Social Media: A Powerful Addition to Law Enforcement

Posted by Extreme Tactical Dynamics on Jun 29th 2019

IACP Training in Social Media September 16, 2016
(International Association of Chiefs of Police)

IACP is offering a one-day training on

For more information and to register
IACP Headquarters at 44 Canal Center Plaza, Suite 200 Alexandria, Virginia 22314.

IACP_LogoIn 2015, 553 law enforcement agencies in 44 states participated in an IACP survey to determine what part social media played in their organizations. The results showed that Facebook use led at 94.2% followed by Twitter at 71.2%; both proved valuable resources in a multitude of ways by various agencies. But statistics can only go so far; real-time use by police and individuals provide telling examples of the far-reaching power of this mode of communication.

“There is no doubt; Tweets broke the case!”

Using social media for crime investigation ranked #1 on the IACP survey at 88.7%; that was no surprise, but using it to spark interest in a case, or to provide ‘tips,’ in 73.3% of forces, wasn’t expected. It has been proven that innovative use of social media can solve cases. Inspired by the podcast Serial, police in Toronto broke a 4-year-old cold case by tweeting clues: a hair extension, a high heeled shoe, and a set of distinctive keys, and by hashtagging the victim’s name+adding the word ‘murder’. Staff Insp. Greg McLane soon realized the public wanted to help and that the public’s interest was crucial in solving the crime, when the department received ‘a ton’ of positive responses. One woman owned an identical pair of shoes and told police where she had bought them which led police to a suspect. “There is no doubt; Tweets broke the case!

Instant Communication

Notification of everyone with Smart phones in a specific area large or small is ‘instant’ with social media. Whether it’s warning the population of a criminal problem, ‘silver alert’, or child abduction, thousands and thousands of people will know about it in less than a minute. No communication is faster; no communication is more efficient. When the police can ‘get the word out quickly’, the problem is already on its way to being solved. Police can manage the population much better when it is kept well informed, for people feel taken care of, and have the feeling that everything is under control when they know what’s going on. When disaster strikes, social media is used in rescue operations, calling people to action, and moving people away from dangerous areas. Police can manage an emergency much more efficiently by using this interactive tool.

Good PR, TOO!

Recently in Cleveland, police stayed well connected with events and with the people attending the Republican Party convention using social media. They informed local residents which streets were blocked, offered alternative routes, and quickly reported any disturbances. Regardless of your political affiliation, it is heartwarming to see the photos sent around Facebook of police officers not only doing their jobs, but having fun, too. In Cleveland Facebook was used to dispel rumors: “NO, the firetruck was not stolen!so come on over to have your picture taken with it. 18,000 tweets quickly spread the word!

Official Tweets Rank!

In March of this year, the University of Washington Department of Human-Centered Design & Engineering and the Information Schools’ DataLab looked at two separate Twitter rumors: a police raid and the hijacking of an airliner. They watched how fast the rumors were tweeted and retweeted many tens of thousand of times; then they monitored what happened when an official source negating the rumors was tweeted. One was a law enforcement agency and the other was the airline company. The researchers saw, in both cases, that the official statement spread even faster than the rumor, ‘like wildfire.’ It’s easy to draw a conclusion from this study: People give precedence to official information releases.

Harmful Tweets

Social media is a fantastic way to show the positive interaction of our dedicated officers sworn to protect and serve, but like all things, there is a downside as well to this form of communication. Citizens at times interfere with police operations by telling where police are located in a ‘stand down’ as they did in Dallas. Sometimes they prod unstable people ‘ON’ to do something negative when officers are trying to talk them down like they did in Baltimore. LIVE STREAM channels give the public immediate access to whatever is going on right at the moment. Police and the public are more accountable for their actions when being monitored by social media, for there is a full visual record of events as they are played out. Some police officers have been ‘caught in the act’ whether it’s helping those around them, or breaking the law themselves. It’s no longer the case of “Smile! You’re on candid camera!” but rather, “Mind your actions; you’re on social media!”


But even after all the negative events that have recently occurred, Dallas police officer Maj. Max Geron said after the Dallas shootings. "There are more opportunities for departments to engage with citizens and to take those in-person contacts and share them on social media." Maj. Geron knows that social media makes police departments “more transparent, effective, and accountable to the public.” He’s still a believer!

Illegal Side of Social Media

While social media can spread the word rapidly to vast numbers of people, it also has a very solitary side. The abuse of social media is on the rise because the Internet is often used privately for illegal purposes. Consequently, police departments must now be trained to deal with cyberbullying, cyberstalking, and even the recruiting of terrorists by predatory individuals. Social media can facilitate encounters with vulnerable youth who can be easily accessed and swayed in one-on-one chats that can remain almost completely private.

Fortunately, Facebook does have a protocol in place that assists law enforcement. Of the 19,200 requests for information from July to December of 2015, Facebook provided ‘some data’ in 80% of cases. 850 of those were designated as ‘emergency disclosures.’ Facebook did not disclose how many sites were deactivated. Because abusers are well schooled in the use of social media, it is mandatory that police departments everywhere stay up-to-date with technological advances and in the sophisticated use of social media.

How Police Departments Use Social Media

When asked in the IACP survey: Who manages your agency’s publicly-facing social media accounts on a day to day basis? Almost half said a ‘public information office,’ followed by ‘command staff,’ ‘chief executive,’ ‘civil employee,’ and ‘an officer.’ That sounds like departments are on top of things, but when the next question: How many hours are spent maintaining (developing and posting content, responding to comments, etc.) your agency’s public social media presence on a weekly basis? was asked, it starts getting scary. 60% of law enforcement agencies who participated said they spend 1 to 5 hours per week; only 2% had a person or persons who were full-time staff dedicated to the management of a social media platform.

Social Media is Here to Stay

No law enforcement agency can call itself well prepared, up-to-date, ready for action, or ready to protect and serve their communities, if they lag behind the fast-moving trends of social media platforms. The top-ranking forms are, of course, Facebook, Twitter and Youtube, but others are gaining popularity as well like Google +, Instagram, Flickr, and Nextdoor.

Luckily, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) has recognized that social media is a powerful addition to the arsenal of law enforcement. Check out their website: The Center for Social Media has a lot of information about this initiative. There are numerous Items of Interest; some are referred to in this article. IACP is dedicated to Serving the Leaders of Today and Developing Leaders for Tomorrow….and they are ready to show police officers how mastering social media platforms will give them a much-needed edge in law enforcement.

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