Active shooter. Hurricane. Bank robbery. Those are three drastically different types of situations that law enforcement agencies deal with, but the one key thing they have in common is social media.
Whether it’s citizens looking to find out what’s going on or victims wanting to report information, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are where
they’re going FIRST. That’s why the IACP annual conference session titled “How Social Media is Changing Crisis Response” was packed last
Attendees like myself were lucky to hear from several experienced law enforcement professionals who’ve had different experiences with the
subject and shared those with us. One of they key themes they all emphasized was to acknowledge that you have to adapt and engage with
your community on social media BEFORE a crisis occurs.
“Because once the crisis begins, it’s too late,” Captain Mike Parker
with the Los Angeles County, California, Sheriff’s Department said.
It’s used to be that for an incident to go “viral,” it would have to be on TV. Now it’s Twitter, which is faster. All it takes is a single
tweet to incite panic, especially when you have citizens who regularly monitor police scanners and automatically tweet what they hear as fact without any sort of fact checking.
So when an actual crisis occurs, such as a weather event, police need to be prepared to use social media. Julie Parker with the Prince
George’s County, Maryland, Police Department discovered just how helpful that was when her jurisdiction experienced a sudden heavy rain and high wind event that knocked out power and flooded roads.
She started tweeting from her @JuliePGPD
Twitter account to find out what citizens were seeing when it came to the aftermath. People
immediately began responding with the locations where traffic lights were out and other issues and PG was able to redirect their
“Not only were we taking care of community issues, but we thanked people who tweeted us,” she said. “We were reaching out and informing
them. This helps people feel more comfortable and it’s all about building trust with your department. “With social media, there’s no science to it. Try it and see what sticks. If it works, great. If not, it’s gone in seconds.”
For Helen Dunkle, ATF Special Agent and public information officer, and Johnna Watson, a brand new public information officer with Oakland, California, Police Department
, social media completely changed the rules when it came to an active shooter situation at Oikos University.
As officers and Watson herself were arriving at the campus to determine what exactly was going on, so was the media because they had seen live tweets about the incident.
“It’s not about if, but when, a critical incident will happen,” Watson said.
Overall, there were so many takeaways from this session that it’s hard to sum it up in one blog, but the Los Angeles Police Department’s
Romero had some of the best quotes that I have to share a few:
“Social is the people. Media is the content.” One of the best social-media-related quotes I’ve ever heard.
“The key is that we want to be a part of the conversation now. If you’re not a part of the conversation, you have a really big blind spot.” This comment shows that LAPD gets it.
I think that when it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter what the size of your agency, everyone needs to be learning about, monitoring and engaging in social media. It is manageable.
To quote Romero again, “It isn’t a passing fad. It’s a fundamental shift in the way we communicate.”