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Cops go to the 140conf in L.A. free!

The Twitter 140conference is coming to Los Angeles October 27th an 28th. It’s my understanding that the panel “Three Tweeting Chiefs” is the first time law enforcement has appeared at such a conference. I will moderate the panel with @bocachief, Dan Alexander, Chief at Boca Raton, FL; @acwhitney, Scott Whitney, Assistant Chief at Oxnard, CA; and @chiefstacey, John Stacey, Chief at Bellevue, NE.

140confAs it says on the 140conf website:
At the #140conf events, we look at twitter as a platform and as a language we speak. Over time it will neither be the only platform nor the only language. #140conf is not an event about microblogging or the place where people share twitter “tips and techniques” but rather where we explore the effects of the real-time Internet on Business. (or in this case, law enforcement).

It’s all about the “state of now”. Twitter is really the first application to be real time. The immediacy with Twitter hadn’t ever happened before and really hasn’t been duplicated (yet). I follow +/- 260 police departments on Twitter. Few are really leveraging its capabilities really well. If you’re on Twitter as a PD and you tweet your police blotter once a day, or you tweet once a month, or not at all…. And/or if you don’t follow your citizens… And/or if you tweet as @[insertPDnamehere] without a human name, at least in your profile, you are NOT getting all you can out of the application. Twitter is one-to-one communication. At no time has there been such an opportunity for LE to enhance its brand/reputation, build or improve relationships, increase communication to citizens, recruit and retain good cops, or just show that your officers are – human…. and the list goes on…

Consider attending the 140conference if you’re in the LA area. You’ll hear from all types of organizations and individuals who rock at Twitter. You will surely open your eyes to potential applications in your agency. If you’re a law enforcement officer, send me an email with your name and agency information. Jeff Pulver, the conference organizer has graciously allowed me to bring a “few friends” free of charge. But space is limited. Please use lauri[at]lawscomm[dot]net. O.K., It’s not really free though. If you come, the entrance fee is that you must make sure to say hello (to me).

Data Sharing for Law Enforcement – Is Web 2.0 Appropriate?

Stephen G Serrao

Stephen G Serrao

Back in May, an article for Federal Computer Week entitled, “Intelligence Community Wrestles with Web 2.0 Tools for Information Sharing.” by Alan Joch asked an important question that caught my attention: “Do Web 2.0 technologies, such as blogs and wikis, have the potential to improve data sharing for law enforcement intelligence analysis?”

Such technologies do connect diverse groups and potentially large numbers of participants who might not otherwise work together. Blogs and wikis are relatively quick and easy to launch, and require minimal training for participants. They excel at presenting new, quickly unfolding information. This would be an important advancement if it aids information discoverability.

But wikis and blogs alone can’t adequately solve the discoverability dilemma. There are several key concerns worth discussing from my experience as an intelligence commander, my role designing data sharing systems for law enforcement agencies and Fusion Centers. Ultimately, law enforcement agencies still need to rely on data sharing technologies and information search platforms.

Why? First, Web 2.0 tools can’t be counted on for completeness and reliability of constantly changing information. Unfinished intelligence may be published yet lack significant evaluation by analysts, which is an important step to validating and publishing actionable intelligence. Participation would most likely include only a subset of the intelligence community and might diminish over time.

Also, intelligence data sharing activity must comply with regulations about how an agency stores its intelligence reports, who can see them, and how often they must be reviewed. Modern intelligence software has specific workflows, permissions, and automation to ensure law enforcement officers adhere to these regulations. When it comes to compliance, Web 2.0 tools lack these specific refinements and crucial automation. As privacy concerns grow, groups like the ACLU are watching for examples of non-compliance.

Web 2.0 tools seem to work best for connecting people and ideas-not data. And connecting people isn’t necessarily the answer for information sharing in law enforcement. Many believe police need to move beyond the practice of relying on personal relationships to make progress on an investigation.

Lastly, the sheer amount of data that could hold relevant clues is too large for any one person to digest, so while Web 2.0 interactions might help, they don’t leverage the untapped potential of data we don’t even know we have.

As an example, when an analyst is searching for records of a gang member with a particular tattoo, that query needs to be run against data warehouses to find long-forgotten, free-text narratives contained in intelligence and/or incident reports. Discovering relationships takes processing power and capabilities, such as “unstructured free text data search,” to find useful information buried deep in a “comment” field in far-flung law enforcement databases. Searching unstructured free text data requires specialized software, but it solves a major problem of finding leads when you don’t know where to look.

While Web 2.0 may give law enforcement officials useful new ideas and establish social connections that didn’t exist before, a specialized information sharing platform is still law enforcement’s best intelligence tool to assess threats and fight crime.

Captain Stephen G. Serrao (New Jersey State Police,  retired) is Director of Product Management, Americas Region, for Memex, Inc. Serrao can be reached at steve.serrao@memex.com.

Three steps almost every Law Enforcement agency should consider for a better Twitter presence

It’s called social media for a reason:

I’m working on a study of hundreds of law enforcement agencies on Twitter and a few things are jumping right out of the pile. By looking only at Twitter this go-round, I have these three observations and suggestions for how police agencies can improve their Twitter presence immediately.

TwitterThree steps every Law Enforcement agency can take to have a better presence on Twitter

1)      Follow people back

2)      Don’t set up an account and walk away

3)      Don’t be anonymous, put a name and a face on your tweets

Let me explain…..

