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Social Media: What Puts Officers and the Agency at Risk?

Sargeant Nasuti posted pictures with underage women and liquor

In previous posts, we’ve highlighted the role social media can play in assisting agencies’ policing initiatives and building trust with the community, and for good reason: it has become incredibly useful in policing. In fact, a March 2012 study by LexisNexis of over 1,200 federal, state and local law enforcement professionals showed that nearly 7 out of 10 respondents believed that social media helps solve crimes faster than traditional methods alone. But while officers may be using Facebook and Twitter to help close cases on-duty, their online activities off-duty may be putting themselves and their agency at risk.

Undermining Safety and Agency Credibility:

Perhaps not heard as often as headlines such as “Facebook Photos Help Police Catch Party Burglars“, occasionally we hear stories of social media posts getting officers and their agencies into trouble. Unfortunately the very tools officers use to target suspects can be used against them by the very criminals they are investigating. In 2011, Maricopa County Sheriffs arrested a suspect on suspicion of DUI and found a CD containing the names and photographs of over 30 Phoenix PD patrol and undercover officers–all obtained from Facebook.  Social media sharing can not only compromise the safety of officers, it can undermine the credibility and integrity of the agency to the public when ill-advised posts and pictures make a public appearance. Just last week, Detroit’s Chief of Police was busted after pictures emerged on twitter exposing an affair with a department subordinate. For a community already demoralized by financial woes and previous scandals, the photos were a kick in the gut.

Tips for Online Officer Safety: 

While your agency should strongly consider a social media policy that dictates acceptable activities for off-duty officers and staff, here are 3 smart tips for keeping your social media sharing safe and clean.

1. Figure out Your Privacy Settings: On Facebook and other networking platforms, set your  settings so that only your “friends” can see the information you post, the pages you like, etc. Look through all the apps you might have and lock them down as well. Remember that information you share can be shared by others, so be selective in your social networking.

2. Don’t Mix Personal with Professional Content: Keep two accounts, one for the professional and the other for the regular guy or gal that  you are off the job. Refrain from posting information or photos about your personal life (especially of the family) on your professional twitter or Facebook accounts and keep your professional contacts from meshing with your personal ones online.

3. Don’t Post, ‘Like’ or Tweet Anything Your Grandma Wouldn’t Approve Of: Chances are if granny wouldn’t approve, your agency wouldn’t either. Keeping it clean will help maintain your agency’s credibility and trust with the community and will keep you from losing your job like this cop, who mistakenly believed “what happens on Facebook, stays on Facebook”.


Pensacola PD Reaches Out to Local Citizens

Photo by divemasterking2000 via Flickr

Just came across this great news story about CrimeReports from Fox 10 in Pensacola, Florida. Near the end a man who runs a community center comments that a map like our could harm people who live in high-crime areas. What are your thoughts?

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Feed a Family, Feed a Community

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.

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Balancing Transparency and Citizen Safety

Photo by WEBN-TV via Flickr

Last Sunday evening, officers were dispatched to investigate a call of an armed subject. When Aurora Police Department officers arrived on the scene, they concluded that is was domestic-related and subsequently surrounded the residence where it was purported that an armed male was held up.

More than a dozen police officers were present. They surrounded the residence, along with several other houses in the immediate vicinity. Officers heard a single gunshot ring out and immediately entered the home where they located a male with a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

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The Future of Policing

I saw this video yesterday and I thought it would be fun to share it here. It’s a little animation about how police work will be in the future. Amazingly, a lot of this technology already exists, but hasn’t yet matriculated into the law enforcement system. I also think this is a pretty accurate picture of what policing might be like in 20 years or so (well, minus the jet packs and areal bikes).

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