launch of our city page.

Nextdoor Neighborhoods

Nextdoor Neighborhoods

The last step on the list is official launch. This is where you officially announce to your residents that Nextdoor is available to them. Official launch will usually happen once 30-50% neighborhoods are started. This can be done through traditional press releases, social media and flyers. As I write this we are a few days away from this step.

So far, I’ve described the process but what about the product? Assuming you’ve already grasped the “privacy” aspect of Nextdoor the rest of the product should be familiar as a well designed social media site. What I mean by “well designed” is the layout of the neighborhood websites and the look and feel of the software itself. The user interface is feature rich, attractive, responsive and lightweight. The iOS and Android apps are no different. The overall user experience is very positive without the bloated feel of sites like Facebook.

Each neighborhood website on Nextdoor is where residents can post announcements in different categories, add events, classifieds and even create their own public or private groups. Neighborhoods can post to their neighborhood as well as adjoining neighborhoods. The website also facilitates the upload of pictures and documents. To see how a neighborhood works Nextdoor provides a demo website you can try out. I should also add that email integration is also available. If a resident has email notifications setup they can reply to a post simply by replying to the notification email. City officials can also respond this way.

How does the City Page work? One of the most important points about the City Page I’d like to share is that City Officials can’t see the neighborhood websites. With all the privacy concerns lately we think this is a good thing. That being said, Officials can post messages to one or all neighborhoods and residents are free to engage those posts through comments which the agency can see and respond to.

Agencies are able to add employees as officials on the city page. Each “Official” has a profile that they can make public or private. Once an Official posts from the City Page they are now visible to residents on the City Page “Officials” tab. Officials are also available to receive private messages from both residents and other officials. These messages can be responded to via the website or the users email account used when they registered.

From a police perspective the Nextdoor platform opens up some interesting possibilities in the area of Community Policing with individual neighborhoods. The ability for one or more Officers to focus on individual neighborhoods should be an obvious plus for most agencies.

The City Page isn’t limited to just Law Enforcement agencies and our Town management is very interested in Nextdoor for the same reasons we are.

What about costs? How does Nextdoor make money? Nextdoor is a free service to both residents and your city/town. They have no plans in the future to charge for their service. Their revenue model at this point has not been determined but I think it’s safe to assume that local advertising is a logical long term plan for Nextdoor. For now, Nextdoor has enjoyed plenty of interest and funding from numerous investors and capital venture firms as well as partnerships with some of the largest cities in the United States.

The big question of the day here is, will residents see the value in private social media for their neighborhood? Again, expecting people to add another social media site to their life is a challenge. The only way this will happen effectively is if the product sets itself apart from the competition. We don’t have the answer yet but we are waiting to find out. Early indicators are good though as we are approaching 600 members prior to official launch.

That’s the Nextdoor product overview. I’m sure there will be a lot more interest from Law Enforcement as the product sees expanded adoption nationwide. I’ll be sure to follow up our experiences with Nextdoor in a future post.

Greg is a Police Lieutenant with the Billerica MA Police Department. An 18 year veteran, Greg manages Communications and Technology which includes social media initiatives.

Surrey police use Pinterest to return stolen property to victims of crime

In June 2013 Victoria Hunter, a Detective with Surrey Police executed a search warrant at the home of a burglar and recovered a large quantity of watches and jewellery. Having checked the stolen property records she realised that it would be very difficult to re-connect what might have been stolen with the owners. Some property was poorly described on the crime reports. It was made more difficult because the area where the offences had taken place crossed police force boundaries. So there were some items that apparently were not recorded as stolen goods.

This scenario will be recognised by every operational police officer wherever they work.

In discussing the situation back in the office a (Civilian) Team Co-ordinator Dawn Lewis mentioned Pinterest the ‘pinboard-style’ photograph sharing social media website and the hypothesis was posed, “Why don’t we post images of the recovered items on a specific Pinterest page and invite victims of crimes to identify what, if anything is theirs?”

