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Toronto Police use social media to hunt for murderer

Police in Toronto, Ontario (TPS) are looking for a murderer and are currently waging an all-out online effort in social media to find him. When Zabiullah Mojaddedi intervened in a street robbery last month, two men opened fire on him. One arrest has been made. Tristan Lall, 25, was on a lifetime court-ordered ban from firearms. He has been charged with first-degree murder. TPS CrimeStoppers Unit, lead by Constable Scott Mills, is spreading the word with Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

The murder took place in a heavily populated city park, right next to a basketball court. The video above has been posted on YouTube by TPS. In it, Detective Peter Code says, “there’s no doubt in my mind that there’s somebody out there that knows who was with Tristan Lall that evening.”

Anyone with any information is asked to call 416-808-7393 or can leave information anonymously at 416-222-TIPS or 800-222-TIPS or go to www.222tips.com, or by texting TOR and your message to 274637. Twitter is @1800222TIPS, Facebook is www.facebook.com/800222tips

Making the case for using social media tools in policing

The idea of law enforcement agencies using social media tools is catching on, but it’s still a strange thought to many cops who would rather cut off their right arm than admit that they’re a “tweeter”. Social media refers to the Internet-based tools that people use to interact with each other. Most are free to use and they multiply every day. Making sense of all the available tools and methods can seem daunting. But with a little knowledge, a strategy, a department policy and some determination, law enforcement stands to gain significant benefits by putting their departments into the world of Web 2.0. At the end of this article are nine tips that will assure your success.

The Internet and the social media tools that ride on it are making the world smaller. If you let them, they can bring your town right into your backyard. Social media tools are offering PD’s a way to listen to their citizens and hear what’s being said about them and about crime and events. But they’re also offering the ability to shape some of the conversation.

Social media consumers, are super-connected to their worlds and have advanced mobile behavior. Typically, users are in their 30s, read blogs, and are generally very knowledgeable about their worlds. If your PD isn’t as connected to your citizens as you’d like to be, rest assured that your citizens ARE connected to other citizens and all of them are the citizens you want to reach. They’ll spread the word for you (using social media of course) and in the event of an emergency;  the communication of essential information will spread exponentially fast, before any of your local media outlets even realize anything has happened.

One of the best things about these tools is that they cost nothing to use. But don’t get fooled into believing that they really cost nothing. You do have to commit the personnel resources to using them. In fact, the more individuals in the department working them each day, the better results your department will realize.

When one of your officers handles a bad wreck where the driver is way over the limit and obliterates his car around a telephone pole and then tweets a photo of the car with the comment, “I can’t believe this guy survived”, it’ll hit home with local citizens far more quickly than the best M.A.D.D. advertisement because it just happened that minute, in your town, and because your officer thought enough to send the message. THAT is great content. The local news could cover the same story and give it far more than 140 characters and it won’t have the same impact as that tiny little tweet because 1) it’s delayed until news time, 2) it gets buried by the rest of the newscast and 3) it doesn’t have the same credibility that it does when it comes from the real cop on the scene.

If you’re ready to consider implementing a social media plan into your law enforcement agency, please consider these nine tips to get you on the right track:

1.       Have a strategy. Plan which tools (Twitter, Facebook, WordPress, MySpace, Ning, Blip.tv etc.) to use,which units will use them and how they will use them. Determine the people who will be responsible for managing them and decide how you will use the tools to enhance the department’s message and how the tools will feed each other. State your goals and how you expect to know when you’ve achieved what you hope to achieve. Develop a time plan for rolling them out and a plan for how you will get the department up to speed on them.

2.       Create a department policy and encourage other sworn personnel to use them. A social media policy is essential. Your officers need to know that it’s o.k. to be using department-sanctioned social media tools. Also, guidelines need to be put in place for them to understand what’s o.k. and what’s not. Just as important are guidelines within your policy outlining how officers should behave on non-department-sanctioned social media applications.  

3.       Have people to work the tools. The networking tools are free, but someone has to really work these tools to keep your department on people’s minds. Your fans or followers need to know you’re really serious about giving them useful information.  At a minimum, one person overseeing the entire program needs to plan, depending on department size, 1-4 hours per day, spread over the day, including weekends, to monitor and manage the content going through your social media program. That doesn’t necessarily mean that person is the same one who creates all the content. Ideally other officers, at all levels of the organization would be on board to post content.  

