Law enforcement’s use of social media is an evolving phenomenon. As it began, the responsibility for posting information and monitoring typically resided with the personnel assigned to Community Outreach or Public Relations. Over the last several years, there has been a diversification of responsibility when it comes to social media. In many cases, the person responsible for the agency’s social media engagement may very well work outside community engagement or public relations. Some departments have found that social media engagement is best managed by someone who has the skills and the interest in it, rather than assigning the task to someone in a specific position. Other departments have simply opened up opportunities for multiple staff members to engage in using social media across a wide spectrum of assignments within the department.
If your department is engaged in social media, you can be assured that your local media will be following, “liking,” or monitoring what you do. This practice has great value. In many cases, the media will pick up a good, positive story about your agency that otherwise would not have seen the light of day. Some departments, like the Boca Raton Police Department
, have even stopped sending out press releases. Instead, they have informed the media to monitor their social media channels for information of interest.
Unfortunately, there can be a downside for your agency if your local media monitors your department’s posts on your social media channels. If not planned for, certain posts can create a headache for your department and undue work for your staff, particularly those assigned as Public Information Officers. This has happened on several occasions at the Dunwoody Police Department
. In fact, I have been the guilty poster! On one occasion a post was made on Facebook and Twitter about several recent internal thefts from several businesses. In one of the thefts, almost $100,000 worth of iPhones were stolen by an employee. Another example was a post regarding an off-duty officer from another jurisdiction who tried to keep two people from fighting at one of our local parks and one of the subjects attacked and injured the officer. Lastly, an iPhone was snatched from a woman who was in our local mall. She chased the suspect and he pulled a gun on her.
In all three examples, the media quickly jumped on the story and began emailing and blowing up the cell phone of our PIO. Two of the posts were done either at night or on a weekend. The PIO was unaware of any of these incidents when they were posted. As you can imagine, this created a great deal of work for our PIO while he was off duty.
Although you can never predict with certainty which stories the media will pick up on, there are several measures an agency can take to minimize the risk. Communication is key to mitigating the risk of having a social media post create issues for your PIO. Whoever is posting information should recognize the potential risk based on the content of the post and give the PIO a heads-up about the case prior to posting the information. In addition, it may not be a good idea to post items which could result in a lot of media interest on the weekend, at night, or during the holidays when a PIO may not be available. These simple steps should keep your PIO from being blindsided and foster greater cooperation among your staff.