Police officers internationally are becoming more connected with the people they serve and with their colleagues around the world. Public perception is that law enforcement has magical 007-like dashboards at their fingertips that connect a police officer to any another police officer anywhere in the world in a millisecond. It would be nice if it worked that way, but it doesn’t. The perception that it DOES work that way both hurts law enforcement because the citizenry thinks it works that way, and it helps law enforcement because the citizenry thinks it works that way.

While sophisticated international communication systems do exist through Interpol and other groups; grass-roots connections are being made, where else but on open-source platforms like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube and in some cases, special platforms designed specifically for law officers.

The number of law enforcement agencies that use social media is still in growth stages, but many agencies are doing incredible work in leveraging social media to engage and connect with citizens, and to prevent and solve crime. Agencies the world over are finding they have less money with which to operate and yet are expected to do more and more. Use of open source technology is helping with that by making law enforcement more efficient. And some of what’s happening with social media is not just innovative but is truly revolutionary.

And so the advent of the ConnectedCOPS Awards, designed to honor and acknowledge the law enforcement professionals who are the visionaries. These are the pioneers who may have taken a “few arrows in the back”; these are the men and women who work day in and day out to give their communities fantastic police service and these are the law officers who are profoundly changing their profession.

2012 is the first year of the ConnectedCOPS Awards. There are six categories, and they are 1) Excellence at a Small Agency, 2) Excellence at a Large Agency, 3) Social Media Investigator, 4) Social Media Incident Management, 5) Social Media Top Cop, and 6) Social Media Leadership. The descriptions and criteria for each award can be found at www.connectedcops.net/connectedcopsawards.

On September 11th, at The SMILE Conference™ (SMILE=Social Media the Internet and Law Enforcement) in Richmond, VA, six stellar law officers and agencies from four countries were awarded the ConnectedCOPS Award for excellence in use of open source technology. Eighty-three nominations from eight countries were received. A panel of eleven international judges whittled each category down to six sets of finalists from six countries, the finalists had been announced in July. These are the stories of their accomplishments that will set the bar going forward.

And the winners are:

Excellence at a Small Agency: Redwood City Police Department, California, US
All three finalists were from the United States in this category. Representing both coasts, they included Billerica Police in Massachusetts and Redwood City Police and Redlands Police in California.

Sgt Rhonda Leipelt and Officer Chris Rasmussen, Redwood City Police

After a lengthy but healthy debate, the judges determined that Redwood City Police was the leader in the small agency category. Redwood City began using social media early in 2011. Its volunteer team is made up of police employees with very diverse backgrounds that range from Spanish-speakers, sworn officers, dispatchers and civilian secretaries all with the driving goal of pushing out timely information to residents through a variety of different formats. RPD started their program with basic Twitter and Facebook feeds that were fully embraced by residents and City Council. RPD then employed NIXLE to ensure that press-releases and formal content were issued via a secure mechanism.

Together with the Fremont Police Department, Redwood City created the Bay Area Law Enforcement Social Media Group (BALESMG) to help other government groups create best practices. The group now has over 50 agency members from five counties that meet quarterly. The judges admired RPD’s leadership and mentoring of its sister agencies.

Redwood City is also the first police department in the country to implement “Live Guide” a video chat system that puts citizens in direct contact via video with a uniformed police officer.

The Redwood City Police Department is also fortunate to have strong support for social media use from the Chief of Police. “Social media reaches deep in to the daily lives of the public. It would be negligent for the police not to make use of this avenue to reach the people that we are empowered to serve,” said Redwood City Police Chief JR Gamez, and added “Meeting the public where they live, on Nixle, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, is having an effect similar to putting officers in communities on foot patrol, it creates a partnership. This partnership is having a profoundly positive effect on how the Redwood City Police Department conducts the business of law enforcement.”

The Billerica Police Department has focused on increased community engagement with social media. Residents report being well-informed by the BPD and to feeling safer knowing “what and where things are happening”. BPD not only uses social media to keep residents informed of everything from road closures to criminal activity, but their program has also been integral during community emergencies such as winter storms.

Redlands Police primarily uses, and was instrumental in developing, Copbook into its knowledge management program. Copbook is a secure, encrypted, law enforcement only application using architecture similar to that which is used by U.S. intelligence service analysts and allows department members to communicate within the agency and with other agencies. It is the backbone for RPD’s knowledge management program to Capture, Use, Share and Increase what its members know about local crime and disorder issues.

