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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.

Using Social Media in Law Enforcement, a Guide

Most organizations over the past several years have been asking a lot of questions about using social media. For many, there’s a general feeling that their organization should be doing something. That’s a good start, and many stall out there, because of not knowing what to do.

Thankfully, now that organizations have been implementing various social media strategies for a few years, we now have the opportunity to learn from what others have done right, and of course what they’ve done wrong.

I’ve worked with a variety of companies over the years on developing and implementing download The Definitive Guide to Social Media Engagement for Law Enforcement Agenciesa social media strategy. I wondered how unique Law Enforcement would be in its approach to using social media, which is why I was excited to review The Definitive Guide to Social Media Engagement for Law Enforcement Agencies, published by PublicEngines. Below are a few things I’ve learned so far.

The Same Pitfalls

It makes sense to learn from The Guide that Law Enforcement Agencies face similar hurdles, challenges, and make the same mistakes as retailers, businesses, other government agencies, and even celebrities, when trying to use social media. The Guide outlines three common mistakes:

  1. The Set-it and Forget-it Agency. We’ve all seen examples of this when we visit a site or page, and the content is old – like months, or even over a year since the last post. In many ways, a neglected site, is worse than no site at all.
  2. The Spammer Agency. When I see a company that starts posting too much useless information, I imagine that someone said we need to post 14 times per day, and they purchased some software tool that allows them to pre-load hundreds of posts. I typically turn these alerts off, and it leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth.
  3. The Serial Experimenter Agency. In this instance, you can see there is no real plan in place – just ideas. While the agency is making attempts to do something it comes off as unorganized, confused, and uncontrolled. It can’t be maintained, and the audience goes away.

These are similar issues any organization faces, so it represents lessons we can learn from. On the flip side, there are some specific things that are unique to Law Enforcement that need to be considered in your planning.

Unique to Law Enforcement

In the Identify Your Goals and Objectives section of The Guide, I was thrilled to see specific examples that are unique to Law Enforcement. In my experience, setting goals and objectives can be extremely difficult because social media is so new, and everything moves so quickly. The examples can help to kick-start the process of designing a program that will work for your agency. The Guide lists goal examples of creating public awareness of the agency’s policing/safety efforts, creating greater transparency and more open dialogue, to encouraging citizens to help with crime stopper efforts through tips, and even to improve police services through greater collaboration.

For more information on these topics, I encourage you to download The Definitive Guide to Social Media Engagement for Law Enforcement Agencies here.

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.

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”.


Why Intelligence-Led Policing? The Answer Part 2

*This is part three of a multi-part series on Intelligence-Led Policing by Detective DJ Seals.

Compiling various information sources is key to making Intelligence-Led Policing work. Many times police departments are content with the information they currently have. Let’s face it, we tend to live in an informational world contained within the four walls of our departments, ignoring outside information sources. But for Intelligence-Led Policing to work, it is paramount to gather intelligence from three key sources.

1) Notebooks

Obviously the most immediate source of information will be your in-house records management system – which should be used in conjunction with those notebooks your officers keep with them on the road. Those little notebooks very rarely get included in your departments’ intelligence data, but are often the most accurate source of direct intelligence involving the daily workings of your community. Make sure your officers are transferring the detailed notes they’ve taken into every report they make. And I encourage you, if you are still a paper-heavy agency, move to electronic based methods for recording and sharing information whenever possible.

2) Other Local Agencies

It’s importnat to share information and crime data with neighboring police departments in order to pick up on crime trends and reduce the threat.

One great chasm that many departments still face is the divide between county Sheriff’s departments and municipal Police Departments; floating an ideal of “theres us and then theres them.” This must be broken down in order to compile the next most important data set — that of your neighboring agencies. The criminal element within your jurisdiction does not stop committing crimes because they come to your city/county limits. We all understand that our criminals are also our neighboring agencies criminals. Criminals are irrespective of jurisdictional lines and do not care what color uniform you wear. As a matter of fact, it is in their best interest to move their criminal escapades around. They know we do not share information as freely as we should. We must combat this by breaking down the informational barriers between departments. By sharing local intelligence, we can finally act as one law enforcement body and not individual agencies. One method for sharing information may include third-party systems that can import and codify data regardless of specific types of RMS or CAD systems that may be used by the individual departments. Once this happens, you can begin to discover crime trends that link criminal elements across geographic boundaries.

3) State and Federal Agencies

After you have a grasp and have taken full advantage of all of your local intelligence sources, it is time to…., yes I am going to say it……reach out to your state and federal sources. If we thought the perceived divide between local agencies was wide, then the perceived divide between local agencies and state and federal agencies must be the Grand Canyon. However, since 9/11, state and federal agencies have begun to understand the great impact local intelligence has on national security. Case in point; it was discovered, after the fact, that the terrorists involved in 9/11 drove through the state of Georgia. Not only did they drive through, but they were traffic-stopped a number of times. Even though some of the terrorists were already on a national watch list, they were never flagged because so many of our smaller local systems were not directly linked with the national system.

Reach out to your state and local agencies, join their intelligence sharing meetings and e-mail servers, and don’t just read what they send out – contribute!

I Have a Challenge for You

Would 9/11 have happened as it was planned had one of those traffic stops flagged the terrorists? Have we really moved on toward sharing intelligence? What steps are you taking to share your intelligence with local, state, and federal agencies? It is up to you to reach out to all possible intelligence sources, compile the information, make that information accessible to your stake holders, and put Intelligence-Led Policing into action!

In my next blog, I will explain what to do with this information after you have gathered it, and how to get it out to your officers and community. As always, feel free to ask questions as we move along on our Intelligence-Leg Policing journey.