4.       It’s really not about the technology. It’s about the content. Just because you read this article or someone else says you need to use Facebook, doesn’t mean you should just jump on board. If you’re not prepared to provide great content regularly, wait until you’re ready.  Just being on any of these platforms isn’t enough. As cool as the technologies are, it always comes back to the content.

5.       Abandon Fear. One of law enforcement’s biggest concerns about social media tools seems to be fear that too much information about the department will get out. By using social media tools you must accept that you want to give your department a voice and be willing to show its personality and culture from the perspective of someone on the inside.  Accept the fact that people will say negative things about your PD, whether within social media or elsewhere. You will get unsolicited feedback, your intentions will be scrutinized; but all that negative activity is going to happen whether you’re using social media or not. By using it, you have the opportunity to shape the conversation and at least see what people are saying with greater acuity than before.

6.       Don’t sign up and walk away. If you create a presence with social media and walk away, it will be more difficult for you to be credible in the future when you try again. Be absolutely certain that you have a plan in place, the resources to make it work and the knowledge required before you get started. The attitude of “build it and they will come” does not work, and nothing will make you look like an amateur more than a Facebook page that hasn’t been updated since the day it was created. If you follow the advice given here, it will work.  

7.       Avoid anonymity. All social media tools are meant to enhance communication between humans. If you set up a Facebook page and post to it as the department, rather than an individually identified officer within the department with some information about him or her in the profile, the content will never be as good as it would be when a real person is standing behind it. Ideally, you’ll get several officers to participate and contribute regularly. Anonymity defeats the purpose. If your department is trying to open communication with citizens, anonymity could backfire. Nothing says you’re unapproachable more than creating a presence online and being unwilling to put a name, preferably several, on your content.

8.       Social media is about two-way communication. All these tools are about people communicating with people. Twitter, especially seems to be prone to law enforcement agencies using it as a one-way communication tool. If you set up an account and get many followers and never follow any back, as many PD’s are doing, you can’t have a conversation, nor can you tap into what they are saying about you. In addition, you’re going to turn a lot of people off.  

9.       If you don’t know where you’re going, don’t go alone. Get advice from other law enforcement agencies or an expert who knows what tools will accomplish your goals. Find somebody who can help you plan, implement and manage your social media program. Provide training for the people in your agency on how to use the tools effectively and encourage them do so.

Social media tools don’t replace anything you’re doing now. Especially with regard to any PR or community outreach initiatives you may have. Be certain that they’re all tied together with your social media efforts; that the messages are saying the same thing and that each enhances the other. Realize also that creating a presence in these areas is just the beginning. It takes time to build a following. Keep focusing on providing stellar content, follow your plan and work it every day, and the rest will fall into place.

For the Toronto Police Service, Twitter makes traffic safer

When Sergeant Tim Burrows, of the Toronto Police Services (TPS), started using Twitter in April, he thought he would be talking solely to the Toronto media. To his pleasant surprise, his twitter efforts caught on with the public. Burrows is in charge of strategic communications and media relations for traffic services unit for the entire city. He now has over 2,300 followers from every continent. Burrows says “I saw the value in Twitter, but I truly didn’t see the value that other people saw in me and what I had to say. At first I guess I was kind of narrow-minded as to what I could do with Twitter.”

Sgt Burrows at the scene of traffic accident in Toronto

Sgt Burrows at the scene of trafficaccident in Toronto

Burrows’ early tweeting activity was to conduct scene management. He would tweet so that the media knew he was aware of a traffic accident, was on his way and would be providing updates. In fact, he credits a local television assignment desk editor with first suggesting he use Twitter to communicate with reporters. He still does scene management for the media, but he also tweets safety messages, tips of the day, and advises the motoring public where traffic enforcement officers will be conducting dedicated enforcement on any given day.

Among the benefits he has experienced are improved community relations, faster notification of traffic accidents and a better educated motoring public.

Interaction between Burrows and citizens over social media is increasing too and that bodes well for community relations. He has a stable of people who retweet his messages so his reach is expanded even further. Additionally, sometimes people ask for advice, send in photos with questions, or they’re angry about something. Burrows finds that getting back to an angry citizen with Twitter works wonders to build a bridge because the person is often happy just to have been heard and receive a response. “People are learning that police are not your enemy, we’re actually here to help keep you alive”.

