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Connect with Your Citizens Anywhere They Want - CityConnect: New Mobile App for Law Enforcement

Boston Marathon Bombings & Social Media: Law Enforcement Got It Right!

It was after 11:00 p.m. and I was sitting safely on the couch in my living room, more than 2,300 miles away from the chaos in Boston. I had shut off the television and was about to log off my laptop, and head to bed, when I read a post from a journalist friend of mine who lives in San Diego saying: It’s going down in Boston right now! with links to a few Twitter feeds covering the breaking news.

I, like a lot of Americans, had been closely following the events following the terrible bombings at the Boston Marathon. I opened Twitter, and found the @NewsBreaker account.  Managed by David Begnaud, the Twitter account was posting breaking news Tweets every few minutes as the events unfolded in Boston. From @NewsBreaker, I found a link to the Boston Police Scanner, and was able to listen in as well. And, I was crazy enough to also have CNN on my television.

About four hours later, I shut everything down, and went to bed. To me, I learned several things that night about the amazing power of social media, as well as some of the real pitfalls.


After following the story that week, it became obvious to me I needed to identify credible sources of information. In the hunt for breaking news and ratings, much of the news media failed at being credible sources. CNN, for example, earlier in the week mis-reported that an arrest had been made – and additionally that the suspect was a “dark skinned male.” Both were false, and law enforcement later corrected them by going to Twitter and issuing statements about the false news. But it was too late. The news of an apprehended suspect spread like wildfire on the Internet, only to be withdrawn later.

Additionally, The New York Post falsely put out a series of incorrect news stories, including a cover story that included a large photograph of innocent people, leading many to conclude they were the bombers, and potentially putting their personal safety at risk. The Post had also included reports of a “Saudi national” in connection with the bombings that proved untrue.

You can read more about these media failures with these news stories:

CNN’s double breakdown: So much for ‘abundance of caution

Media Criticize New York Post, CNN For Boston Marathon Bombings Coverage


After being duped a few times by traditionally credible news sources, I turned to official law enforcement for the most accurate news. Specifically: @Boston_Police (Boston Police Department), and @EdDavis3 (Boston Police Commissioner) on Twitter. Their motives had nothing to do with getting a news scoop, or ratings; rather their motives were public safety, and accurate communication. In addition to the amazing job these individuals and groups did in protecting citizens and capturing the suspects – they also did a fantastic job using modern tools like social media.

This event has made it clear that law enforcement must embrace and use new technologies to communicate with the public. I have tried to imagine what it would have been like if I lived in Watertown, Mass., during the town lockdown as law enforcement worked to capture the suspects. It would have been terrifying. And, as I’ve discussed in this blog post, the media proved to not be a reliable source of information. Naturally Watertown residents turned to the most credible sources they could find – ultimately this was law enforcement.

Here are some of the best Tweets from the Boston PD and other credible sources.

Boston Police Dept. TwitterBoston Police Dept. TwitterBoston Police Dept. Twitter

Boston Police Dept. Twitter

Boston Police Ed DavisBoston Police Ed Davis Twitter

Boston Police Dept. Twitter

Boston Police Dept. Twitter

In closing, law enforcement agencies today can distribute important information to the public through a variety of means, including websites, blogs, Twitter, and Facebook. It’s vital agencies provide ways the public to access this information on their smart phone through tools like CityConnect, which integrates many online agency websites into one smart phone application. Agencies can learn more about using the power of social media in The Definitive Guide for Social Media Engagement for Law Enforcement.


Law Enforcement to Community Communication – dialogue, not monologue

For many law enforcement agencies, when asked if they have a social media program, their answer will be something like, “yes, we have a Facebook page, and Twitter account.” A good start, but as a standalone, this doesn’t exactly define a program.

Many agencies struggle to gain traction once they launch an agency Facebook page. Take for example, the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office that was recently featured in the PublicEngines Definitive Guide to Social Media Engagement for Law Enforcement Agencies 2013. The agency launched its Facebook page, but after three years, only had about 200 Likes, and almost no engagement or interaction with the community. Almost by accident, the Agency went from 200 Likes to several hundreds when hurricane Sandy hit as people in the community were searching for credible sources about the storm and public safety issues.

We can learn from the spike in Likes and engagement Niagara experienced, and it can be done without the help of a hurricane!

