Information sharing: “social” police work

It's one thing to post surveillance video online and ask for public feedback, using the social space the same way you would traditional TV and print media. But it's another to share the same information with neighboring agencies.

Little wonder, then, that investigators often opt to share information in person, over the phone, or via email! And yet, the Redlands (Calif.) Police Department is experimenting with a Facebook-like interface, CopBook. The agency has been seeking to drive internal adoption by putting content like needed forms and documents on the system. Secure integration of public input is also a goal. And the agency hopes to expand the program outward to others.

Weak ties can lead to strong ties

This may be the least discussed of all aspects of professional social media use. Is it because those of us online take it for granted, or because those who don't use social tools don't see it?

I'm talking about the “little things,” the water-cooler talks you have at 10am or 2pm or 9pm with your friends and followers. From sports scores to opinions on legislation, the talk may tend shallow, but as in real life, it humanizes you to others—and vice versa.

As I've seen countless times at conferences, conversations in real life go so much more smoothly when you've already traded tweets and found things in common. No one needs to know that two investigators, one in Indiana and the other in Michigan, are trading information on similarities between cases they're working. But making that call, the first time and every time, becomes easier when you feel you're talking to a friend.

These kinds of ties can be especially important when politics, both real and perceived, complicate even the best of information-sharing intentions. Local control, personality conflicts, competing interests, and many other variables affect an agency's ability to collaborate towards crime-solving—especially with agencies outside one's jurisdiction.

Information sharing is becoming increasingly necessary, not just within the United States, but beyond our borders as well. The more investigators connect with one another, the easier they'll find it to connect with those abroad, and the more effective policing could become. Allowing the social ties to form in the first place will pave the way for tools to strengthen the bonds and lead to new connections.


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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

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