Excellence at a Large Agency: New South Wales, Australia Police Force
The three finalists in this category were Reykjavik Metropolitan Police, Iceland; Toronto Police Service, Canada; and New South Wales Police, Australia.

The judges were highly impressed with Reykjavik Police’s ability to engage its community. In a city of 120,000, more than 22,000 people have connected with them on Facebook. Their approach is a grass-roots program of interaction and engagement few, if any, have managed to achieve.

The Toronto Police Service has been recognized as a global leader integrating social media into policing and is currently rolling out a comprehensive program across all 17 Divisions and 9 Community Consultative Groups of the Service. Contrary to most police agencies’ philosophy, TPS is also empowering hundreds of its officers to represent the Service in an official capacity.

Chief Inspector Josh Maxwell, New South Wales Police

Although the judges concurred it wasn’t an easy decision, the eminent choice was New South Wales Police. Chief Inspector Josh Maxwell is the champion of the Project ‘eyewatch’ program. He explained that the ‘eyewatch’ concept is about penetrating into and engaging the community to identify problems and work on a whole of community solution. “In policing terms, this enhances our ability to environmentally scan our communities. In layman’s terms it is simply ensuring that local police have the ‘vibe’ of the community and are in touch with its needs and issues.” Maxwell said NSW Police are now in the process of building an audience for the ease of dissemination of information for:

• Crime Prevention
• Crime Detection
• Emergency Management
• Crisis Management
• Counter Terrorism Management

Maxwell accepted the award on behalf of the Government of NSW and the NSW Police force, “It is fantastic recognition of the commitment of the project team, our Crime Prevention Officers and the wonderful work of our civilian eyewatch precinct coordinators across our state. More importantly the award recognizes the outstanding support of our community in engaging with their police.”

Project ‘eyewatch’ now has 100 active Facebook Pages for local commands and specialist command areas and 192 closed groups for its online neighborhood watch community.

Social Media Investigator: Detective Ian Barraclough, Vancouver, Canada, Police Department

The field of three finalists included Detective Mark Fenton, Vancouver Police; Detective Ian Barraclough also from Vancouver Police; and Detective Patricia van Dalen, Dutch Police, The Hague.

Detective Constable Ian Barraclough, Vancouver Police Department

Detective Barraclouch was the stand out candidate and received the ConnectedCOPS Award for his work leveraging the investigative training he received from the FBI, which lead to the arrest of several pedophiles and child pornographers. Detective Barraclough is an Internet-based investigator with the Vancouver Police Department. He works closely with the FBI, DHS and the US State Department. His work in social media has netted terrorists, money-launderers and even an Occupy protester who threatened a U.S. politician.

The ConnectedCOPS Social Media Investigator Award is sponsored by LexisNexis. Susan Crandall, Director of Law Enforcement Marketing for LexisNexis Risk Solutions. Crandall also served as a judge for the awards. She said that Detective Constable Ian Barraclough is being awarded the ConnectedCOPS award for his initiative in using social media to help in the investigative process. “Detective Constable Barraclough has been successful in not only using social media to apprehend pedophiles and prevent the distribution of child pornography, but also working across borders with U.S. federal agencies and state jurisdictions. We are proud to honor Detective Constable Barraclough and thank him for his dedication to public safety.”

Barraclough is now a finalist for the annual ‘LexisNexis One Step Closer’ award, which recognizes innovative use of open source intelligence to further investigations, to be presented during the annual International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in October.
Detective Mark Fenton, also of Vancouver Police, used a sophisticated combination of investigative instinct, technical expertise with open source technologies and social engineering to identify and locate an emotionally disturbed person in a complex case where he eventually determined that the suspect was suffering from “Munchausen by Internet”. The disorder is characterized by a behavioral pattern of seeking attention by feigning illnesses in online venues to deceive others by portraying themselves as gravely ill. In this case, the suspect was a Canadian living in New Zealand. Detective Fenton is a Constable with the Vancouver Police Department.

Detective Patricia Van Dalen is an investigator with the Dutch Police (The Hague) who specializes in forensic Internet research in the area of online human behavior. In addition to her work and contribution to that of other investigators, she is currently developing a project in Digital Crime Profiling with scientists at the University of Maastricht, the Netherlands organization for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), a Dutch public prosecutor and tactical investigators.

