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Cops "must know": 2 ways to secretly follow Twitter peeps

There’s been lots of great attention given to Twitter lists recently, and for good reason. It’s the best thing to happen to Twitter in a very long time (when time is calculated in Twitter time that is).

So what if you’re a cop and there’s someone on Twitter that might be someone you want to watch but you can’t click the follow button ‘cuz it’s too obvious and you need to lay a little lower?

twitterbirdroundTwo things to consider:

1. Make a Twitter list. A Twitter “list” can have one person on it. It can have as many as 500 Twitter accounts on it. BUT, you don’t have to follow people on the list. So you make a list of as many or as few people as you want. If you make the list public, people on it will know it. But if you keep the list private, people on it DON’T KNOW IT. I’ve got some private lists, but none of you cop-types are on them, I promise.

2. Click the RSS feed button on their Twitter page. The people followed won’t know who follows them on RSS.

Nothing in social media is hyper-secure, but you know that. However, if there’s someone you just need to keep an open eye on, this is worth considering.

I’m not a cop. Is this useful? At least a couple LEO’s have said they think it is. Just sharing, just in case….

Who are your publics?

This is a guest post by my friend and colleague Christa M. Miller, co-author of Cops2point0.

Christa M Miller

Christa M Miller

The first time I ever heard someone in law enforcement use the term “the public,” I was struck by how—well, general it sounded. Maybe it was the dispatcher’s neutral tone, or the fact that I was a newly minted Explorer with one foot still in that “public” world.

“The public” brought to mind an image of a crowd of faceless people, some grasping, some standing silently, all with expectations. Which is not entirely inaccurate when you are a public servant, trying to take care of the needs you have control over, versus the ones you don’t.

Public is plural, not singular

Still, in fairness, “the public” is really composed of many different publics. Some overlap, but in general, you have private residents, business owners, retirees, students (and their teachers), drivers… you get the idea.

All of them have different needs. The residents need to know their homes and families are safe from burglars and Internet predators. The business owners want to make sure their customers won’t be intimidated by loiterers or vandals. Students and teachers are concerned with bullies and weapons. None of them wants to get mowed down by a drunk driver or taken by an identity thief.

The danger of thinking in terms of “the public” is that PIOs will simply throw information out there from which they believe everyone will benefit—when targeted messaging would serve needs better.

To some extent, they’re right. A notification about a burglary spree in a neighborhood crosses demographics, as does information about a bad crash or other public safety issue.

But PIOs can achieve greater understanding of their publics using common sense—and certain features available through Twitter and (on a limited basis) Facebook.

The value of listing and grouping

Have you looked at Lauri’s Twitter list of law enforcement agencies? It is a great little tool for two reasons: 1) it allows you to see what other agencies are doing with Twitter. And 2) from Lauri’s perspective, that helps her do a better job of consulting her law enforcement clients.

Because you can group followers (no, you don’t have to be following them back), creating lists for media/reporters, business owners, residents, and visitors means you can see not only who they are; but also what they’re tweeting.

Listing followers does take time, and you may not see a list full of concerns about speeders on their street, or teens with nothing to do. But a peek every once in a while can give you a better idea of the people behind “the public.”

Listing followers is a valuable tool even for agencies that already break down their publics according to beat/neighborhood (Bellevue, Nebraska and Oxnard, California) or specialized unit (Portland, Oregon). It can still help them tailor content more effectively.

Take, for instance, Portland PD’s Sunshine Division, which provides food to needy families. Or the WomenStrength! Program, which provides free self-defense classes to women. Knowing whether and which local restaurants were following them could help Sunshine Division secure food donations, while WomenStrength might be able to talk specific issues like dating violence to the single women and teens following them.

Across social networking sites

Twitter lists are convenient ways to research who in your community is online, and they’re a great start for PIOs and community relations officers. But just as Twitter is not the only social networking tool an agency should be using, its lists are not the only way to direct online content.

Facebook fan pages don’t allow similar groupings of fans. (Profile pages, which some agencies set up before fan pages caught on, do allow “friend” groupings.) And many people far prefer Facebook to Twitter.

