I’m going to start with something that you may have read recently:
“Transparency does not involve divulging privileged information. Instead, being transparent means empowering citizens with information so they can understand, appreciate, and trust their police agency and staff to do the right thing for all citizens in their community.”
If that sounds familiar, it’s because our resident “chief” blogger, Chief Billy Grogan of Dunwoody, Georgia wrote it in his blog post
published last week. The chief, as usual, had a very insightful message about the evolution of the law enforcement profession from an inward to an external focus on public communication, cooperation, and building partnerships to enhance public safety and support police operations. The chief went on to explain how the evolution of social networking now allows police agencies to communicate with the communities and citizens they serve as never before. He’s right on, and how to do that more effectively is what many of these blog posts are about.
But like all police agencies, the Boise Police Department this week is dealing with a criminal case we can’t be too transparent about – a homicide. Details that have been released are particularly disturbing – a 74 year old woman who died after apparently being hit in the head several times with a hard, heavy object, her badly burned body found by firefighters as they extinguished a fire in her bedroom after neighbors called in reporting smoke. The woman had lived in the older but upscale neighborhood for nearly 30 years. As I write this, approximately 72 hours after the crime was discovered, no suspect has yet been named.
Local media has done extensive coverage of the crime, as we’d all expect, and many of those reports have focused on what we haven’t said, but not on WHY we haven’t said it. So, with all respect given to Chief Grogan, “Transparency Part II” is how social media can allow law enforcement to be transparent about why we can’t be transparent!
The following was posted on the Boise Police Facebook
page one day after news of the homicide broke, and as the investigation progressed without anything additional to release.
“Regarding the homicide on Randolph St where the victim was an elderly woman discovered during a fire at her home early Monday morning; the investigation is continuing and remains a top priority for this department. On cases like this, the department gets a lot of questions from local media asking about evidence, etc., all questions that are very understandable. We answer all we can and ask folks to remember the ultimate goal for officers is to make an arrest and aide with the successful prosecution of whoever is responsible for this heinous crime. Please be assured that, although public release of information may be limited, some of the best police detectives in the country are assigned and working hard to find answers in this case. In the meantime, what all of us can control are the steps we take to ensure the safety of our families, property and neighborhood. The Boise Police Crime Prevention Unit has excellent information on their web page. Please check it out and feel free to share with those you care about.”
Soon that post had two dozen “likes,” several “shares,” and supportive comments.
The department used social networking in this case to help people understand why the department must manage the public release of information. The post also did something equally important, reassured citizens the case remained a priority, and remind them that despite a violent crime that seems senseless, none of us are helpless when it comes to our own personal safety.
So, as the chief says, social media gives law enforcement agencies an opportunity to connect, educate, and empower citizens with information so they can understand. Not surprisingly, if given good, reasonable information, people get it. They’ll appreciate that you took the time to explain something that’s a fascinating mystery – how and why police operations work the way they do.
Social networking offers law enforcement so much more than the opportunity to share news about events, arrests, and commendations. It allows us to directly communicate with and educate citizens about the integrity, professionalism, and commitment of their police department, even when we’re explaining what we can’t tell them.