Burrows’ tweets automatically post to his Facebook page, where he also provides traffic safety advice and posts videos. He also has a traffic services blog to provide expanded observations, “When I say slow down on Twitter, on the blog I can actually tell people why they should slow down”. And of course, he uses Twitter to drive traffic to his blog.

What lies ahead for Burrows and social media? He says the TPS is investigating setting up a Traffic Services TV podcasting channel possibly on Blip.tv or Vimeo or a similar service. He explains, “we will recap major incidents and dissect why an accident happened. If we can explain why, that’ll help people avoid the circumstances so that maybe it won’t happen to them”. Burrows plans to have experts in forensics investigation and reconstruction provide expanded observations.

His mandate was to find every way conceivable to spread the message of traffic safety and to communicate to citizens that it’s a quality of life issue. It’s a mandate he seems to be achieving. While he started with Twitter to talk to the media to help get info to the public, he’s learned very quickly that with much of his information, he can bypass the media and with Twitter actually talk directly to people.

Citizen involvement is key to success of Stolen Bikes Boston social media plan

It’s been just a month and a half since the City of Boston, teamed up with the Boston PD and Stolen Bikes Boston to launch a social media strategy to recover stolen bikes. Just last week, the first bike was recovered through the plan. Postings on Facebook lead to the recovery of the bike in Arlington. Another bike that was stolen from South Station has been reported as being sighted in Roxbury.

The director of this innovative program, Nicole Freedman, says the key is to alert as many people as feasible as soon after the bike is reported stolen as possible. People can choose from three ways to hear about a stolen bike, through Facebook, Twitter or an email list. The notices go out after someone reports their bike as stolen at the website which is stolenbikesboston.com.

Stolen Bikes Boston Twitter Stream, August 26thDown the road, Freedman hopes to be able to hook up with police authorities, such as those at universities and hospitals to recover bikes that are stolen and subsequently dumped and hopefully match them up with their owners. “Believe it or not” says Freedman, “there’s a significant secondary market for higher end bikes that quickly get shipped out of the area for resale elsewhere, often out of the country”. Tracking down those bikes will be challenging.

Additional social media efforts could include a proprietary iPhone application, “It’s something we’re looking at to see if it will help increase amount of bikes that can be returned. That’s our priority. It’s something we may do if we decide it’ll help in that effort.”

Social media is about creating conversations. The Boston Bike program is doing just that. But for the program to achieve real success will require an engaged public to participate by reading at least one of the three informational feeds and then being on the lookout. The alerts go to any citizen who signs up as well as police, bicycle repair shops and others in the cycling community.

So far, the Boston Bikes program has 173 registered users and 66 stolen bikes. To date, 380 people are Facebook fans, there are about 250 followers on Twitter and 50 who have asked for alerts through email. Freedman acknowledges that they’re still pedaling uphill and will continue to until they reach a critical mass of followers. She says, “one thing I know is that there are a lot of people that are coming very regularly to follow the stolen bikes program. It seems to be becoming viral.” Followings are built slowly, once they pass the crest of the hill, it’s certain to pick up steam.

Great Expectations

I received two e-mails this week which highlighted the challenges we are up against in this new age of media. Both people were not pleased with how quickly they received information about crimes reported in our city.

In one case, a subscriber felt she should have been notified about an attempted distraction theft at the mall immediately through the Nixle system.  The second customer was unhappy that he read about a robbery at a local pizza business in the newspaper days after the event. 

In both of the cases mentioned above, we quickly generated news releases within 24 hours of the events, so the natural reaction was to get defensive.  We have really worked hard at being more open and informative.  We have opened up many channels of communication to include crime alerts, offender notifications, interactive mapping, a newsletter, video programming, Nixle, Facebook, Twitter, and blogging.  What more can we do?  

Upon reflection, it’s clear that both cases offered lessons to learn and opportunities for improvement.  To date, we have limited the use of Nixle to primarily real-time and ongoing events (traffic snarls, missing persons, suspect searches, etc.).  We will now expand our use of Nixle to include past events which have obvious public safety implications.  We may do the same with other e-mail databases. 

Given limited resources and an overabundance of information out there, the traditional media will be limited on what they cover and how quickly they do it. These cases highlight the need for us to more effectively drive people to our content.  We will now be posting releases to our site, as opposed to simply sending the information via e-mails to the local media outlets.  We are also working on some other ideas for improving the speed and the quality of content, giving people more reasons to want to visit our site.  

I asked for feedback and I got it.  Keep it coming.

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