As we know “a picture says a thousand words”.

So whilst Vic liaised with the intelligence unit and searched for all the offences that were committed with the subject’s particular style (MO) other colleagues from the team rallied around and supported her by separating all of the pieces of jewellery. DC Phil Leaver had the weary task of capturing images of every piece of jewellery and Investigating Officer Jane Richards went on to upload them all to the Surrey Police Pinterest page. Jane completed this with the support of Matt Heeley from the force’s Online and Production team who arranged access to Pinterest via the force’s IT system.

Meanwhile the Detective had written to every known possible victim and introduced them to the plan for the victims to view the goods and introduced some to Pinterest itself. These letters were hand delivered by neighbourhood officers whilst patrolling their beats. Over 100 letters were delivered.

So there was a suspect, a haul of possibly stolen goods all uploaded to Pinterest and we had over a hundred people who were potentially the true owners of this ‘swag’ with access to the URL – http://pinterest.com/surreypolice/recovered-jewellery/ .

What happened next?

The victims could in their own time and at their own pace review the property photographs. This meant Surrey Police did not need to mount an expensive display of property that might not be visited or where victims could feel under pressure to choose or reject property.

The viewing could be done on the train en route to the office or at home in the eventing calm.

Victims who were uncertain whether an item was actually theirs could seek evidence in the form of receipts or photographs with the picture on-line and with them to compare.

The investigative team would support people who were uncertain about any item. They would check for serial numbers, known damage or marks known only to the owner to confirm or deny ownership.

Due to the novel way the victims had of interacting with the property on Pinterest some people discovered more items in subsequent viewings once they had found one item.

To date no criminal has tried to fraudulently claim goods that are shown on Pinterest.

Furthermore knowing that the suspect committed offences in areas policed by other forces by sharing the Pinterest page officers across the country could have their victims to check to see if their stolen property had been recovered by Surrey Police.

What does all this mean?

The Surrey Police Pinterest experiment is still on-going and there is more work to do. It is a local solution to a specific set of circumstances and of course like the best ideas it has been suggested and actioned by the local team members with appropriate headquarters support. However there is a lot of potential for using Pinterest not just across local police boundaries but internationally. For example it would be entirely possible to share images between detectives from around the world. Also public appeals for missing people could be supported by photos on Pinterest and the “pin-board” updated by people globally potentially helping to protect the vulnerable.

I am sure there will be many Law Enforcement professionals out there who have similar experiences to Vic, Phil, Jane and Dawn and would encourage them to reply to this post suggesting ways in which the rest of us can work smarter, not harder.

Roger Nield is the Runnymede Neighbourhood Inspector for Surrey Police in England. He joined Greater Manchester Police in 1985 and served in Salford and Wigan divisions and on the Tactical Aid Unit before transferring to Surrey in 2000.
Here he has worked on Operational Support and response teams before retuning to Neighbourhood Policing in 2005.

Roger has a master’s degree in Police Science and Management and a Batchelor of Science degree with honours in Policing and Police Studies both from Portsmouth University. He became a Bramshill Fellow in 2008. He and other authors published a paper* of research into the interviewing of vulnerable people in 2002.

Roger’s areas of expertise include Safer Neighbourhood Policing, Co-Location of policing and local authority staff, CCTV, project planning, Operational and Emergency planning, Public Order and CBRN policing and he is learning about the police use of social media. He has recently begun blogging.

* Nield, R., Milne, R., Bull. R. and Marlow, K. (2003) The Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 and the interviewing of vulnerable groups: A practitioner’s perspective. Legal and Criminological Psychology, 8 (2), September 2003,223-228

Some cops are just too darn funny

I get calls probably twice a month from a reporter doing a story on how their local police are using humor in social media. They usually want to ask some version of the question “Is that appropriate?” Just today CNN emailed about the Hillsboro, OR Police posting a humorous video to recruit a new Police Chief. While it continues to boggle my mind why people think police can’t or shouldn’t use humor, at least these reporter inquiries are better than the other two calls every month about how some police officer did something rather career threatening on social media, so I’m rolling with it.