Social Media Leadership: Constable Scott Mills, Toronto, Canada Police Service

Constable Scott Mills, Toronto Police Service

Constable Mills is known throughout the world for his unabashed social media style. He works relentlessly to integrate social media into all operational areas of policing, always pushing the envelope to such a point they say he keeps his Chief awake at night. He’s been known to scare some of his colleagues with his forward-thinking methods that run directly counter to policing’s long-standing culture of hierarchy, information hoarding, and chain of command. But his commitment to the police mantra “to serve and protect” is legendary in social media circles.

Deputy Chief Constable Gordon Scobbie, one of the ConnectedCOPS Award judges, presented the award to Mills. He said he was struck by the global talent at all levels of policing and law enforcement in the social media space who all truly want to make a difference.

“However, Scott stands above anyone else I know, regardless of rank and role, in his ability to harness traditional policing skills and social media,” said Scobbie. “But on top of this and what really sets him apart is his genuine compassion for people which drives Scott to do the most extraordinary things. I have been in a restaurant with him at 9pm when he responded to a young person in crisis threatening suicide thousands of miles away on another continent. Scott puts others before himself and that’s what really sets him apart. He is an emotional guy who wears his heart on his sleeve but that just adds to the overall qualities which made him a clear winner in what was an outstanding field,” he added.

A true pioneer, Mills is lauded largely for his work with youth. He possesses an uncanny ability to connect with at-risk kids and even gang members through his mantra of “building relationships with technology”. Mills is known as @GraffitiBMXCop, a name that combines his two passions of connecting with youth who paint Graffiti, and BMX bike riders. Mills’ work is known to have saved lives and prevent crime.

The largest category, this award received 23 nominations for 21 officers. The award was given to an officer of Sergeant rank or lower. One of five finalists, Mills was in great company with fellow Canadian Sergeant Jay Turner of the Hamilton Police and three outstanding British colleagues: Sergeant Rob Sutton, Portsmouth City Central Police, Portsmouth, Hampshire, UK; Constable Ed Rogerson, Harrogate Police, North Yorkshire, UK and Special Constable Tom Stirling of the North Yorkshire Police, UK.

Jay Turner is known for his engaging ways in social media. As part of the Hamilton Police Service’s ACTION Team, Turner mentors others and has been called “fearless” in his work with social media, especially Twitter to engage community.

Ed Rogerson of North Yorkshire Police is said to be the first UK police officer to use social media. He started in 2008. “Under the radar” in the beginning, his work has been emulated by many forces internationally. He is the most followed officer in the UK on Twitter.

Tom Stirling’s accomplishments are vast but he is known to have taught himself to program in order to create a mobile phone app for his the North Yorkshire Police at no cost. Stirling’s work has garnered him numerous UK-based awards.

Rob Sutton at the Hampshire Constabulary is known for being informational and friendly. Sutton is credited for developing the Twitter mascot “Ninah” and using games and humor to reach kids through his “Ninah says” campaigns.

Social Media Top Cop: Deputy Chief Constable Gordon Scobbie, Tayside Police Force, Scotland

Deputy Chief Constable Gordon Scobbie, Tayside Police Force, Scotland

In addition to judging the awards, Deputy Chief Constable Scobbie was also named Top Cop by his fellow judges. {Note: Scobbie was not a judge for his own award, nor was he privy to the nomination content or discussion.) The Top Cop award considered nominations for Lieutenants (or its international equivalent) and above. It was a hotly contested field of four finalists including Deputy Chief Peter Sloly, Toronto Police, Canada; Stuart Hyde, Chief Constable, Cumbria Police, UK and Inspector Henk Van Der Linden, Rotterdam Police, Netherlands. Scobbie was named Top Cop because of his inspirational global leadership for social media in policing.

Gordon Scobbie serves as UK Policing’s national social media lead, an appointment made by the Association of Chiefs of Police Officers. In that role he has mentored his executive-level colleagues in the United Kingdom and around the world. He has also acted globally by working as the social media ambassador to police leadership, speaking at international police events all over North America and Europe.

Scobbie was among the first very few executive police officers in the world to accept social media’s inevitable impact on professional policing. He keynoted the first SMILE Conference in Washington, D.C. in 2010 and spoke, even then, of the importance of engagement and the relationship between public outreach and solving and preventing crime. Scobbie daily gives of his time and wisdom to help his colleagues learn to also lead with open source technologies and to accept “what they don’t know” about social media in order to better embrace input. His is one of the lone voices to stress engagement over all else in order to also realize the full potential of social media in policing.