So, use Twitter lists as a starting point. Group followers and begin to tweet content which those groups will find interesting. But also use the lists to gather more comprehensive input—to create surveys, even to simply ask your friends and fans on other social networks what they would like to see from you and how often they would like to see it. As in real life, you won’t be able to meet every request. But you will be able to match community needs much more closely than if you had assumed what was needed.

Three Tweeting Chiefs are a hit @ 140 Characters Conference in LA

I was honored to have been invited, this past summer, by Twitter Superstar Jeff Pulver to create and moderate a panel on law enforcement use of Twitter for his 140 Characters Conference in Los Angeles. The conference was October 27th and 28th at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood.


Three Tweeting Chiefs, from left: Dan Alexander, John Stacey and Scott Whitney

As I contemplated who should be on the panel it didn’t take long for me to decide that the first-ever law enforcement panel at a Twitter conference should include some of the visionaries. So I invited the law enforcement leaders who literally put their department on the social media map because each one of them independently realized early-on, the very positive impact Twitter and other social media tools could have on law enforcement. What surprised me was that my first three choices all said “yes” without hesitating for even a second. They are Chief Dan Alexander of Boca Raton, FL PD; Chief John Stacey of Bellevue, NE PD; and Assistant Chief Scott Whitney of Oxnard, CA PD.

AC Whitney tells the story about how he first learned about Twitter when a poker-playing friend showed him how he used it with poker. Whitney immediately realized that he had to get his department involved on Twitter to communicate with citizens. Chief Alexander is so forward thinking, he hired a social-media PIO a YEAR AGO, and has since developed a comprehensive social-media plan for his department. Chief John Stacey, a LAwS client, credited me at the conference for dragging the Bellevue PD “kicking and screaming” into the social media world. Truth is, I’ve know Chief Stacey for 20 years. No one drags him anywhere. He’s always been very media savvy and open-minded and a progressive thinker. These three gentlemen completely “get it” when it comes to social media.

“…some of the words I’ve heard today, educate, excite, engage and involve fall right in line with that philosophy.”
~Chief Dan Alexander

In their presentations both Whitney and Alexander emphasized the connection with their community that Twitter has given their departments. Alexander said he wanted to get beyond disconnection with community and that social media has been the “best impetus” for the Boca Raton Police to accomplish that, adding that it fits well with their philosophy of community policing, “some of the words I’ve heard today, educate, excite, engage and involve fall right in line with that philosophy.”

Whitney echoed that opinion, describing how Oxnard PD has nine beats in his department, each beat has a beat coordinator and everyone of those coordinators is on Twitter, “so they can communicate with the community about the specific issues going on in their area.”

Chief Stacey talked about how police officers are taught throughout their careers to covet people’s information, “much like the cash in an armored car, police officers are the armored cars of your information and they must not share it with anyone”. Stacey calls getting involved with Twitter a major leap for his department but adds that they are discovering new audiences with it and added, “now the daunting task begins for us as police administrators on the way to regulate this”.

“The transition from typewriter to computer was tough too. Twitter is going to be just as difficult. But we’re excited about it.”
~Chief John Stacey

All three police chiefs agree that any sworn officer in their departments is welcome to use Twitter on the department’s behalf. As Stacey pointed out “the transition from typewriter to computer was tough too. Twitter is going to be just as difficult. But we’re excited about it.”

I’ve traveled around the United States, Canada and even overseas talking about law enforcement use of social media. Next up is another of Jeff Pulver’s 140 Character Conferences. This one is in London on November 17th. If you’re a police officer and can get to London, email me for free admission.


Dave Melvin (@mac_lovin) and Chris Curran (@theChrisCurran) breaking Twitter speeding laws, were among those officers attending as guests. One of them also got busted for sneaking soda into the theatre.

Pulver also allowed cops to attend the LA conference with free admission. About a dozen took us up on it. I recall his DM message to me said, “this is too important a topic, bring as many as you can.”

For more information about my upcoming presentations on law enforcement and social media, please see the “speaking” tab above or my website homepage, left sidebar. In addition to the 140 Character Conference in London, they include several “Cool Twitter Conferences”, The Leadership in a Cyberworld conference in March, in Texas for the Institute for Law Enforcement Administration and a “Social Media in Government” conference in Ottawa and the California Peace Officer Association’s Annual Training Symposium in May.

