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What Does Social Media Mean for Public Safety?

Mike Bostic

How we learn about current events today – compared to 10, or even five years ago – has radically changed. When disaster or a major event occurred, we tuned in to our TVs, radios and newspapers – but digital platforms and social media have changed all that. The number of outlets dramatically grew – and our ideas about credible news sources have expanded as well.

No doubt media still plays an important role in delivering news, as well as what we share in our blogs and social networks. But now blogs and social networks are their own news sources. Institutions no longer manage information because much of user-generated content is popular, credible and instant.

In public safety and law enforcement, these shifts are most evident in disasters and emergencies, where citizens receive up-to-the-minute information from varied sources. For example, when fires burned through Los Angeles County last summer, residents and institutions shared real-time updates on burn areas and evacuations via social media platforms, often ahead of traditional news outlets. Updates came through on computers and smart phones as stories, images and real-time conversations. But social media can also contribute to spreading misinformation. After the earthquake in Haiti, rumors about airlines giving doctors and nurses free flights to Haiti spread rapidly on Twitter. Airlines quickly provided corrected the rumors, but the Haitian consulate in New York was already inundated with calls.

The shift in sourcing has implications across all levels of our operations. Information now spreads rapidly among citizenry, while oftentimes first responders still face barriers. Bottom line, we need to integrate new communications tools with an understanding of their advantages and limitations. Whether or not you are convinced these platforms are a worthwhile communications channel, conversations impacting public safety issues are happening on the Web. As public safety agencies nationwide get on board with social media, exploring these platforms’ background and potential uses is increasingly important.

Recapping SMILE

April 7, 2010 will be a bench mark date for Law Enforcement for many years to come. It might not be as big as 1215 or 1829 are to policing but it will certainly be a day to be remembered. It was the day that several progressive and forward thinking police agencies assembled some of their officers to take part in the first Social Media in Law Enforcement Conference.

Agencies from Europe, Canada and the United States gathered in Washington DC, to share best practices, emerging trends and to learn from each other “What’s next?”

Professionals from law enforcement, government, private industry and the public sector came together to share, learn and empower each other to embrace Social Media not just as another tool to use in our arsenal, but as a mass communication tool to engage with our communities and increase the transparency of what we do on a daily basis.

Some agencies showed they are on the cutting edge of this tool by having already implemented a strategy, policy and functioning system. Others were there to see how they could follow suit.

It was agreed by all that the use of Social Media is not something they should be thinking about, but something they need to be doing. We saw examples like that of the Boca Raton Police in Florida where Social Media has become a primary tool for communicating with their citizens. The Toronto Police Service began voicing out to their community and beyond with officers pushing information on traffic and community safety along with the incredible work of the Toronto Crime Stoppers program becoming the foundation of what Crime Stoppers International has evolved into.

The conference started with the basic “how to’s” of platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Blogging and how to use those tools not just for external, but also internal messaging. Day two built on the basics with examples of how police use different platforms to increase their output and voice within their communities followed by a ‘town hall’ style session that kept the participants writing fast and furious with the information that was flying at them. Day three did not slow down from the opening till the end as we got a glimpse of ‘What’s Next for Law Enforcement in a Brave New World”.

While I don’t consider myself an expert, I will say Social Media in Law Enforcement is nothing new to me, but I can tell you this. I was blown away by what I saw and heard at this conference. I was amazed to see that at the end of the conference, on a Friday afternoon there were as many people there as on day one at the beginning. We have all been to other conferences where the last session is a ghost town…not this one. That is an indication of what the attendees were treated to, but more importantly…what you missed if you weren’t there.

You should be making your plans now to be at the next SMILE Conference. I know I am.

The IACP requests support to maintain 700 MHz D Block spectrum for law enforcement

Michael Carroll

For many years the IACP has been a leader in promoting the development of a nationwide wireless broadband data network for law enforcement and public safety.

On March 17, 2010, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) sent their National Broadband Plan (Plan) to Congress, and as a result we face a difficult challenge.

The FCC Plan has many good aspects and does support the overall goal of implementing a nationwide public safety broadband network. However, it also supports the auctioning of the 700 MHz D Block spectrum solely for commercial purposes.

For those that have followed this more closely, you know that for the past year the IACP has been supporting action by Congress to pass legislation to remove the auction requirements for the D Block and allocate that spectrum to public safety.

