Social Media and the Police

Lately there has been a great deal of discussion about the negative impact of social media on individuals and society. It is like the car accident that we can’t look away from. But social media has had significant positive impact as well, especially as it relates to law enforcement.

I was recently asked to put together a course on social media for law enforcement officials. While I spend a great deal of time on social media managing company platforms for a wide range of businesses, I knew very little about how police departments across the country were using it.

For example, a friend recommended I visit the Bangor Maine Police Department Facebook page. The page does not really follow many of the rules I recommend to my clients, but they must be doing something right. The page has long, wordy posts and the visuals are mediocre at best, but they have a story to tell and with 271,000 followers, they must be doing something right.

Urban police departments are using Facebook as a hub of information for the community. There are departments that are allowing officers to make reports right from the scene of an incident so the public has the information with no media filter. Others use it to catch criminals by posting photos of crimes. The old wanted posters in the post office have been replaced by digital images online and are helping police catch criminals.

Police also use social media, particularly Twitter, to inform the public of potentially dangerous situations in real time. Giving alerts so that people know to stay away. Individuals are using it to communicate with police to inform them of potentially dangerous situation and feed them information from crimes in progress.

To say that social media is changing the way the police conduct business would be an understatement. In addition, social media has created a transparency that has forced law enforcement officials to deal with problems that had previously gone unchecked. There is an interaction between the police and the public that had not previously existed and this new relationship is just beginning.

With any form of communication, there are potential downsides including possible false posts and potential hacking issues. But by leveraging social media, the police and public are working together to reduce the crime rate and potentially identify volatile situations before they arise. Unfortunately, as with the recent Florida school shooting, this does not always happen. However, police forces around the country are getting on social media and learning to use it effectively to make you safer.

I’m excited about my upcoming project and will let you know how it goes.

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