Photo by Matt Hagen via Flickr
Remember Bozeman? The Montana city with so much social media controversy? First, the town was called out all over the Web for demanding not only access to its employees’ social pages, but also their account passwords. Then, a Bozeman police officer resigned after public outcry over his poorly worded Facebook status update.
Bozeman police are again in the news, but not for social media. This time, the highlight is for an officer who went beyond his sworn duties to help a fellow human being—after he’d arrested him.
Mark Nichols at American Police Beat tells us that Officer Mark Ziegler arrested a man for shoplifting, who, it turned out, was stealing because he couldn’t afford to feed his family. After citing and releasing the man, writes Nichols, “Officer Ziegler made a quick stop at Wal-Mart where he picked up few frozen pizzas and delivered them to home of the man he had just arrested.”
Nichols goes on to write:
In a time when movie stars adopt humanitarian pet projects precisely to generate the kind of publicity Officer Ziegler didn’t care about, it’s nice to know that there are still some folks out there that show compassion to their fellow man simply because it’s the right thing to do.
Finding out who they are, not who they were
Ziegler isn’t unusual. Most law enforcement officers I know are “unsung heroes,” happy to help other cops and civilians—think about cops who replace stolen Christmas presents for children—but not believing they deserve any special attention for it.
And yet I can’t help thinking that far too often, we don’t find out just how special they are until we’re reading their obituaries. We grieve them as we read about their lives and look at their pictures. “What a terrible loss,” we say.
Does it have to be this way? Does it really protect our officers and their families to keep them hidden? What if, rather than box them into a set of rules about how they should and shouldn’t use social media, what they can and can’t say, we let them use their common sense about showing us their human sides?
They wouldn’t have to trumpet the good deeds which so many of them feel are a normal part of their jobs. In fact, allowing them to treat social media as an extension of those deeds—not as another channel, but as giving in and of itself—might just have an impact on crime rates.
Years ago when I first started writing for law enforcement trade magazines, I interviewed a school resource officer about the effect he had on his small community. One quote in particular stood out. He told me that he had made arrests where the juvenile offenders told him, “If I’d known it was you, I never would’ve done this.”
Personally feeding your community
Yeah, it’s anecdotal, but relationship- and community-building in the form of programs like Cease Fire are proven to reduce violence.
Jeremy Meyers, a professional with whom I connected via blogging and PR Twitter chats, recently wrote:
We get buried underneath our day-to-day strategizing, planning, brainstorming, trying to stave off unexpected results. We become afraid of surprises, so we try to plan for every contingency…. Slowly, the promise dies in a hailstorm of planning, structure and alienating language, and we end up with a social network presence nobody cares to visit, and we eat dinner alone in the dark.
It’s so important to take the time to flip it around, to think about feeding your communities, to connect and give whenever you can. It’s important for your own mental health, the well-being of your company, the popularity of your twitter account, the survival of the species on this planet.
Sanitizing officer experiences reduces the community power of social media. A 140-character tweet about an arrest for shoplifting is no different from a store patron seeing the cuffs go on as she passes by. But give the officer license to tweet, “This sucks. The guy was only trying to feed his family. Heading over there w/ pizza” and you allow the community to connect on a whole new level, perhaps even to offer to help the family themselves.
How can you allow officers to let the community get to know who they are?
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 email@example.com.
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