The IACP has joined with the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA), Major Cities Police Chiefs Association (MCC), Major County Sheriffs Association (MCSA), International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), National Emergency Management Association (NEMA), Association of Public-Safety Communications, Officials-International (APCO), and the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) in this effort.
The current challenge is that the FCC is actively promoting support for the D Block to be auctioned for commercial purposes and is reaching out to Governors, Mayors, and County officials to reject our efforts to have the D Block allocated for public safety.

The FCC is promising that billions of dollars will be forthcoming to build out the nationwide network if public safety gives up its push to have the D Block allocated for public safety. In these tough economic times, any promise of money to state and local leaders usually gets their attention and support. Our state and local government leaders must be informed that this promise of funds by the FCC has not resulted in any support from Congress. Although we do need funding, we have seen no
Congressional leaders expressing their support for this funding. We have to make sure our state and local elected officials understand that we need the D Block spectrum for the nationwide network so we will have sufficient bandwidth to serve our needs. A promise of money in exchange for the spectrum is a bad idea. Once the D Block spectrum has been auctioned for commercial purposes it is gone forever.

Many of the national organizations who represent our state and local officials like the National Governors Association (NGA), National Association of Counties (NACo), National Council of State Legislators (NCSL), U.S. Conference of Mayors (US Mayors), and National League of Cities (NLC) recently issued position statements in support of the reallocation of the D Block to public safety. Others organizations like the National Criminal Justice Association (NCJA) also have issued supporting statements. Major companies and carriers like Motorola, Harris, Alcatel-Lucent, Northrop Grumman, Verizon Wireless and AT&T also have issued statements in support of our efforts.

The IACP is convinced that law enforcement and public safety needs a minimum of 20 MHz of broadband spectrum to meet our current and future needs. This includes the D Block spectrum (10 MHz) in addition to the already allocated public safety spectrum (10 MHz) that is licensed nationwide to the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST). The IACP position is based on the advice of trusted engineers that 4th Generation (4G) broadband technologies will not give us the needed robust broadband network on less than 20 MHz of spectrum and on our observations of the rapid expansion and use of broadband applications by the public using commercial networks. Law enforcement and public safety must have access to these new technologies to perform our increasingly complex duties. These technologies must have adequate and dedicated spectrum that is managed and controlled by public safety so they will be more secure and reliable than commercial systems.

For more information on why the D Block spectrum is so critical, please visit The IACP website.

IACP leadership will continue to work with the Administration, Congress and the FCC to gain common ground on a successful conclusion to this conflict and we urge your continuing support in our efforts.

IACP President Chief Michael J. Carroll is chief of police of the West Goshen Township Police Department in Chester County, Pennsylvania. He has served in various law enforcement positions in Chester County for forty-one years, nineteen as Chief of West Goshen Township. He is a Past President of the Chester County Chiefs of Police Association, Southeastern Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association, Past President of the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association. In 2002, Chief Carroll and his wife, Detective Donna J. Carroll of the Chester County District Attorney’s Office, were inducted into the IPA Regional 13 (Pennsylvania) police Hall of Fame. The Chief has served on the Victims Services Committee, the Civil Rights Committee, Constitution and Rules Committee, and the Executive Committee of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Chief Carroll also served as the North Atlantic Region Coordinator of the State Association of Chiefs of Police (SACOP).

Ashes to Ashes?

CI Mark Payne

There was a remarkable symmetry to the past week or so for me. Ashes to Ashes returned to our screens, Detective Inspector Frost retired, and I returned to the investigative arena, as a Detective Chief Inspector running three major crime teams in the West Midlands.

DI Frost and DCI Hunt are fictional detectives. They are both rebels who bend rules on a regular basis to ensure that the bad guys are locked up by the end of the programme. They have become folk heroes as a result of their maverick approach to fighting crime, harking back to the ‘good old days’ when police officers seemed to resolve almost every crime with a ‘clip round the ear.’

Although there are clearly large elements of both programmes dramatised for TV purposes, there are some elements which I am sure many officers will recognise. Frustration with form filling, solicitors, needless dictats and bureacracy from organisations set up to monitor ‘throughput , output and productivity.’ (Don’t ask me I have no idea what they mean either.)

I have been a Detective for the majority of my career. I will be blogging about some of my day to day experiences and jobs. I have previously investigated (and solved) numerous murders, tackled drug networks, taken guns off the streets and dealt with a whole host of serious crime. I love my work, and can’t wait to get stuck back in!

