A message saying “If you need help you’re on your own for a while” would rightly panic the community. Public trust would be shaken and the chief would likely be out of a job.  Citizens believe if they are being assaulted an officer should be only seconds, not minutes away. In reality, at the first sign of trouble it takes minutes for officers to arrive. A citizen must first place a call. The dispatcher then gathers the information and places it in a queue with a set priority. Finally, the officer who is assigned the call must decide the best physical route to get to the person who placed the call.  This all takes time; time the citizen did not anticipate, but the offender likely did. Offenders know they have time before responding officers will arrive. They also know the greater the distance between them and the victim, the better chance they have of getting away with the crime. Together, we can now use social media to stop crime before crime happens.

But crime occurring in our communities now goes way beyond the physical realm where someone takes an item or assaults another person. While mail fraud has been around for a long time, crime now occurs at the thickness of a hair and width of a fingernail. Our citizens are connected at the speed of light through fiber optics to people around the world and these connections allow someone to be victimized through long distance contact. We have all seen internet scams that made the news because they were successful. The average citizen needs to know how to protect against crime in the cyber world, and this for us becomes a new responsibility. It is not acceptable for law enforcement agencies to say we can’t protect people, particularly from internet crime. Therefore, our agencies need to understand the different social media platforms not only to fight crime, but to warn against criminal schemes as well as go out to community events and show people how to change the settings on their computers to better protect themselves from being attacked.

Traditional communication methods used between police and citizens are becoming an anachronism.  Our sense of communities has changed. People are as likely to hang out in their cyber neighborhood as they are in their actual neighborhoods. As a force multiplier, social media can significantly impact the treatment of crime in a community. By integrating social media into its overall communications strategy an organization increases its ability to look for crime by the number of observant eyes in the community. The closed minded will argue, “We have been doing this with National Night Out”, or “We use emails to warn the citizens of crime.” As successful as National Night Out has been, look at the number of people who attend versus the number of people who live in the community, and look for way to connect to more people.  By using social media, law enforcement can connect to the people who don’t want or are not able to hang out with their neighbors. But don’t they have a vested interest in improving their communities? Emails do get information out, but it is in real time? Social media platforms can provide real time information to residents on issues and potential treats to their safety better than websites can. Think of a website as a traffic cop directing the person seeking information to the right resource or like a library to give you basic, static information.

Websites can be great as a brochure for your organization, but are hard to use as stand-alone social media platform. There are hundreds of different social media platforms one can use.  Facebook and Twitter can be used as the work horse for immediately connecting people. Police / Community Facebook pages can be used as a posting board for informing people of crime safety tips, any suspicious activities, arrests; or, as a platform for officers and citizens who may infrequently talk in public to discuss their points of views on different issues. Twitter could be used to connect citizens with the beat officers 140 characters at a time. By using the hash tag #Your Neighborhoods Name Here anyone can be instantly alerted to suspicious activities in the area. People can tweet a picture of the activity to officers, dispatchers and the rest of the community. The technologies allow everyone to be a crime fighter in their own way, as part of a neighbor action team or an individual who simply wants to improve their neighborhood. Together, individuals connect with their neighbors and police to create a new definition of community team which interacts face to face and in cyber space.  When thinking about the different uses of social media to improve services an organization is only limited by its imagination and fear of new technology.

It will always take minutes for officers to respond to calls even when seconds count. But we can significantly improve our services by embracing the latest technologies available in social media platforms.  We develop a deeper sense of community by embracing social media as a strategic tool to improve connections between officers and citizens.  Instead of having to say, “When second’s count the police are only seconds away”, it is better to live, “I am one person connected to my community; together, we are one in preventing crime.” Such can be the power of social media.


Sergeant W. Michael Phibbs, Richmond Police

Mike Phibbs has 19 years of police experience. He has received the Police Medal for valor and spent a career developing innovative techniques to improve organizational effectiveness and efficiency.  Mike has created a splash in the public safety community in the past few years. He has authored cutting edge articles on organizational development covering such topics as Sector Policing, Employee Engagement, Chief Score and Organizational Branding in Public Safety. His articles have been published twice by the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, Virginia Center for Police Innovation, and on line magazines, websites and blogs. He helped developed the Pyramid of Performance Factors which show how an organizations structure and individual officers / firefighters emotional commitment combine to impact engagement and performance.   He has taught at the Virginia conference of the International Police Chiefs Association, Mid-Atlantic Fire Chiefs Conference, and been among a hand selected cadre of national leaders to teach at the award winning Virginia Fire Officers Academy. Mikes social media writing is intended to use humorous stories to show how different leadership techniques can make an emotional impact on individuals and then be used to transform organizations.