Police Department as Media Platform

It's little wonder that so many law enforcement commanders want their employees to avoid using social media. After all, social use, publicly sharing fact and opinion, effectively makes you a member of the media.

In a police context: You think the state department of transportation might have ideas on engineering solutions, so you ask the city web designer to put together a form for citizens to submit their experiences—either as drivers on Main St., or as people who had to wait for a police response to a call for service. At the end of each weekly blog post, as well as during a TV news interview, you encourage citizens to visit the department website and fill out this form.

Engagement. “Organizations can be assured that, whatever level of transparency they feel they’ve achieved, the public generally thinks of government bodies as impenetrable mysteries,” Bailie continued. “Encouraging engagement means presenting content that presents opportunities to get involved, at opportune places on the site [and beyond].”

In a police context: The responses to your form contain some interesting insights. You now plan to use them, along with statistics about the top three causes of Main St. collisions, to design a community education campaign. You'll work with business owners as well as with the transportation department and the media to help drivers understand the traffic patterns, and what they need to watch out for to keep themselves and each other safe.

Ultimately, wrote Bailie, “The decision of whether or not to engage with a government organization is a choice on the part of the constituent; providing that opportunity is the responsibility of the organization.”

… but account for the hidden costs

Another expert content marketer, Valeria Maltoni, has written about what it takes to form an online community apart from Facebook, Twitter and other third-party social networks:

  • “practical work to integrate the new technology into existing tools
  • develop content that maps to customer needs and serves the organization
  • moderation work to facilitate conversations and information exchanges -- even more important than connecting customers to the company, it's connecting them to each other. This will begin to foster greater engagement.
  • formalization of a process to start documenting guidelines”

But because law enforcement agencies are using content and social media to build community offline—to inspire and empower citizens to help police solve problems in their own communities—Maltoni's list holds true for more than the online community.

In our above example, what the traffic division lieutenant is doing takes a lot of initiative. You have to:

  • Collect the statistics and then package them in a way that will make sense to the public.
  • Design your web form to collect the right kind and amount of data without scaring citizens into thinking you're tracking them somehow.
  • Collect and organize the data into something that you can use.
  • Present an education plan to the business owners and the media that not only makes sense, but also inspires them to become part of the solution.

Is it costlier to take this course of action, than it is to leave the status quo? Remember that the cost to your agency's reputation can be as significant as the budgetary impact. True community policing requires leadership, an up-front investment of time and resources that you can scale down as citizens begin to take more responsibility for their own public safety.


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About The Author:

Christa M. Miller is a freelance writer based in Greenville, S.C. She specializes in law enforcement and digital forensics and can be reached at christammiller@gmail.com.

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