In the past, police forces have invested lots of energy telling people about neighbourhood policing and uniform patrols, whilst keeping some of the more complex work, often carried out by Detectives, shrouded in mystery. If we are to actually make people feel safer, it is really important that we are open about the level of protection that goes on behind the scenes keeping them safe.

Future blogs might not be as exciting as DCI Hunt, (‘Fire up the peugeot diesel’ doesn’t have quite the same ring as ’Fire up the Quattro’), but it will be real and it will allow you access to an area where your previous opinions will probably be based on a combination of The Bill, Silent Witness and Morse.

Hopefully you will find it interesting, let me know if there are specific areas of crime investigation you are interested in reading about.

Wikipedia: Ashes to Ashes is a British science fiction/police procedural drama television series, serving as the sequel to Life on Mars. The series began transmission on BBC One in February 2008. A second series began broadcasting in April 2009. A third and final series is being broadcast from 2 April 2010 on BBC One and BBC HDThe series tells the fictional story of Alex Drake (played by Keeley Hawes), a female police officer in service with London’s Metropolitan Police who is shot in 2008, and inexplicably regains consciousness in 1981.

SMILE: Chief Billy Grogan's Perspective

The Dunwoody (GA) Police Department began operations on April 1, 2009. On April 2, 2009, we created our Twitter account and began tweeting. We really needed a way to quickly connect with our community and Twitter provided that platform. Once we made it past the busywork of the start-up, we created a Facebook fan page for the department as well. Both Twitter and Facebook are being used to educate the public and get the word out about the good things happening within our department.

However, I felt something was missing. I had a number of questions about using social media in law enforcement and very few answers. I received an email about an upcoming conference which seemed to be an answer to my prayers. Social Media in Law Enforcement, Using Social Media to Improve Law Enforcement and Engage Citizens seemed like the perfect conference for me. I quickly signed up and brought Sergeant Carlson, who is in charge of our Community Outreach Unit, with me as well.

The SMILE Conference was all that I expected and more. We attended the LAwS Academy the first day and the conference itself for the next two days. Each day was jam packed with excellent speakers, from all over the world, which covered a variety of social media topics of importance. The topics covered included Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogging, Ning, social media monitoring, branding, podcasting, crime prevention, investigations, system integrations, adapting to the new media era and the future of social media to name a few. Each speaker was knowledgeable, provided great content and was able to engage their audience in meaningful conversations.

One of the highlights of the conference was a town hall meeting held one evening. Several of the speakers formed a panel and answered questions from participants at the conference. This was a great opportunity to discuss topics that were either not listed on the agenda for the conference or to discuss a topic that was listed more thoroughly.

Indeed, The SMILE Conference provided the answers to my questions and really filled in the missing pieces of the social media puzzle. I learned a great deal of specific, technical information about certain programs which will help me tremendously. However, there were three broad concepts which, I believe, will be the most beneficial.

The first is you need to have a plan when you get your department involved in social media. Unfortunately, when we first started using social media with the Dunwoody Police Department, we had no plan. After listening to all of the excellent speakers, I now understand the importance of having a plan and we will develop ours in the near future.

The second is you must have a social media policy. As of right now, my department does not have a social media policy. This will definitely be a priority prior to expanding our social media footprint in the future.

The last important concept I took away from the SMILE conference is you can’t do everything in social media. You should pick the social media programs that will be the most useful for your department and your community and use them. You do not have to do it all. This was a relief for me because I really felt overwhelmed by the large number of social media applications available and I struggled to identify the right ones for our department.

While at the conference, I tweeted about a program we are using at our department which has an iPhone application with it. One of the major metro Atlanta television stations, who follow us on Twitter, now wants to do a story about our program. This positive story would not have been picked up if it wasn’t for Twitter.

The SMILE Conference was a great benefit to me and my agency and the ideas I took away from the conference will light the way for my agencies future direction in social media. In addition, networking with leading thinkers and users of social media in law enforcement and outside law enforcement was especially helpful. I know that I am not alone and now I know who I can contact for help.

Chief Billy Grogan

Billy Grogan is the Chief of Police in Dunwoody, GA. Chief Grogan is committed to the concept of Community Policing as a way to connect with the community in a meaningful way to combat crime and disorder and improve the quality of life for the visitors and citizens of Dunwoody. He attended The SMILE Conference in Washington, D.C. and offers this (unsolicited) perspective.

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