John W. Stacey is the Chief of Police in Bellevue, Nebraska. The Bellevue Police Department is widely recognized as a premier example of a connected agency. Chief Stacey leadership is this regard has been key to the department’s success. Stacey will present his vision on the management of the use of social media in policing in his presentation “Managing the Connected Agency” on Wednesday, March 24th at ILEA’s “Leadership in a Cyberworld” Conference.
Why would a Midwestern police agency feel the need to get involved in electronic social media? What possible value could come to an agency that spends time and resources on a program that seem vastly separated from the normal nuts and bolts of a Law Enforcement Agency from a region of agriculture and wide open spaces.
The City of Bellevue Nebraska is directly in the cross hairs of America, bordering on the State of Iowa. When you picture Nebraska, do you think of Cowboys on horseback, cornfields, cattle ranches, etc.? In some parts of our country it is believed we are still at war with the native Americans. In actuality, this is a bustling metro-area of over 1 million. Home of Gerald Ford, Mutual of Omaha, Union Pacific Railroad, Henry Doorly Zoo, STRATCOM, Malcolm X, Johnny Carson, and Larry the Cable Guy, just to name a few.
Being a true hub of diversity, electronic media is essential. Newspapers, radio, TV are slowly being replaced by the Internet and like forms of electronic media. In the not too distant past, most of the population got their news either from the newspapers, Radio, or TV. Now, the norm is to get your information electronically off the internet.
This route, the social media freight train, has left us three choices: 1. Let it continue without us. 2. Watch it go by as it runs over us, or 3. Get on it and enjoy the ride.
Responsible Law Enforcement Agencies understand that we are a business of providing information. To be effective, we must be able to correspond to all portions of the community regularly. This route, the social media freight train, has left us three choices: 1. Let it continue without us. 2. Watch it go by as it runs over us, or 3. Get on it and enjoy the ride. Obviously if you plan to communicate with your entire community you should already be in your seat. At the Bellevue Police Department, we’ve been enjoying the ride with our foray into the world of social media.
Adopting social media does not come easy, nor does it come without some type of cost. Generational issues truly highlight the separation in the workforce. Just like the community, closing that gap is insurmountable for most who hail to the traditionalists or baby boomer generation. It is doable, but requires considerable patience and leeway from managers, along with extra time resources that will invite and not discourage involvement in social media. On top of that, is the long standing practice of coveting information that is given to a police officer and not to share it with anyone. From the Academy to retirement, this is the rule. The lesson of obtaining as much information as possible from all sorts of sources, protect it, bring it back, and never ever share it as it does not belong to you. The ultimate challenge begins here. Developing techniques that allows for a loosening of the information accountability while training all generations on the benefits of structured social media. Patience, flexibility and an open mind is a requirement for everyone, including management. Once a basic understanding is achieved, open discussion between the active communicators and those who are new to the concept begin.
Adherence to department policy now becomes critical. Again, the policy needs definitive boundaries on what is unacceptable with enough built in flexibility not to scare off well- meaning officers, but with boundaries that will keep them out of trouble. Our approach was a simple 1.5 page policy accompanied by a mandatory training outline that required every supervisor to review with each employee. The information contained in the outline serves 2 purposes:
1. Staff is responsible for all the information both in the policy and;
2. It gives clarification and concise direction on how to interpret the policy.
This assists staff with the capability of further refining the policy based on the type of feedback from the questions posed. With such a new concept, discussions are important to ensure a holistic understanding of principles. For example, an officer must protect personal information by keeping his or her personal site separated from public access. Data such as phone numbers, family information, detailed personal history do not need to be accessible to those with criminal intent. On that same token, it must be fully understood that what is posted the officer is responsible for and it will be a permanent record, somewhere. Have a basic understanding of copyright laws, know the boundaries of ownership and follow them.
Most important, make clear this is an extremely fast growing and evolving area and policy and procedures will have to be fluid as they change to keep up. Good common sense is the foundation for most decisions that arise that are not found in policy. Access to a supervisor or commander when the decision gets too grey must be attainable at any time.
Finally, don’t force anyone, give them the boundaries and freedom and let them go. Lets face it, we give them a gun and the right to take someone’s freedom away at a moments notice, give them the capability to work through this.