The Guide to Social Media Engagement list six ideas for growing your audience and engaging with them:

  1. download The Definitive Guide to Social Media Engagement for Law Enforcement AgenciesHold an Launch Event. Many agencies have successfully hosted a social media launch event (Facebook) by tying into an existing community events. Another example was when the Virginia State Police Department launched its Facebook page on the anniversary of a community-known unsolved homicide.
  2. Obtain Publicity. Most agencies have good working relationship with local media. By issuing a news announcement & having news stories about the social media initiative, agencies can gain awareness, likes/followers, and begin the engagement process.
  3. Promote Social Media Profiles on Agency Website. In addition to making people aware the profiles exist, agencies can also ask questions on the website, and ask the community to provide comments on its social sites.
  4. Use Email to Promote Social Sites & Engage. From including links to social sites in email signatures, to direct outreach emails asking for Likes, or community-related questions, email can be a great way to communicate.
  5. Maintaining Engagement. By providing consistent and predicable information that is useful, actionable, compelling, and sharable with others, fans and followers will begin to anticipate and look forward to these posts. Engagement is sure to follow.
  6. Use CityConnect. All citizens to access all of the agencies social media and web CityConnectaccounts to citizens through their smart phones to make connecting and engagement easy, and always available. CityConnect is an agency-branded mobile app that does just that. From allowing people to deliver crime tips, to accessing CrimeReports, and even for emergency updates, there is no better way to connect with people today than through their smart phone.

The full Guide contains more details, and useful case examples. You can download it here.

School Gun Violence: Lessons Learned & Hope for the Future

Gun Violence. It’s a topic that has been dominating the headlines starting with the theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, and then ignited a national bonfire of outrage and sadness with the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting from Dec. 14, 2012. It’s continued with more shootings, including the recent event at Lone Star College in Houston on Jan. 22, 2013. The issue has become even hotter, as now our schools have become seemingly common settings for mass shootings.

With each of these tragic shootings, I hear people ask about things like warning signs, and question who knew about these potential threats – and most importantly, why nothing was done. These are the same questions I ask myself.

The other trend we’re seeing explode on the national scene, is the question who is to blame? This has triggered a national debate on the controversial issue of gun control, video game violence, and mental health. While I’ve gotten caught up in the whirlwind of these important topics we face as a society, I also couldn’t help but wonder if we’re using all of the tools and technology that is available today to keep students, and our children safe.

It’s interesting to note, that when students are provided a way to confidentially share information with school officials about problems – they will! And this information is often used to stop crime, solve cases, and avoid tragedies like suicides. For example, Douglas County School District in Colorado has helped prevent a growing number of suicides by having a trusted mobile app available where students can provide tips to school officials. You can read more about this success story here.

But having the right tools in place often times isn’t enough. Take the Lone Star College shooting for example. According coverage in The Huffington Post the Lone Star College System had both an emergency alert system in place to warn students of possible scenarios like this, as well as an active shooter preparedness plan. It appears there was a break-down in both systems.

For example, according to accounts, many students learned of the shooting from media, or from the college web site, even though they had the emergency alert application installed on their phones. One theory of the failure of the emergency alert system is that many of the buildings on campus have limited, to no cell reception.

Secondarily, the particular situation at Lone Star College did not fit the definition of an active shooter in the preparedness manual, potentially stopping action, or creating some confusion. So while the institution had taken steps to prepare for this type of scary scenario through technology and training, some of these unexpected problems led to unaware students, and possibly confused staff, and local police. Luckily it didn’t turn into a broader tragedy.

Finally, in terms of preventing these crimes in the future, there is likely to be new legislation, as well as national programs to keep students and our children safer at school. We also expect to see a list of lessons learned in how to better respond to these situations in the future. While we know we can never fully prevent these tragedies, we know we can do more; we know we can do better.



TipSoft for Education Launch

Last week PublicEngines launched TipSoft for Education, a cloud-based product to help schools combat the problems of bullying (including Cyberbullying), drugs, weapons, violence and other offences.  In conjunction with that launch, many people attended last week’s webinar highlighting one of our customers, Blount County, TN, called “Five Effective Steps to Solving the Bullying Epidemic.”  That Webinar can be found on the PublicEngines’ home page or below.

TipSoft has been the standard for tip-based communications and management for years.  And while we already have many education customers using TipSoft , we thought it was important to launch TipSoft for Education specifically for the K-12 education market.  This is because we’ve witnessed four important trends recently that we know are affecting the K-12 environment.

Four Trends Affecting K-12 Education

1) State Mandates –  Especially in light of the rash of bullying incidents, almost all states now have anti-bullying legislation, and many require schools to have a solution in place that allows students to report issues of bullying and harassment.  In fact, 49 states have passed new or newly amended anti-bullying legislation.  This increased requirement has become a burden on schools that TipSoft can fulfill.