Follow people back. Twitter is about human to human interaction. An account set up that only follows other police departments or worse, no one at all, does nothing to encourage interaction. At the very least, follow the people in your community, both geographically and those in the community with similar interests as yours (like me, ahem). If your agency doesn’t want to follow people back because it only wants to send out communications, you can use different tools to accomplish that. Nixle, for example, is a free tool for one-to-many communication. The company will verify your agency so that people who sign up for alerts know they’re really coming from the police. You send an alert, your citizens receive it however they’ve elected to receive it, and that’s it.

Don’t set up an account and walk away. I’m really surprised at the number of departments who have tweeted absolutely nothing or who haven’t tweeted since they first set up the account, many months prior. They would be better served to delete the account and get back into Twitter when they have the strategy and the resources to manage it properly. Nothing screams “we don’t have a clue what we’re doing” better than an account that’s produced no activity.

Don’t be anonymous, put a name and a face on your tweets. Police departments already have a problem with coming across as unapproachable. Because of the authority the job represents, cops sometimes seem scary and distant. If a department starts a Twitter account with only the department name, regardless of what tweets are sent, it’s reinforcing that inapproachability. When tweets go out from @policedeptnamehere, without any other identifier, it feels cold. Twitter is supposed to be friendly.

All three of these things are clues that the department didn’t think through, at least not enough, its social media strategy before jumping in. If the President is coming to town and your department is providing the motorcade, you wouldn’t wing it. Hours of preparation are completed in advance. If there’s a barricaded gunman in your city, the SWAT team doesn’t just show up and fly into action without leadership and direction. It’s the same with social media. Using social media tools are far less critical and dramatic of course. But like anything else, they’re exponentially more effective if they’re employed properly with forethought and a plan.

One department with which I’m very familiar is right on target with all three points. Check out the Bellevue Police Department’s twitter stream on its website homepage. Bellevue PD doesn’t have a lot of followers, but it follows back anybody who looks like they’re in the Bellevue/Omaha area. Since setting up the account they’ve had several active tweeters in the department. And, perhaps most importantly, each officer tweets with his real name (rank+lastname) and then those tweets are retweeted into the official police stream, which is posted on its homepage. So followers know there’s a real, named person behind each message. Citizens can follow @bellevuepolice, and/or if they like the individual officers too. The tweeters are made up of mostly sergeants, lieutenants, the captain and the chief, with a few officers as well.

So far we don’t know about any major crimes in Bellevue being solved because of Twitter, but the department has received a very positive reaction from the public who has commented on Twitter about how hard-working and diligent their officers are. Because the Bellevue cops tweet about arrests they’re making, as well as what they do on their day off or humorous items, they’ve made strides in coming across as friendly, and real, live, humans.

These are only suggestions. Truth is, I commend any agency who is braving the new frontier of social media in any way. I welcome your thoughts, here on this blog, or by emailing me separately at lauri@lawscommunications.net.

Disclaimer: The Bellevue Police Department is a LAwS client.

Condoms and Twitter, dubious crime-fighting tools

Note: I’ve been writing a lot about the Toronto Police Service lately and thought I should diversify a bit. But, I’ve decided I’m going to go ahead and write more about TPS for several reasons: 1) TPS has many great success stories about their use of social media 2) they don’t seem to mind telling me about them, and 3) because THIS story absolutely astounds me…


Most of our major “news” is derived from our press releases or from our daily blotter, a synopsis of activity from the previous day or weekend.  The releases and the blotter have been sent to various media outlets, previously by fax, but recently by e-mail.

As I mentioned in the Great Expectations piece, at the Boca Raton Police Services Department, we continue to adapt our communication strategy to improve the flow of information and to meet customer demands.  Recently, we decided to make our press releases immediately available to the public, instead of sending copies to the media and posting the releases online at a later time.  We have also increased the speed at which information is released through Nixle and Twitter. 

These changes caught the interest of a local television news outlet and they came to do a story on our use of social media.  I think it was a great piece because it covered some of the tools we are using.  However, the comments about bypassing the media “screening” process were important, because it illustrated what I believe to be a key issue surrounding the use of social media by law enforcement.  Check out the article and video here http://bit.ly/25g7U.

What is interesting about the reaction was that we didn’t change the information we released.  We simply changed the timing relative to when the public receives the information.  In this age of transparency, I think increased public access is a good thing. 

However, Mr. Brosemer has a valid point about the other elements of our communication strategy and social media elements.  We are writing our own stories and creating our own news, using social media to reach a wider audience and, in some ways, creating our own spin.  Why?  Because we can and we should. 

Because of economic conditions and the explosive growth of social media, we certainly do not enjoy the media coverage we used to get.  The local outlets do not have the resources they used to have and they are not interested in many of the items we think may be useful to our customers. 

I do not believe our constituents are mindless drones.  They are perfectly capable of drawing their own conclusions about our stories and our spin.  The beauty of our system of government coupled with the application of social media is the two-way nature of the communication.  If someone doesn’t like what we are doing (social media or otherwise), I’ll hear about it.  As we have demonstrated already, we are not afraid to identify shortcomings and make changes.

Mark made an important point at the end of the Channel 5 piece.  We, in no way, are trying to bypass the traditional media.  Our social media elements provide yet another layer and function as a resource to them as well.  I think the media will play a valuable role in this debate.  More is good.  Let me know what you think.

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