Photo by MariSheibley via Flickr
Public safety is often about changing relationships: the relationships people have with each other and with things they do for fun.
I realized this as I contemplated how to tell my 6-year-old son that he should not, if invited, enter our neighbor’s home alone. The neighbor is nice. If I say that people are not always so nice once you are alone with them, he will not look at the neighbor the same way again. He may even be upset with me for that perception.
So, too, the public. In communities where police put a DUI wreck outside of high school proms and graduation ceremonies, parents often protest: “They’re kids, let them enjoy this milestone.”
And when it comes to social media, people can be still more defensive. They know, for instance, that police departments have been slow to embrace the technology. They know they spend hours online each week, that they get a free credit report every year, that all their friends are online too.
They don’t believe they can be stalked or see their identities stolen (at most that their risk is low). They do believe that in the remote circumstances those things should happen, their police will be able to help them. They haven’t yet learned the hard way that state laws vary regarding these crimes, and that not all police are trained the same way or have the same resources to help them.
The way to prevent those hard lessons is to prevent the crimes themselves. But police can’t sound like parents when they do. These are, after all, not all giddy teenagers believing they’re invincible. They’re grown men and women, who may well have survived tests of invincibility, or at the very least believe they’re in full control of the information they put online.
So when it comes to a website like PleaseRobMe.com or Chatroulette, the public might expect that you’ll work with traditional media or even use social media—a blog post or tweet—to put out a public safety announcement about it
And because they expect it, they’ll tune it out.
What can you do differently? A more conservative, traditional approach might be to take Dave Fleet’s four lessons learned, reasonable suggestions which a department could use to craft a careful, adult-to-adult PSA.
Or… you could join in the fun. Kind of like the Miami-Dade Police Department did with drag racing, only with less liability involved. Of course, you’d have to know the tools, if not use them yourself.
For example, geolocation social service Foursquare offers incentives for using cell phone GPS to use its service to “check in” at locations around a city. Whoever checks in most becomes “mayor” of that location. In Charlotte (North Carolina), a restaurant took that a step further by offering free meals to the “mayor.”
What could a police department offer for checking in at the station, or a substation in a mall or other location? What if official department representatives could offer themselves as “friends” on FourSquare competitor BrightKite? No, not everyone would opt to friend them—some already don’t like police following them on Twitter—but some would derive comfort from knowing the police knew their location.
Public safety doesn’t have to put a damper on fun. Done right, it can promote and even be part of fun, helping to educate the public on how to integrate safety with fun.
How can your agency promote online safety without “parenting” your publics?
Christa M. Miller is founder and co-author of Cops 2.0. A freelance trade journalist turned content creator and public relations strategist, she has specialized in public safety issues for the past eight years. She resides in Greenville, SC and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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