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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 The news of an apprehended suspect spread like wildfire on the Internet, only to be withdrawn later.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.


St. Louis PD Uses Social Media to Boost Transparency and Rapport Within the Community

As we discovered when putting together our Definitive Guide to Social Media Engagement for Law Enforcement, agencies across the nation are increasingly turning to social media to help increase the transparency of their agency and build a better rapport with their communities. Why? The connectivity of social media offers law enforcement agencies unprecedented direct access to openly communicate with and engage masses of citizens like never before. Yet despite social media providing an open venue for discussion that can involve/engage the community, we’re seeing some agencies struggling to use such platforms–often treating social media simply as another means to broadcast static information, rather than to respond to and engage the public. How then should a police department go about using social media to improving community rapport and transparency (you ask)?

Earlier this year St. Louis PD Chief offered a clue when he spoke on the afternoon radio show Hancock and Kelly, “[Citizens] have a right to know, and we have a responsibility to tell them about what we’re doing, what’s working, and what’s not working.”  Since his agency became active on social media in 2011, the St. Louis PD has been using Facebook, Twitter, and a Chief’s blog to both inform the community and also engage the community, openly addressing the public’s crime /safety problems/concerns through dialogue.

Humanizing the Agency-“What we’re doing”


New recruits visit children being treated at a pediatric specialty charity hospital

The PD uses Facebook and Twitter to inform the community about the usual–breaking news, crime alerts, agency updates , arrests, crime prevention tips–but also stories that share the agency’s perspective from an angle you may not often see on other media. On Facebook, the PD shares stories and events that detail agency operations but also reveal the dedication and heroism of officers on and off the job;  for example, a post exhibiting the PD recruits’ recent visit to a children’s charity hospital.

Dialogue/Responding to Public Concerns “Whats Working and What’s Not”

[In addition to sharing information about the agency], the St. Louis PD makes an additional effort to address and explain crime/public safety problems and how the PD is handling them on a strategic and tactical level. This is accomplished largely through PD Chief Sam Dotson’s ‘Chief’s Blog”, where he personally responds to concerns expressed by the public as well as public safety issues, major crimes and other issues. For example, the blog entry below informs a concerned public of a crime spike in a neighborhood and what the PD is doing to fix it.  The blog allows readers to provide feedback, in the way of comments, that contributes to the overall discussion between agency and community.


Sharing is Good, But Dialogue is Better

Sharing information may be a start to improving community relations but its not enough without the accompanying dialogue. [For instance, St. Louis’s blog fosters overall community discussion  yet they could converse with more individuals by responding to more posts on Facebook and Twitter.] Because of social media’s capacity for open conversation, public comments and posts will and do happen and agencies have only to gain by addressing crime problems, public concerns, inquiries and frustrations head-on. 

To learn more on how to leverage social media to improve the transparency of your agency or boost community engagement, download our Definitive Guide to Social Media Engagement for Law Enforcement.

Let us know what you think! Do you have a success story in boosting agency transparency? Tips for fellow agencies? Let us know! Use the comments section below to share your insights and best practices.

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.

Over 100 LEAs participate in a Global Tweet-along Tweet-athon March 22

Map of tweet-a-thon participants wordwide

Map of tweet-a-thon participants worldwide


Starting at 8 a.m. on March 22, law enforcement agencies around the  world connected via Twitter to participate in a 24-hour Tweet-a-thon  to bring attention to the use of social media by law enforcement. Throughout the day, more than 100 law enforcement agencies from the US, United Kingdom, Canada, Sweden, Iceland and Australia tweeted messages, photos and video of 911 calls being answered by officers on patrol using the hashtag #poltwt;  twitter fans were encouraged to submit questions as they followed along.


A tweet from a tweetalong hosted by Rapid City PD


Tweetalong: The Ride Along of the Digital Age

With the advent of social media the traditional [civilian] ride-along has gone digital. In a ride along, a civilian would spend a shift as a passenger in a police car on patrol observing the workday of an officer. With a tweet-along officers on patrol chronicle the crime fighting activities of their shift–responding to 911 calls, chasing fugitives, making arrests–by tweeting photos, video and other information in real-time for twitter fans to follow along.

In recent years, the tweetalong has become somewhat of a booming phenomenon among law enforcement as agencies increasingly recognize its potential in showing the public a side of law enforcement that they don’t often see.

“Anytime we have the chance to give the public a glimpse of how we do our jobs and the type of calls our officers respond to is a good thing. This Tweetalong will allow the LVMPD to connect with its community in an exciting, real time way while also providing education” said Las Vegas PD Sheriff Doug Gillespie.

By hosting tweetalongs, police departments like the Las Vegas PD help to improve their agency’s transparency and rapport within the community by sharing a personal and sometimes gritty on-the-scene perspective with the community. Tweetalongs also enable the community to engage with the agency in real-time by tweeting questions and comments to officers out on the beat.

Organizer Lauri Stevens, founder of LAWS Communications hopes [the] global Tweet-a-thon will bring greater awareness to law enforcement’s growing community outreach efforts through social media. “We hope it sends the message to community members that…they should use [social media] as another means of communicating with local authorities” she said.

Encouraging law enforcement use of social media

While twitter use and the ‘tweetalong’ is becoming a common practice for law enforcement agencies around the world, many agencies have yet to become active on the social media platform. According a recent survey by International Association of Chiefs of Police, just less than half of local law enforcement agencies are actively using twitter to engage the public.  Participants of the global tweet-a-thon, like the Middleton WI PD, are looking to change that.

“We hope our participation continues to positively influence the rapidly growing acknowledgement, acceptance and use of social media by public safety agencies around the world” -said Keith Cleasby, social media manager of Middleton WI PD.


To learn more about how your agency can use Twitter and other tools to maximize community engagement in the social media-verse we encourage you to download our “Definitive Guide to Social Media Engagement for Law Enforcement”

Humanizing Law Enforcement Using Social Media

Law enforcement agencies today have tools that allow them to better connect with their communities than any other time in history. Social media, in particular provides multiple benefits including, increasing awareness of police programs, creating two-way dialogue & enlisting community help in fighting crime, as well as the ability to become more transparent and humanizing the agencies staff. For this blog, I wanted to focus on the power of putting a face and person behind the badge.

Colorado Springs PD Facebook PageThe Colorado Springs Police Department (CSPD) in Colorado looked to use Facebook as a platform to connect with its community in a more personal way. A lot of the strategies have worked to build online connections with the department and the community it serves. For example, the agency’s Facebook page includes features such as messages from the chief, officer of the month, and a quote of the week. Feedback from the local community has been very positive, and its Facebook page has grown to become a powerful communications tool to share crime alerts, videos, and even post photos of wanted felons. The ability to connect with people on such a personal level wasn’t possible just a few short years ago, and more agencies should take advantage to create a more humanistic connection with the people they serve.

Another example demonstrates how a new police chief for the Brandon Police Service in Canada leveraged YouTube to deliver his vision for law enforcement. Below you can view his video, where he introduces himself, his experience, and some of the challenges Brandon faces, as well as his goals, and vision. The power of the video is that it is very personal, real and authentic. View it for yourself below.


Examples like this and more can be read in our special report, The Ultimate Guide to Social Media for Law Enforcement Agencies. Get it Now –