2) Accountability –  Schools today are facing an increasing demand for accountability in addressing incidents when bullying occurs or when students bring drugs or weapons into the schools.  TipSoft provides a robust incident management application to show that information has been collected, disseminated, and an ability to report that information back out.  So, with TipSoft, schools can accurately log and show what they have done when an incident occurs.

3) Increase of Funding Tied to Attendance –  Many states have now tied the allocation of federal funds to average daily attendance (ADA).  When students miss school, it costs the schools between $20-$50 per day they are absent.  With more than 160,000 students skipping schools each day because of fear of bullying, have a solution that can literally pay for itself in allowing schools to hold on to precious federal funding is essential.

4) The Need for Alerting – The recent shooting tragedies in Sandy Hook, Connecticut and Lone Star College in Texas have shown that when a shooting occurs, there is a gap in the ability to effectively warn those at the school, as well as parents and community members of the incident in providing them with safety instructions and updates.  In the case of the Lone Star College incident, an alert was posted on the college’s Website instructing students and faculty to take cover.  We view this as inadequate for schools.  TipSoft Alerts, which has the ability to broadcast text messages to subscriber’s phones, is a much more effective and immediate solution that delivers information right to users’ phones.

Because of these requirements, we think TipSoft is the ideal application to help schools combat the issues of bullying, cyberbullying, violence, weapons and drugs in schools.  One of the things we are most proud of is the number of suicides that have been prevented in schools, as highlighted in last week’s presentation.  One of our customers, Safe2Tell, has recently recorded a milestone of more that 1,000 suicides interventions, which originated from information coming into TipSoft.  TipSoft is a proven application and is run by more than 1,000 organizations, including police forces, the US Navy and Air Force, and many universities.

Part of that success comes from the ubiquity of the application for users—students can submit information from a mobile app, the Web, or by text, as well as ease of administrators in using the cloud-based application, along with the unique ability of schools being able to forward and share information with local law enforcement.  Those features have made TipSoft the number one application for law enforcement for years, and we expect it will have the same level of impact for K-12 education as well.

Tips to Boost and Maintain TipSoft Use within the Community

If You Build it They will Come…

TipSoft is a great app that enables citizens to help fight crime with their smartphones, but without adequate community adoption and use of TipSoft, law enforcement agencies may be missing out on the benefit of a mobile citizenry that can feed crime tips and photos from the streets. As useful as TipSoft can be in your community, TipSoft alone isn’t one of those ‘if you build it, they will come’ apps, nor should it be a ‘set-it-and-forget-it’ endeavor– getting the most out of TipSoft in your community requires a bit of promotion to get citizens on-board as well as PR efforts to keep users active. To get the most out of TipSoft, here are a few tips to boost and maintain TipSoft use within your community:


No, we don’t mean putting millions of dollars into a super-bowl commercial. But still you’ve got to let your community know about TipSoft and that using it can help solve and prevent crimes, or even provide life-saving information to the community. Like the City of Appleton WI, you can start by hosting a press release on the city/police department website to let everybody know what TipSoft is, how it can help, and where to get it (see picture below).

Additionally, reach out to local media during launch to ensure they help get the message out. While press releases can be helpful, they can also get lost in the clutter of your website. To get your citizens attention, consider putting a web banner on the home page.  For inspiration checkout the  banner hosted on Scranton PD’s homepage. Your agency can continue the campaign by blasting the message out on your city/department Facebook page and Twitter feed for maximum reach. 

Take Your Message to the Streets

While the agency website and social media channels are good places to start building TipSoft awareness among those citizens who are already engaged (online) with local law enforcement, arguably many of your citizens do not have frequent contact with your agency/department whether online or in person. For that reason, take your TipSoft message out into the community to generate awareness and adoption; the prime opportunity being community events like National Night Out, Take Back the Night and other community gatherings such as holiday parades, cookouts and festivals. At your police booth/tent, consider having flyers with a QR code for people with smartphones to scan and download the TipSoft app in a jiffy.

Let’em Know When TipSoft Tips and Alerts Pay Off 

While a promotion effort is important in spurring community adoption, maintaining community interest is crucial to keeping those crime tips coming. An easy way is to let the community in on the action: Did a recent anonymous tip help catch a predator? Did a TipSoft alert deliver information that saved a life? Share the good news on Facebook and Twitter! When community TipSoft participation pays off in either fighting crime or public safety let the community know that anonymous tips and community alerts are effective and appreciated by the police. Posting the good news will let the community see that their TipSoft participation is meaningful and will inspire continued use.

Hit a home run with TipSoft?

Let us know what other tips and insights can help fellow agencies successfully implement TipSoft in their communities. Use the comments section below to share your best practices.