Better Focus

34 people. Five sessions. Priceless feedback. 

We have made a number of changes to the Boca Raton Police communication strategy over the past year and it was time to get some constructive criticism.  Hence, we scheduled five days of focus groups, subjecting members to everything from signs and brochures to website designs and prevention programs.  True, there was a wide range of opinions from folks using very different frames of reference, but there were some common themes and observations which will clearly help us refine how we engage, connect, and communicate. I apologize for the seemingly disjointed synopsis, but there is just too much to cover in so little space.


VIPER is a relevant and sound community policing strategy, but some people don’t get it. We have to do a better job of explaining the concept on the web, in printed material and on the street.  We also recognize that it is time to consolidate the bocaviper.com and bocapolice.com websites. The future site, currently under development, will bring both VIPER material and information about the Department to one location.  Participants also expressed some confusion about Crime Watch and the Police Department. Crime Watch is a separate entity and we do very little cross-marketing to highlight how our missions are inextricably linked. Crime Watch is a valued partner and we will do more to support their work.
Opinions varied on the look of the current bocaviper.com site.  While some didn’t like aspects of the site’s appearance, others favored it over examples we provided which were reportedly “touristy.”  We will continue to use the black and gold colors to be consistent, with some variations resulting from a review of other popular sites.  Group members appreciated the communication resources available to them on the site. We will better emphasize these tools up front.  The feedback on video content was excellent. We will be shortening the videos we produce for the web and will seek to move longer segments to more appropriate media, such as our cable access channel. People enjoyed seeing solved cases and asked for more content about issues which are more of concern to them.
Aggressive and authoritarian (“DON’T_______!”) communication or marketing strategies do not resonate well. Protective themes and educational messages have greater impact.  Also, data isn’t enough. Respondents wanted us to include a specific call for action whenever possible.   Participants liked the bold look of our signs, but want to see “police” and our non-emergency telephone number emphasized more frequently.

Nothing can replace the face-to-face. People want a personal connection with Department members, more so at the street level. Whenever possible, we will be involving officers more frequently in neighborhood meetings and other events.

Not too many departments are using focus groups to challenge their communication models. I credit our public information staff and, particularly, Erica Reuter for developing and executing this process. The return on investment was phenomenal, given that it was easy to find volunteers who freely offered great advice in the interest of supporting their police department.  It’s a living, breathing animal, so I look forward to seeing how it evolves in future sessions.

The dynamic nature of social media will require us to be current, creative and, most importantly, relevant to our unique communities.  I think tools and processes, such as focus groups, can help point us in the right direction.  I look forward to seeing what other agencies are doing to become better “connected cops.”  Let us know what you think.

Gr8ful 4 @Twitter lists

I spent nearly the entire weekend going through the people and organizations I follow on Twitter, segmenting them into lists. It was a tedious task, but in the end, a bit cathartic. Now, I can see the police departments I follow with a click of one button. Before I had to download my entire twitter list, and delete the non-PDs, it took hours!

I’m very happy with the results. The cop list and police agency lists are what I believe to be the most comprehensive anywhere on Twitter. Unlike other agency lists, mine is purely agencies, and doesn’t also include vendors or LE supporters (that I’m aware of). Those are in separate lists. I attempted to filter out those accounts who claim PD names but aren’t the official Twitter accounts of the agency. I also tried to distinguish when a cop was tweeting as a cop as opposed to as a representative of his department. In all, I’ve released the following lists, with possibly a couple more to come soon (click on each to go there):

Additionally, I have a great social media guru list of the people I consider to be the leaders in social media. You can find it here:

If you’re aware of a person or group that I should have included in one of my lists and didn’t, or did include and should not have, please let me know. either @reply or email me.

The way lists work is that you can click on anyone’s list and select to follow it, without adding all those names to your follow list. So, I’ll keep track of the law enforcement agencies, cops, vendors, etc on Twitter for you. All you have to do is follow my lists and I’ll do the work for you.

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