The latest cop humor on Twitter comes from York Regional Police. (YRP) A tweet from @Sunith_DB8R this morning went out in Ontario asking for a drug deal in the Vaughan area. The tweet caught the eye of York Regional Police Corporate Communications Supervisor Stephanie Mackenzie-Smith who encouraged Police Constable Blair McQuillan to answer.

Mackenzie-Smith says the phones at YRP haven’t stopped ringing since. But it’s not the first time YRP has made news with Twitter. Last year, @brittvny tweeted about having been smoking pot when she then realized the YRP office at the mall was nearby. YRP had an answer for her too.

@SeattlePD is also a frequent funny tweeter:

In June, after SPD arrested a man for damaging a Norway Maple tree, they tweeted:

Some of the funniest bits come from @SolihullPolice in the UK. One of their most famous:

But some other fun tweets from Solihull PD:

If any of the above aren’t providing comedic relief when you tune in, you can count on @AbbyPoliceDept just about any day:

In the meantime, back in Ontario, Sunith spent the rest of the day tweeting that people shouldn’t take his tweets so seriously. But most signifcantly, he tweeted a thanks to YRP for “making him famous.”

ConnectedCOPS Awards 2013: Finalists for Excellence at a Large Agency

ConnectedCOPS Excellence at a Large Agency

This award is given to a law enforcement agency, anywhere in the world, of 151 sworn officers or more that has demonstrated overall excellence in the use of social media to enhance its services to the public. The agency exhibits leadership, creativity and innovation in its use of social media to engage, educate, recruit, and etc. The agency has a broad and deep understanding of social media use and applies sound governance and strategy in its social media operations. The agency also promotes the use of social networking in law enforcement through its outreach to colleagues and by mentoring others.

We have three finalists and they are:

Reykjavik Police, Iceland
Since it was founded in 2007 the Reykjavik Metropolitan Police (RMP) has worked to enhance the security and feeling of security among those who live, work or stay in the metropolitan area. To achieve this objective the RMP has focused on increasing the visibility of the police, increased information sharing and building a proactive community partnership. The RMP tapped social media at the end of 2010 and is rapidly accomplishing these goals as a result. With over 42,000 Facebook subscribers the RMP is connected to 20% of the population it serves. The RMP also makes very creative use of Twitter, Instagram, Flickr and YouTube.

Saanich Police, British Columbia, Canada
The Saanich Police Department (SPD) believes that the true essence of community engagement via social media is accomplished by empowering its agency’s members. The department’s newly established social media policy provides the ability for all agency members to reach the community. SPD supports and encourages specific units within the agency to engage on a personal level. SPD credits its social media program for ensuring that its messaging and community engagement activities are delivered in a clear, timely and responsible manner. With creativity and innovation the SPD has become a global leader with its use of social media.

Cape Coral Police, Florida, United States
Social Media is a major component of the Cape Coral Police Department’s (CCPD) Community Engagement Program. In order to achieve fundamental transformation and a significant shift in the direction that the Department was moving, the CCPD used a two-pronged approach. First, CCPD took back control of its presence on the web from a central city webmaster and went in a completely different direction. CCPD created a new website built around a blogging engine and tightly integrated with social media and optimized for searchability. The focus was on rich media, compelling content, useful information, and 2-way communication with citizens. Second, The CCPD Social Media Program focused on key social networks in order to maximize the reach of the agency’s message. The CCPD has focused on Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube to achieve its goals and become world leaders in police us of social media.

Winners will be announced September 25th at the SMILE Conference™ in Omaha, Nebraska.

Previously announced finalists:

The ConnectedCOPS Awards were created by LAwS Communications with the intent of recognizing the good work being done by individual officers and law enforcement agencies with social media. The international law enforcement community will be considered for these awards. Any officer or agency anywhere in the world is eligible.

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