Local police departments have attempted many citizen outreach, public relation, and collaboration strategies over the past couple of decades for the purpose of creating improved and productive relationships with communities. This philosophy is designed to engage the public on various fronts with the ultimate goal of becoming a trusted, legitimate, and effective partner in crime and safety.
Think back to when you first started seeing bicycle patrols, citizen police academies, neighborhood watch programs, gun collection drives, youth academies, etc… These are all examples of the police attempting to engage the community on a more basic level for the common and beneficial goal of making their cities and towns safer and more stable… which is known as community policing.
Why community policing?
Because citizens are more likely to trust, feel confident in, and collaborate with police, if police are actively providing time, resources, and information in a transparent manner about local issues. Conversely, if the police understand that they have a collaborative and productive relationship with the community, they will come together with the community to help address specific and important crime and disorder issues they both encounter on a daily basis. Just as beat officers can’t be everywhere for everybody, police have also struggled in the past with actively engaging and encountering a large number of citizens for “positive” outreach.
With the innovations provided by internet technology, and the research conducted on the effectiveness of community policing, police have begun to adopt social media as a new form of communication and engagement with the public. Specifically, police departments view Twitter as an easy, fast, and effective means of getting information to the general public on many levels. Furthermore, citizens can reciprocate the kindness by offering information and updates to police from their vantage points. But what does all of this really mean for you?
Think about it… there’s a massive pile-up on a major road you use to get to work… police tweet about it. A prisoner escapes near a school… police tweet about it. There’s a rash of home invasions in your elderly parents’ neighborhood… police tweet about it. And that’s just simple public safety messages.
How about a scenario where there is a youth academy one weekend where police officers educate and mentor middle school children about bullying, but you and your child could not attend. However, the police staff records the event including the Q&A at the end. Then that video, important downloadable information, as well as a link to the police department’s website (where you can sign up and request a police officer to come to your child’s school to talk about bullying) is tweeted out.
Let’s take this one step further. You witness a crime and you get a picture of the culprit, or perhaps a license plate on a vehicle used in the crime, and message that to the police via Twitter.
These are small examples of how Twitter, other social media platforms and the internet can bring citizens and police closer together. Closer in the sense of communication, but also closer as these collaborative back and forth exchanges begin to build a trust and legitimacy factor between citizens and police.
This begins to hit on the big picture, philosophical take away viewed by law enforcement.
Better relationships equal productive relationships equal working relationships… all of which can be cultivated from something as simple as Twitter. And from that, something much bigger and better can begin to take place.
A major intrinsic problem within a community requires a lot of time, energy, resources and actions. The police-community relationship is such that there is an ample, representative sized advisory committee of individuals, small businesses, churches, outreach centers and police that come together to stage a four point plan over the next 2 to 3 years to deal with this issue. Based on this collaboration, there will be enough resources and entities to successfully tackle a particular issue.
Law enforcement, as well as academia, view this scenario as plausible, and possible, given the right circumstances. But none of that can even be attempted if there is not a sound partnership between police and community. And this type of partnership cannot exist without police first laying a foundation of beneficial, productive, transparent, and collaborative communication and engagement. This also requires civic responsibility and action on the part of the citizen to attempt to reach out to police in order for this progress to begin to take place.
Even if you are not the type of person that gets really involved in civic issues, following your local police department on Twitter can be personally beneficial.
Here are some documented examples of how Twitter has benefited police department followers.
1. When individuals can see that police are active in the local community, they feel safer.
2. There is a 24/7 line of communication with the police.
3. When police solicit help from the public on a case, there are that many more individuals that will be alerted and activated to help. (And this case could involve you or someone you know as the victim of a crime that really needs the public’s help).
4. This is another resource to get the word out on fund raisers and community awareness initiatives.
5. Doesn’t everyone want to know the city’s crime reports, or the published sex offender lists.
6. Everyone can get a good laugh at the end of the day with “dumb crook news”.
7. Think of alerting 911 to an emergency via a tweet as well as to family and friends at the same time.
8. How about getting a GPS link on evacuation routes in a tornado or hurricane areas.
9. Amber Alerts.
10. Counter-terrorism and Homeland Security efforts at the local level.