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…
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
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.”
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.
As more police departments join social media networks it’s clear to observers like myself which ones really “get it” as a department. Many individual cops tweet and have Facebook pages. But, when a department is on social media and does it well, more often than not, the chief tweets and has a keen understanding at least, of the potential value of the tools. In order for the agency to gain the credibility it would need to achieve success, the top brass needs to not only buy in but also communicate their approval and encourage their officers to participate.
In Oxnard, California, Assistant Chief of Police Scott Whitney led his department’s charge into the world of social networking. Whitney says a friend who plays poker and follows the game on Twitter, explained to him how it works and Whitney immediately saw the value to law enforcement. He’s optimistic about the value especially to his SRO, narcotics, crime prevention, and sex crimes units. Whitney got the Chief, his PIO, and his nine beat commanders to sign up, and he tweets too.
When the movement starts at the top, it’s more likely, although not necessarily a given, that the department has a plan for social media or some sort of vision. But, in some cases, it takes one or two progressively-minded officers to take things into their own hands to demonstrate to the command-types the value the new media offer. That’s what’s happening at Toronto Police Services.
Constable Scott Mills and Sergeant Tim Burrows are two very forward-thinking officers in Toronto. They each took to social media to further their separate professional causes. Mills is a CrimeStoppers and Youth Officer, while Burrows is responsible for communicating everything that’s traffic safety related for the entire city. Burrows says it didn’t take long for him to realize that traditional media was too big and too slow, “where with social media I can drive my message to so many people, so that was a really easy avenue for me to attack on.”
His efforts, as well as Mills’ haven’t gone unnoticed. They both have support from their commanders. As Burrows points out they’ve earned their supervisors’ trust, “we haven’t done anything controversial or outside the boundaries”. Their Public Information Office works closely with both officers. Meaghan Gray is the Assistant Director of the PIO. She says the department would probably be dealing with social networking even if Mills and Burrows didn’t lead the way, but it helps that they did. Gray says, “I think the Service recognizes what they’ve been doing, the benefits and positive responses, not just for their own programs but the benefits to the Service as a whole. Cleary what they do has an impact on the rest of the Service.” Gray adds that the Toronto Police Service is currently figuring out where social networking fits within its communication strategy and how to move forward. The Toronto CHief and his Command officers have expressed their support of its PIO to explore the ways in which the Service can use social networking tools for official police business.
However an agency gets into social networking, the sooner the commanders are on board, the better. Mills and Burrows are lucky, not to mention smart, and they were in the right positions to leverage the tools. They’ve managed to garner their commanders’ support through the backdoor.
Scott Whitney is sold on the value of social media. He’s ready to let all 238 sworn officers in Oxnard on Twitter. He said there isn’t one officer in Oxnard that he wouldn’t welcome on Twitter, to tweet on behalf of the department. He adds that his Chief would agree. Whitney says, “We trust our officers. We give them guns, tasers, batons, why wouldn’t we give them Twitter? We hire people of good character. Every now and then we might make a mistake, but we’ll correct it when and if we do.” The biggest mistake may be not participating at all.
On Twitter, Mills is @1800222tips, Burrows is @trafficservices, Whitney is @acwhitney
As originally published on the Facebook Blog on August 4th, 2009.
Constable Scott Mills has served as a police officer with the Toronto Police Service in Canada since 2002. His current role is Community Youth Officer for the Toronto Crime Stoppers program, where he works to build healthy relationships between young people, community members and the police department. We’ve asked Scott to share his experiences using Facebook to fight crime by connecting with the community.
There’s no doubt that Facebook has revolutionized the act of sharing and communicating with friends. Often overlooked, however, is the impact these tools can have on public safety. Because community engagement is critical to effective law enforcement, police officers must be where the people are, and these days, the people are on Facebook.
For the last two years, I have used my Facebook account, as well as Facebook groups, events and Pages, to inform Toronto residents about crimes in their area and encourage them to provide anonymous tips. Messages can be broadcast quickly and easily to wide audiences with immediate feedback. Outreach through Facebook has helped Toronto Crime Stoppers sniff out threats against local schools, bring much needed help to people at risk of committing suicide, warn the public about criminals on the loose and even locate missing persons.
In addition to enabling us to gather tips more efficiently and effectively, Facebook also has helped us build a stronger, more meaningful connection with the community we serve. My department runs programs aimed at keeping kids off the street and away from trouble. These programs include presentations at local schools, Bicycle Moto-Cross (BMX) camps, legal graffiti competitions and dance contests. Through photos, videos, and links, Facebook has allowed us to promote these programs to those who need them most and hopefully leading to fewer people getting involved with crime because of boredom or lack of options.
I’m proud of the work we’ve done and passionate about the potential for tools like Facebook to aid law enforcement. Policymakers and police officers from around the world still have a lot to learn about how to use social media to build connections to enlist the public in preventing and solving crimes, but police departments in cities around the world are starting to take notice. Last fall, at a conference hosted by the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) in Johannesburg, South Africa, the group’s Secretary General Ronald K. Noble said:
People routinely use the Internet to find former classmates or individuals with similar interests…. there is no reason why law enforcement should not use this same resource to find fugitives or encourage members of the public to use social networking sites to report sightings of criminals.
Recently, police departments — in municipalities as large as Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada and as small as Brunswick, Maine in the U.S. — have created presences on Facebook to communicate more efficiently with the public. I’m happy to see this trend develop across Canada and around the world, including in the U.S. where the municipality of Boston is now using social media to track down stolen bikes. We’ll continue to work hard to make sure law enforcement is taking full advantage of today’s communication tools. All of us can do our part by using the Internet not just to keep up with friends but also to help keep our communities safe.