Scrolling down the news feed on my personal Facebook page last night, I saw a post from a friend who works for a police agency in Alaska. She had shared a post on the death this week of Nassau County, New York, Police Officer Arthur Lopez tragically and senselessly killed in the line of duty. I read her post shortly after I’d read the latest update on two deputies from our neighboring Canyon County, Idaho who’d been shot the night before attempting to serve a warrant. One deputy remains in a Boise hospital in critical condition as of this writing.
On the Boise Police Facebook page
, I shared a link to the latest news update on our local deputies, noting all involved were in our thoughts and prayers for healing. We had many citizens post supporting comments. Then one woman’s post asked, “What can we do to help?”
That’s a really good question. What can we, who work in social media for law enforcement agencies do to support officer safety? I think about this all the time and the best answer I’ve found is to keep “selling our product”, selling our communities on the value of public safety.
A recent IACP survey
showed nearly 60% of agencies using social media had not identified goals or outcomes. My concern for those agencies is that, without focus, they may missing a valuable benefit and really the best reason for law enforcement to use social media for outreach – to enhance community and officer safety.
In the SOP’s for BPD’s official department social media outreach, at the top is our objective:
The Boise Police Department’s goals with social media are to expand the public safety education that enables citizens to make safe choices for themselves, their families and their neighborhoods; and to improve communication between citizens and their police department to increase public and officer safety.
What does that mean in practice? It means when we post general crime information, particularly on Facebook, we post stories that carry a message we all, citizens and officers, can benefit from; a crime prevention tip, the benefits of being a good witness, how quick reporting helps officers solve crime, the value of Neighborhood Watch, Crime Stoppers, and other ways citizens partner with officers, and how officers’ expert training is rewarded with suspects captured, crimes prevented, and safer streets.
Even the humorous or community events posted on the BPD page are posted to reinforce an essential, familiar, yet sometimes forgotten tenant in successful policing – the community is the police and the police are the community. We have a personal stake in keeping our city safe just like everyone else, we’ve just accepted the responsibility of making it our profession as well. A police agency can only operate successfully with the trust and support of the community it serves.
Professional, focused outreach using social media can help us accomplish these objectives. Social media can be that virtual “beat cop”, walking the streets, answering calls and chatting with neighbors. An informed community is an empowered community. The vast majority of people support law enforcement efforts and care about the safety of their family and neighborhoods. Through a social media outreach focused on “selling” the values of public safety, we can make a safer community, and hopefully a safe community for our officers to work.
Sadly, good officers will be targets for bad guys even in good communities. But building a solid public outreach program, including social media focused on cooperation, perhaps the Facebook pages dedicated to officers killed in the line of duty will someday run out of news to post.
Thank you for your service, Officer Lopez. Rest in Peace.