Peter Sloly is Deputy Chief of the Toronto Police was among the earliest of adopters of open source technology into law enforcement. Sloly attended the first SMILE Conference in Washington, D.C. in 2010 and went from beginner to power-user in short order. Sloly is said to “walk the talk” and has lead the Toronto Police Service to be considered among the best in the world with social media. He leads up and down to create an atmosphere of openness, and encourages all to participate in a Service of 8,000 members.

As Chief of Police at Cumbria Police, Stuart Hyde has lead the Cumbria Constabulary’s social media program to be among the finest in the UK. Chief Hyde is the President of the Society for the Policing of Cyberspace, Vice-President of the High Tech Crime Consortium and was instrumental in the creation of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP). CC Hyde gives regularly of his time to support charities including the Blue Lamp Foundation, Marie Collins Foundation and regularly jumps into very cold water to support Comic Relief and Sport Relief.

Inspector Henk van der Linden of the Rotterdam Police is a strong force in the strategic use of social media in policing in the Netherlands. As a project manager for the Rotterdam Police, he is an innovative and inspired leader and from that he was a leader in the adoption of social media by the Dutch Police. He is the co-founder of the “9 domains of social media”, a program being used as a guideline for the use of social media in law enforcement for the Dutch police and elsewhere. Because of his incredible work, the Dutch police are considered a European front-runner in social media and policing.

Social Media Incident Management Award: Queensland, Australia Police Service

The three finalists in this category were the Los Angeles County Sheriffs’ Department, in California; the Queensland Police in Australia and New South Wales Police, also of Australia. All three finalists accomplished greatness through engagement and collaboration with community and public and private partnerships.

Kym Charlton, Queensland Police Service

Queensland Police came on out top because of its incredible work when Cyclone Tasha made landfall on Christmas Eve 2010 triggering flash floods that caused at least 22 people to lose their lives. With 90% of Queensland declared a disaster, the QPS social media strategy focused crucially on public communications and community engagement issues. Queensland has 5 million inhabitants in an area roughly double the size of Texas.

During a crucial 24-hour time period, the QPS Facebook “likes” went from 23,000 to 165,000. At the peak of the disaster, government agencies and traditional media were all pointing residents to the QPS Facebook Page as the official source for emergency information, which caused the Page to receive a record 39 million story views in 24 hours, the equivalent of 450 hits per second.

The Director of the QPS Communications Team is Kym Charlton. She said the quick work by QPS resulted in the QPS Facebook Page “becoming the de facto central hub for information during the crisis.” In addition to using Facebook, QPS streamed press conferences and archived them on YouTube and used social media to dispel rumor reported in traditional media. “This categorical deflation of rumors saw misinformation disappear almost as quickly as it appeared, and reduced panic within the community. Major news organizations retracted headlining news stories from their websites within minutes,” she said.

The Los Angeles County Sheriffs’ Department was a close contender because of its use of social media during one of the largest joint agency manhunts in Los Angeles County history when looking for a serial arsonist during the 2011/2012 Christmas and New Year’s holiday season. LASD lead the way to join its efforts with the Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles Fire Department, Los Angeles County Fire Department, and members of the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. With the moniker “ArsonWatchLA” they used Twitter, Facebook and Nixle to inform the public and zero in on the suspect.

The New South Wales Police also did remarkable work with social media during the 2 months of flooding in 2012. With its “Project eyewatch” program NSW police disseminated information about road closures, river levels, water storage and dam levels. The Project eyewatch team created a range of warning notices on a regular basis. These posts were sourced from trusted government websites. This information, along with police information was disseminated across the affected areas during the 2 months of flooding. Community pages and groups were able to source this information and share this across the affected areas.

Connecting Cops and Defining Future Police Endeavors

Joseph Porcelli is Director of Engagement Services at GovDelivery and GovLoop. Porcelli also judged the awards in three categories. He called the awards a crucial contribution toward acknowledging the substantial achievements the policing profession has made with social media. “LAwS Communications through the ConnectedCOPS Awards has filled the needed gap to recognize the contributions made by law enforcement organizations and individuals” he said and added, “up until now they have not received the credit they deserve.”

We have set the bar, and we have set it high. Hopefully, we have also learned that some very extraordinary police officers are doing some equally extraordinary police work, and perhaps they’re doing it in places where we don’t necessarily tend to look. We are also connecting cops from the far reaches of the world to one another, and only good can come from that.

Disclaimer: The ConnectedCOPS™ Awards were created and produced by LAwS Communications. Lauri Stevens, the author of this article, is the founder of LAwS Communications. Employees of LAwS Communications were not eligible to judge the ConnectedCOPS Awards.